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Divisions over US support for Israel deepen at State Department on November 9, 2023 at 11:00 am

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Israel’s war against Hamas is deepening divisions among nonpartisan American government officials, who are raising alarm that the Biden administration’s ironclad commitment to Israel is failing to take into account key issues of concern. 

Letters and memos of dissent are circulating among State Department staff. The documents are described as being led by early and mid-career officials staking out a position that puts them at odds with senior leaders. 

President Biden has rallied behind Israel’s right to defend itself following the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, that killed 1,400 people, the majority of them civilians. More than 240 other people were kidnapped by Hamas and taken back to Gaza as hostages.

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But the exorbitant death toll in Gaza, where an estimated 10,000 people have been killed, combined with the fast-track shipment of U.S. weapons to Israel are weighing heavily on U.S. diplomats. 

Josh Paul resigned on Oct. 18 from his position at the State Department, where he worked on arms transfers to Israel. He said others at State have reached out to him since his resignation.

“I’m hearing essentially two strands of argument, or of concern,” Paul said in a call with The Hill. “One is, what you might call a moral stand – where people joined government to do good and they don’t like facilitating the massive death of civilians, and they don’t like when there is no space for policy debate about these basic human rights issues.”

The other argument Paul said he’s hearing is concern that the Biden administration’s approach towards Israel is isolating the U.S. in the region and undermining America’s position on the global stage. 

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“The current policy approach is having massively negative consequences for the U.S. foreign policy, both in terms of our relationships in the Middle East and more broadly in terms of our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China,” he said.

The president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the union representing the State Department’s Foreign Service members, said employees are caught in a difficult situation. 

“We know it’s a fraught issue, we know there’s a lot of emotions involved. No one can be unmoved seeing those images every night on the evening news, and we know that,” said Tom Yazdgerdi, the AFSA president.  

These diplomats are tasked with weighing the hard choices of what is necessary for U.S. national security versus what, if any, potential collateral damage may occur.  

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Yazdgerdi said that State Department leadership, and separately AFSA have met with employee organizations to make sure “they’re being supported” and heard.  

“Arab Americans in Foreign Affairs Agencies, American Muslims and Friends at State, Jewish Americans in Diplomacy, these are all employee organizations that we have met with or will meet to make sure they’re being supported because obviously what’s happening in Israel and Gaza has domestic implications here. People feel unsafe, they feel maybe that they’re not being listened to,” he said.  

“Of course, we endorse the opportunity for these groups to be heard. From what we’ve gathered, they’ve had meetings with senior leadership, including the Secretary, which is a positive development, he said.

The Biden administration has been walking a fine line, calling for humanitarian or tactical pauses that they hope will preserve Israel’s ability to carry out its military targeting of Hamas and allow an avenue to try and protect civilians. 

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken, following a trip to Israel, said Wednesday: “We believe there are additional steps that can and should be taken to try to minimize civilian casualties.”

Hundreds of staff in the U.S. Agency for International Development anonymously signed an open letter to Biden calling for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, Foreign Policy reported. 

And some State Department staff are pushing for the Biden administration to support a ceasefire and strike a more forceful tone with the Israelis in public, including criticism of Israeli military tactics and treatment of Palestinians, according to at least one draft dissent memo obtained by Politico.   

Dissent channel memos are considered sacrosanct in the State Department and are supposed to remain private. The channel allows staff at any level to raise concerns to senior officials, in particular the Secretary of State, on opposing views to administration policy.

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It’s always controversial if such memos become public, as their release, some say, can have a chilling effect on staff feeling comfortable to raise opposition to administration policy for fear of retribution.

Ben Fishman, who served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, said the criticisms he’s hearing from State Department staff about the administration’s policy is “a general concern that the administration is not sufficiently addressing Palestinian, specifically civilian Gazan’s concerns.”

Fishman, now a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he didn’t view the recommendations in the leaked dissent memo as representing a mutiny among State Department staff.  

“The truth is, most people I think are reasonable and they understand the basis of this administration’s policy. And maybe they’re disappointed,” he said. 

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“The bottom line is that the uglier the war gets — it will most likely be ugly not better — you’ll probably see more voices like this. Hopefully we’ll see a change in the direction of the war, but that’s not my expectation.”

While the U.S. position towards Israel is generally shared by Western and democratic governments, Arab and Gulf nations are challenging the U.S. to push Israel to accept a ceasefire and are accusing Israel of war crimes.

The United Nations General Assembly late last month passed a resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” between Israel and Hamas. The U.S. and 13 other nations voted against the resolution for failing to condemn Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7. Forty-five countries abstained. 

In Paul’s resignation letter, he cited opposition to the surge in military support to Israel, criticizing the administration and lawmakers in Congress as acting on “an impulsive reaction built on confirmation bias, political convenience, intellectual bankruptcy, and bureaucratic inertia.”

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Paul’s position in the State Department was to review and sign off on weapons transfers in line with administration policy, a process he said filtered through 20,000 arms transfer requests per year and that could be boiled down to a “no; yes; or yes, but.”

What prompted his resignation, Paul said, was that “there was no debate” on the weapons transfers to Israel in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. 

The administration has not identified what specifically it has sent to Israel, saying it is at least air defense supplies, munitions, armor and rifles. 

Biden officials say they expect Israel to carry out its strikes within the bounds of international humanitarian law and there’s a legal debate surrounding how justified military actions are in neutralizing threats compared to the potential for civilian casualties. 

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Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), in a briefing with reporters on Oct. 26, said he was not “ready to acknowledge that there is a misuse of weapons” on the part of Israel, and criticized Hamas as using civilians as human shields.  

“We know they’re doing everything they possibly can to make it more difficult for Israel to accomplish its military objectives by putting innocent civilians in harm’s way. That’s their objective.”

But there’s growing divisions among Biden’s most ardent supporters in the Senate.

A group of 26 Democratic senators on Wednesday sent a letter to the president asking for more information on how Israel is working to mitigate civilian casualties.

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“We respectfully ask your team to provide us with information relative to these two clear U.S. priorities: supporting an Israeli strategy that will effectively degrade and defeat the threat from Hamas and taking all possible measures to protect civilians in Gaza,” the senators wrote. 

​ Israel’s war against Hamas is deepening divisions among nonpartisan American government officials, who are raising alarm that the Biden administration’s ironclad commitment to Israel is failing to take into account key issues of concern. Letters and memos of dissent are circulating among State Department staff. The documents are described as being led by early and… 

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Humans Need Not Apply: The AI Candidate Promising to Disrupt Democracy

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The rise of AI Steve, the artificial intelligence candidate running for a seat in the UK Parliament, has sparked a heated debate about the role of AI in governance and the potential disruption it could bring to traditional democratic processes.

Steven Endacott, the human force behind AI Steve, envisions his AI co-pilot as a conduit for direct democracy, enabling constituents to engage with the AI, share concerns, and shape its policy platform through a voting system of “validators.” Endacott has pledged to vote in Parliament according to the AI’s constituent-driven platform, even if it conflicts with his personal views.

Proponents argue that AI Steve can revolutionize politics by bringing more voices into the process and ensuring that policies truly reflect the will of the people. They claim that an AI candidate can engage in up to 10,000 conversations simultaneously, allowing for unprecedented levels of public participation and input.

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However, critics raise valid concerns about transparency, accountability, and the potential for AI systems to be manipulated or influenced by their creators, data limitations, or external actors. There are also questions about whether an AI can fully grasp the nuances and human elements involved in complex political issues.

Some argue that AI Steve is merely a clever marketing ploy to garner attention and votes, rather than a genuine effort to “humanize” politics. There are fears that the use of AI in elections could undermine faith in electoral outcomes and democratic processes if voters become aware of potential scams or manipulation.

 

Beyond the specific case of AI Steve, the rise of AI candidates and the increasing use of AI in political campaigns and elections raise broader questions about the integrity of democratic systems and the need for effective regulations and guidelines.

Anti-democratic actors and authoritarian regimes may seek to exploit AI technologies for censorship, surveillance, and suppressing dissent under the guise of enhancing governance. There are also concerns about the potential for an “AI arms race” between political parties to develop and deploy the most sophisticated AI technologies, further eroding public trust.

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As AI tools become more advanced and accessible, upholding electoral integrity will require proactive efforts to establish guardrails, transparency measures, and accountability frameworks around their use in politics. Policymakers, advocates, and citizens must work together to ensure that AI is leveraged as a force for a better and more inclusive democracy, rather than a tool for manipulation or consolidation of power.

The rise of AI candidates like AI Steve serves as a wake-up call for democratic societies to grapple with the implications of artificial intelligence in governance and to strike the right balance between harnessing its potential benefits and mitigating its risks to the democratic process.

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Saudi Arabia Says ‘Thank You, Next’ to the US Dollar

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Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering abandoning the US dollar for oil trade settlements, a move that could shake the foundations of the global financial system. For decades, the petrodollar system has propped up the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency, with Saudi Arabia insisting on dollar payments for its vast oil exports.

However, recent comments from Saudi officials hint at exploring alternatives to the dollar amid growing tensions with the US over various geopolitical issues and the rise of economic powerhouses like China.

Implications of a Petrodollar Shift

If Saudi Arabia abandons the petrodollar, the implications could be significant:

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1. Dollar Dominance Eroded: The dollar’s reserve currency status could weaken, potentially leading to a decline in its value.
2. Global Financial Instability: A sudden shift could trigger volatility in global markets as investors adjust portfolios.
3. Geopolitical Realignment: The move could signal Saudi alignment with China and challenge US economic hegemony.

Challenges and Uncertainties

While the prospect is significant, challenges remain:

1. Finding a suitable alternative currency with the dollar’s liquidity and stability.
2. Potential economic disruption for Saudi Arabia and trading partners.
3. Political backlash and strained relations with the US and allies.

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As the world watches, it remains uncertain whether Saudi Arabia’s comments signal a negotiating tactic or a profound shift in the global financial order.

 

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X Opens the Door to Adult Content With New Policy

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X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, has made a significant policy shift by officially permitting adult content on its platform with some restrictions and guidelines.

In an update to its rules, X stated that users can now share “consensually produced and distributed adult nudity or sexual behavior” as long as it is properly labeled and not prominently displayed in areas like profile pictures or header images.

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“We recognize that many of our users are adults who want to freely express themselves by sharing legal adult content,” said an X spokesperson. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to protect minors and prevent exposure to explicit material without proper labeling.”

Under the new guidelines, users who “regularly post” adult content must adjust their settings to automatically mark images and videos as sensitive content, which blurs or hides the media by default. By default, users under 18 or who haven’t entered their birth date cannot view this sensitive adult content.

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The policy prohibits content “promoting exploitation, nonconsent, objectification, sexualization or harm to minors, and obscene behaviors.” It applies to all adult content, whether photographic, animated, or AI-generated.

X has stated that it will monitor user-generated content and adjust account settings for those who fail to properly mark pornographic posts. Similar rules and enforcement will apply to violent content as well.

The move aligns X with Apple’s app store guidelines, which allow apps with adult content as long as it is hidden by default and behind proper age gates and content warnings.

While adult content was already present on X, this policy update officially permits and regulates it, aiming to balance freedom of expression for consenting adults with protecting minors from exposure to explicit material.

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However, enforcing these rules consistently may prove challenging for X’s reduced content moderation teams following recent layoffs and cost-cutting measures.

The policy shift has drawn mixed reactions, with some praising X for embracing adult expression while others raise concerns about the potential for the platform to become inundated with pornographic content despite the restrictions.

As X navigates this new territory, the effectiveness of its labeling requirements, age verification measures, and content moderation efforts will be closely watched by users, regulators, and advocacy groups alike.

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