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Education Department official resigns over Biden administration’s approach to Israel-Hamas war

Signage for the U.S. Department of Education – Federal Student Aid Office at 830 First Street NE Washington, D.C., USA, on November 28, 2023.Carlos Kosienski/SIPA/AP

A Department of Education political appointee resigned on Wednesday, citing in a letter the Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The resignation by Tariq Habash, policy adviser in the DOE’s Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, comes as the conflict – which erupted with Hamas’ October 7 attacks on Israel – nears its third month with no sign of abating and follows a previous public departure from the administration its handling of the war.

“It should go without saying that all violence against innocent people is horrific. I mourn each and every loss, Israeli and Palestinian,” Habash said in the two-page letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “But I cannot represent an administration that does not value all human life equally. I cannot stay silent as this administration turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed against innocent Palestinian lives.”

Asked for comment on Habash’s resignation, a Department of Education spokesperson said in a statement, “We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Speaking to CNN’s Abby Phillip on Wednesday, Habash called out President Joe Biden directly.

“The refusal by the president to call for an an immediate and permanent ceasefire is untenable with the belief by millions of Americans across this country,” he said on “NewsNight.”

Biden has faced mounting pressure to call for a ceasefire in the conflict. The president has touted his support for Israel to defend itself, but has also highlighted his administration’s push for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza. And he’s urged Israel to focus on saving civilian lives, while warning that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu risks losing international support over its bombardment of Gaza.

The president said last month that the US “will continue to lead the world in humanitarian assistance to innocent Palestinian civilians, to emphasize to our friends, our Israeli friends, we need to protect civilian life.”

Habash’s resignation follows that of former State Department official Josh Paul, who in October announced that he would be departing “due to a policy disagreement concerning our continued lethal assistance to Israel.”

Habash called upon Biden: “He is the one who has the power with a phone call to end this violence, to make demands of the Israeli government, to end the indiscriminate violence against Palestinians,” he told Phillip.

Since the onset of the war, Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed at least 22,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health.

As a Palestinian American, Habash said in the letter that he had brought “a critical and underrepresented perspective” to the Biden administration’s “ongoing work on equity and justice.”

Habash also pointed in the letter to the impact of the conflict in the US where “Jewish, Muslim, and Arab students on college campuses have expressed feeling less safe.”

“The Department of Education must play an active role in supporting institutions as they respond to the needs of students, faculty, and staff. This includes protecting all students who choose to exercise their first amendment right to engage in nonviolent actions, including expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza who have suffered tremendously in recent weeks and for years before the current ongoing violence,” he wrote.

Since the start of the war, there have been hundreds of protests and counterprotests on college campuses, with some of them turning violent. The DOE has launched an unprecedented number of Title VI investigations into college campuses since October 7 – including ones at  Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania – after receiving complaints about alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

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