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Not in my name: former civil servants on resigning over Israel-Palestine policy

Western civil servants openly struggle at times with their own government’s policies on the war in Gaza. In protest, civil servants in various countries have organised petitions and demonstrations. Some have even resigned. During a meeting at Campus The Hague, three former civil servants told their stories.

The session, on 26 February, was organised by staff from the Leiden Institute for Area Studies. They wanted to learn more about the experiences and views of these former civil servants. Berber van der Woude was working as a diplomat in Ramallah on the West Bank when she resigned from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs two years ago. Her former colleague Angélique Eijpe did the same last November. And Josh Paul, a director of security policy at the US State Department, also resigned around that time. The three gave their main reasons for leaving: Western countries have double standards when it comes to protecting human rights and are not doing enough to stop this conflict.

Rift between civil servants and government

Moderator Christian Henderson referred to the recent international letter co-initiated and signed by the three. In this Transatlantic Civil Servants’ Statement on Gaza, current and former civil servants from Europe and the United States voice their concerns about the conflict and call for an immediate ceasefire. ‘This concerted international action by civil servants is unprecedented’, said Josh Paul. ‘It constitutes a rift between civil servants and policymakers.’ The conflict between Israel and Palestine is being treated as a matter for the top brass’, said Van der Woude. ‘Civil servants’ expertise is being discounted.’

‘The international institutions that should protect human rights are losing credibility’

Ministerial decree

Angelique Eijpe said she raised her concerns with outgoing Minister Bruins Slot but received zero response. She resigned soon after. Many civil servants are afraid to speak out openly, she said. Paul noted that soon after 7 October, the American State Department asked civil servants not to ask any questions and to agree with the policy. Van der Woude also felt that civil servants were not given a chance to comment on the unequal treatment of civilians, and this was one of the reasons why she resigned.


‘You are all whistleblowers. How has this affected your lives?’ Henderson asked. All three said they were relieved. Eijpe said it was ironic that she was more able to help shape opinion from outside the ministry than from inside. Paul said he sometimes got calls from civil servants who were also considering resigning. ‘I had some savings so I could afford it. So being able to resign is not so much courage as a privilege.’


Western countries’ handling of the conflict between Israel and Gaza in response to the Hamas attack – in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and 250 kidnapped – is undermining the credibility of the international institutions that are supposed to protect human rights, said Van der Woude. According to the Palestinian Authority, more than 30,000 Palestinians have now been killed. The three warned that this war would further destabilise the region. ‘In effect, we are not being a good ally to Israel because we are letting this spiral of violence continue’, said Paul. ‘A true ally helps create lasting peace.’

Complex factors

Henderson wanted to know why Western countries have taken the stance they have on Israel and Palestine. Tunnel vision, said Van der Woude and Eijpe. Paul said he thought the cause was a failure to consider the many complex factors that play a role, such as the history of the Holocaust and the influence of certain groups, including the evangelical movement in the US.

After the discussion, there was time for questions from the room. One person commented that Western politicians are becoming more critical. ‘Unfortunately, the heated discussions that our politicians have had behind closed doors have not yet had an effect,’ said Eijpe.

House rules for events and discussions

Students and staff from our community organise various activities and events in and around the university to increase knowledge and exchange about the Israel-Gaza conflict. This article is about one such event. As an educational institution, our goal, within the context of academic freedom, is to provide space for different perspectives so we can learn from these as a community. Read more about the house rules for organising meetings or events.

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