‘A complete misunderstanding of how this job works’: Jewish Hill staffers push back on staff-level cease-fire protests
Staffers said they fear backlash and ostracization among fellow staff if they were to speak out in support of Israel
In recent weeks, high-profile public protests by some Democratic congressional staff — including anonymous letters and protests seeking to pressure lawmakers into supporting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza — have captured media headlines, with the staffers involved saying they fear retribution for speaking out.
But three Jewish Hill staffers who spoke to Jewish Insider last week told a different story. The staffers expressed concerns and frustrations with the public protests by fellow staff, which some described as inappropriate, as well as a work environment among Democratic staff that they said has suppressed and intimidated pro-Israel staffers.
One Jewish House staffer described public action urging specific policy outcomes as antithetical to the nature and purpose of Hill staff.
“The people we work for were the ones elected, and they’re the ones responsible to constituents,” they said. “No one voted for those staffers… [they] do not make policy, the representatives do. I think it is completely inappropriate to anonymously use your position as a staffer and think that gives you the right to make policy.”
“I would completely understand if you wanted to do a show of solidarity and say that ‘we as staffers are united with the people of Palestine and express our condolences for what is happening’ — sure,” they continued. “But to think your word as a staffer is more valuable than the word of a constituent is a complete misunderstanding of how this job works.”
Staffers described some of the staff activists as engaging in tokenization and misrepresentation of Jewish staffers’ views, pointing to public protests such as an anonymous letter by Muslim and Jewish staff. Staffers who spoke to JI said that neither they nor any other Jewish staff they knew had ever seen or been asked to join the letter.
A second staffer said that they’d seen their peers on the Hill “engaged in some pretty direct antisemitism, even though they may not be aware of it,” including comparing Jews and Israel to the Nazi regime.
They said that the rhetoric they’ve seen around the conflict led them to believe that their peers have a “superficial commitment” to combating antisemitism only when it’s “politically convenient for them.”
The first staffer also said that they’ve been surprised that many fellow staff seem to lack a robust understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Staffers who spoke to JI said that, based on both personal conversations and material they’ve seen from peers online, anti-Israel sentiment is much more common among staff than in the public at large — perhaps unsurprising, the first staffer said, given that Democratic Hill staff tend to lean younger and more progressive.
And they said they feared that they’d face retribution from other staff if they expressed pro-Israel views, facing social pressure not to speak up.
“The staffers who walked out for a cease-fire, put on masks — they’d be a hell of a lot more popular in a Democratic caucus [staff meeting] than if I walked down the street with an Israeli flag,” the first staffer said.
“A lot of Jewish staffers are afraid,” a third Jewish staffer agreed. “As a Jewish progressive Democrat, just existing has been really hard.”
Even behind closed doors, many staff have been deliberately avoiding discussing Israel policy, that staffer said. They described an “almost tangible” silence around the subject in meetings with other offices.
Some recent reports have suggested that the volume of anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian calls to congressional offices in recent weeks is reflective of broad grassroots opinion — but the staffers who spoke to JI said that doesn’t tell the whole story.
All three said many of the calls their offices have received follow what seems to be the same script, and many come from repeat callers, day after day.
One House staffer also said it’s not entirely surprising that they’re receiving more pro-Palestinian calls than pro-Israel ones — offices tend to receive a much higher volume of calls opposing lawmakers’ positions on any given issue than in support of them.
The calls are also often deeply vitriolic, staffers said — much more so than the calls their offices usually receive on a range of subjects. Staffers described many of the calls as personally abusive, and said they’ve been accused of genocide and murder and screamed and cursed at.
Staff said they’ve received regular calls, in some cases on a daily basis, supporting Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, denying the atrocities, saying that Israel has no right to exist and blaming all Jews for Israel’s actions in Gaza.
“I don’t mind taking calls from people who support a cease-fire. It’s when they start getting aggressive and out of line, directly attacking me,” the third staffer said, which they said is the case in the majority of the calls they take. “It’s our job as staffers to hear them out and put ourselves in the shoes of other people… It’s not our job to take the brunt of their rudeness.”
This constant stream of calls is taking a personal toll, staffers said.
“It’s brutal and it’s tiresome and it’s sickening, and it almost doesn’t stop,” the first staffer said. “I’m not asking for unanimous support. Just like a little bit of human decency when our friends or family or people are facing an existential threat.”
The staffers said they’ve generally felt a lack of support from other staff, in some cases in their own offices, as they grapple with these calls and the current environment more broadly.
The staffers’ experiences echo those of many liberal and progressive Jews since Oct. 7, who say they’ve felt abandoned and let down by the allies and coalitions for whom they’ve fought in the past.
They said that non-Jewish staffers have largely ignored the situation in the Middle East, even in personal conversations with them, and have generally offered little to no support for them.
“I work day and night to advance Democratic causes. And right now, I feel like if someone drew a swastika on my car… there’d be people that would applaud it,” the first staffer said. “Jewish staffers, especially working for Democrats, have dedicated their lives to these progressive liberal causes, have been there when everyone else was going through the hurt. And when it comes time for us to need people to stand by and support us, they’re gone.”