In Gaza, Genocide, Israel, Israel-Gaza War, Palestine, USA

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Josh Paul, a former top State Department official.

President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
(Official State Department photo by Chuck Kennedy) Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Sharon Zhang
November 2, 2023 Truthout

In a highly unusual move, the White House has requested for it to be able to conduct arms deals with Israel in complete secrecy, without oversight from Congress or the public — in a time when the U.S. is supporting a military that experts say has been committing war crimes in Gaza and beyond.

The White House made the request within a $106 billion supplemental defense funding request sent on October 20. As reported by Women for Weapons Trade Transparency for In These Times, the White House is asking for up to $3.5 billion in military funding for Israel to be able to purchase weapons and other equipment, from sources like the U.S. military or U.S. defense contractors, without the spending having to be approved by or even disclosed to Congress.

Crucially, such notifications to Congress are also logged in the Federal Register, where they are viewable to the public — but the White House is trying to get rid of that transparency for Israel for funding through September 2025 and potentially beyond if Israel chooses to set aside funding before then.

Experts have said that the move is alarming and rare. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Josh Paul, the former director of congressional and public affairs for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs in the State Department, told In These Times Within the State Department, where he worked for 11 years, Paul helped the bureau in its work on arms deals and resigned in protest of a push to increase arms sales to Israel amid its genocidal siege on Gaza.

​“A proposal in a legislative request to Congress to waive Congressional notification entirely for [Foreign Military Financing ]-funded Foreign Military Sales or Direct Commercial Contracts is unprecedented in my experience,” Paul said. “Frankly, [it’s] an insult to Congressional oversight prerogatives.”

Paul added that the White House is already allowed to unilaterally approve foreign military transactions in “emergency” situations but still has to notify Congress. The move, then, seems calculated to specifically create opacity around Israel sales. “This doesn’t actually reduce the time, it just reduces the oversight,” he said.

John Ramming Chappell, advocacy and legal fellow on U.S. issues for the Center for Civilians in Conflict, told In These Times that Congress should reject the White House’s request. “The waiver would further undermine meaningful scrutiny of weapons sales on Capitol Hill at a time when U.S. support is enabling bombings that have killed thousands of civilians,” Chappell said.

The request comes as the Biden administration has sought to crush dissent on its support of Israel, even within its own ranks. A new report by Huff Post published Thursday found that Biden officials are sidelining work within the State Department on the atrocities that Israel is committing in Gaza, seeking to seemingly cover up the issue and disallow employees from speaking up against the genocide.

Citing Paul and five workers within the agency, the outlet reports that State Department staff have been told by higher ups that they are not going to be able to move the needle on the executive branch’s approach to Israel, no matter their credentials or the horrific things they report coming out of Gaza.

The workers say work from staff on conditions in Gaza is being ignored — perhaps like a recent internal State Department report finding that over 80,000 babies under six months and pregnant people in Gaza are being forced to drink contaminated or brackish water due to Israel’s blockade.

Rather, State Department staff told HuffPost, the administration seems to be sweeping aside evidence of the humanitarian crisis and genocide, even from its own staff, in favor of fealty to Israel’s fascistic military and leaders. At listening sessions within the agency, discussion about the genocide is redirected to fears of antisemitism, while some staff, particularly Muslim workers, say that they feel like they have to censor themselves.

This culture of silence is happening even as senior agency officials may acknowledge in private that Israel is committing war crimes, according to the report. “Over the past weeks, as I have heard from numerous officials across both the executive and legislative branches, it has become clear to me that many senior leaders not only fully understand how Israel is currently using U.S.-provided arms in Gaza, but are even, behind closed doors, willing to acknowledge that these actions include ‘war crimes,’” Paul told HuffPost. “The fact that none are willing to do so publicly … points to a deep moral rot in our system.”

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