WASHINGTON — A senior Biden education official announced his resignation Wednesday, citing the administration’s failure to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza from Israel’s offensive in its deadly war with Hamas.
In a letter Wednesday to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Tariq Habash, a policy advisor in the department’s Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, wrote, “I cannot stay silent as this administration turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed against innocent Palestinian lives, in what leading human rights experts have called a genocidal campaign by the Israeli government.”
Habash, a Palestinian American, is a political appointee and a student loan and college affordability specialist.
His resignation is the latest sign of unease within the ranks of the Biden administration over the president’s handling of a war that broke out Oct. 7 when Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on the Jewish state. In November, more than 400 Biden administration officials wrote an open letter calling on Biden to insist on a cease-fire. The letter did not give their names.
Israel’s counter-attack has resulted in more than 21,000 deaths in Gaza, according to Palestinian health authorities, prompting senior Biden administration officials to press Israel for a more targeted approach to the conflict that spares more civilian lives.
But critics argue that the White House is not using its leverage as Israel’s main military benefactor to bring about a change in tactics. They’ve prevailed on the White House to attach conditions to the military aid flowing to Israel rather than simply beseech Israeli leaders to show more restraint.
Habash’s two-page letter suggests that whatever Biden has done to rein in Israel has failed to prevent an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
“I cannot be quietly complicit as the administration fails to leverage its influence as Israel’s strongest ally to halt the abusive and collective punishment tactics that have cut off Palestinians in Gaza from food, water, electricity, fuel and medical supplies, leading to widespread disease and starvation,” he wrote.
He went on to suggest a callousness on Biden’s part in reacting to the death toll in Gaza. At a news conference in October, Biden dismissed casualty reports coming out of Gaza, saying he had no assurance that “the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed.”
“I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war,” Biden added.
In his letter, Habash wrote that “the president has publicly questioned the integrity of Palestinian death counts frequently used by our own State Department, the United Nations, and numerous humanitarian non-governmental organizations.”
A spokesperson for the Education Department, in response to a request for comment on Habash, said, “We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Mindful of growing dissent within the administration, White House officials have made efforts to meet with Arab American, Palestinian American, and Muslim American staff members to hear their concerns about the war. They’ve also convened quiet meetings with various Arab and Palestinian community leaders who are upset about the war’s direction.
But the blowback persists, straining Biden’s political coalition as he barrels toward a potential rematch with Donald Trump in November. Democratic lawmakers have warned Biden that he could lose Michigan, a crucial swing state with a large Arab population unless he recalibrates his approach to the war and shows more empathy for Palestinian lives.
Habash’s path from enthusiastic campaign supporter to disillusioned official exemplifies the problem Biden faces.
He wrote that he “actively” campaigned for Biden in the 2020 election and helped shape the president’s platform on education issues. When Biden took office, Habash added that he was one of the first political appointees to arrive in the education building.
In a press statement two weeks after Biden’s swearing-in, the Education Department described Habash and other political appointees as a “diverse and accomplished” group.
What began on that hopeful note ended with Habash’s letter criticizing the Biden administration for putting “millions of innocent lives in danger.”
“Therefore, I must resign.”