USAID official resigns over Gaza war and alleges racism at the agency towards Palestinians

A contractor with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has resigned in protest over the Biden administration’s support for the war in Gaza.

Alexander Smith, a senior adviser on gender, maternal health, child health, and nutrition, told the Guardian he was given a choice of resigning or being fired after a presentation he was due to deliver on child mortality among Palestinians was cancelled by USAID leadership.

In his resignation letter to the head of USAID, Samana Power, he alleged that the agency was treating the war in Gaza and Palestinians differently to other conflicts and humanitarian emergencies.

“I cannot do my job in an environment in which specific people cannot be acknowledged as fully human, or where gender and human rights principles apply to some, but not to others, depending on their race,” he wrote in the letter, according to the Guardian.

“USAID has always prided itself on our programs supporting democracy, human rights, and rule of law,” he continued. “In Ukraine, we call for legal redress when people are victimised, and name perpetrators of violence … We boldly state “Slava Ukraini” in peppy promotional videos.”

“When it comes to the Palestinians, however, we avoid saying anything about their right to statehood, the abuses they’re currently suffering, or which powers have been violating their basic rights to freedom, self-determination, livelihoods, and clean water,” he added.

The resignation comes two weeks after The Independent published an investigation into dissent at USAID in response to the Biden administration’s handling of Gaza’s hunger crisis.

The investigation revealed that at least 19 internal dissent memos have been sent since the start of the war by staff at USAID criticising US support for Israel’s war in Gaza.

In an internal collective dissent memo drafted this month by numerous employees of USAID, the staff assail the agency and the Biden administration for its “failure to uphold international humanitarian principles and to adhere to its mandate to save lives”.

The leaked draft memo, seen by The Independent, calls for the administration to apply pressure to bring “an end to the Israeli siege that is causing famine”.

Smith is the second person to resign from USAID over the war, and the second US official this week. Stacy Gilbert, a career official who worked in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, resigned over a department report that claimed Israel was not impeding humanitarian assistance to Gaza, the Washington Post reported.

Palestinians flee Rafah due to an Israeli military operation, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Palestinians flee Rafah due to an Israeli military operation, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. (REUTERS)

The Independent has reached out to USAID for a response.

Israel has vehemently denied that there is a hunger crisis in Gaza, or that it has restricted aid. It says fighting with Hamas, the militant group that triggered the current war when it killed 1,200 people and took over 250 hostages in Israel on 7 October, has hampered aid efforts.

Cindy McCain, the US director of the UN World Food Programme, said in early May that there was a “full-blown famine” in Gaza’s north, “and it’s moving its way south.”

Since then Israel launched an offensive in Rafah, which led to the closure of a major crossing for aid south of the city.

The UN said Wednesday that thousands of children across Gaza are experiencing malnutrition.

“The amount of food and other aid entering Gaza, already insufficient to meet the soaring needs, has further shrunk since 7 May, with a daily average of 58 humanitarian aid trucks reaching Gaza between 7 and 28 May compared with a daily average of 176 aid trucks between 1 April and 6 May,” the UN announced in an update.

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