State Dept. official who quit over Gaza pivots to anti-Israel NGO

Josh Paul leaves Biden administration for DAWN, which supports BDS and calls Israel an apartheid state

Josh Paul on CNN (YouTube screenshot)

Josh Paul, a former director in the State Department Bureau of Political-Military Affairs who resigned in protest over military aid to Israel amid a flurry of media attention and applause, has joined Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an advocacy organization headed by an anti-Israel activist that calls for a boycott of Israel.

Paul presented his decision as a moral stance in a resignation letter he posted online 10 days after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack killed over 1,200 Israelis and the terror group took 249 hostages. Playing a role in the Biden administration’s support for Israel was one “moral compromise” too many after 11 years of involvement in U.S. weapons transfers. U.S. support for the war against Hamas, he wrote, is “built on confirmation bias, political convenience, intellectual bankruptcy and bureaucratic inertia,” as well as “blind support for one side.” 

The letter and a subsequent New York Times op-ed railed against the idea of “security for peace — the notion that the more secure Israel feels, the more concessions it will be able to make to the Palestinians.” The letter accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid,” and draws an equivalence between “the kidnapping of children…whether taken at gunpoint from their kibbutz or taken at gunpoint from their village,” an apparent reference to Palestinian minors arrested for suspected involvement in terrorism. 

Following his resignation, Paul was feted in the media, with a lengthy interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and appearances on other networks, along with a nearly 3,000-word profile in The New Yorker.

The New Yorker’s Ben Wallis-Wells described Paul as concluding that Israeli security was an obstacle to peace over a decade ago when he was a Ramallah-based consultant advising the U.S. security coordinator to the Palestinian Authority. The reporter described Paul as struggling to hide his ideological bias when discussing the war: “He had a tight line to walk — to sound not like he was making an a-priori ideological case for peace, as an activist might, but like his skepticism of supplying the Israeli military reflected the hard-won experience of the national-security state.”

Now, Paul has come down on one side of that tightrope, joining DAWN as a non-resident fellow. The press release about Paul joining DAWN states that he is expected to contribute his expertise on Israel and the Palestinians, with a focus on weapons transfers and arms deals.

DAWN was started by dissident and columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents before the organization publicly launched in 2018. According to the DAWN website, it seeks to promote “the human rights, liberty, and dignity of every person in the Middle East and North Africa…upheld by democratically elected governments,” and focuses on “governments with close ties to the United States and on the military, diplomatic, and economic support the U.S. government provides them.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN’s executive director, is formerly the director of MENA for Human Rights Watch. A 2010 article in The New Republic argued that fighting within the organization led its founder, Robert Bernstein, to conclude that HRW “has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields.” Bernstein named Whitson as the driver behind the group’s sharp anti-Israel turn.

Months after the Bernstein op-ed was published, Whitson and others from HRW met with Hamas officials to assure them of the organization’s “neutrality and objectivity.” 

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has described Whitson as having “trafficked in a toxic stereotype about Jews” and “suggest[ing] a global conspiracy by Jews to dominate the world politically, culturally and economically.”

Whitson has drawn an equivalence between Israel’s military actions in Gaza and the Holocaust and evoked the blood libel on X (formerly Twitter). 

She also spread the conspiracy theory that Israeli helicopters attacked revelers at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7, where Hamas massacred attendees and no Israeli helicopters fired.

DAWN has had an “Israel-Palestine program” since 2022, and in that short time, NGO Monitor, an Israel-based research institute that tracks the funding and activities of such groups, has compiled a long list of actions DAWN has taken against Israel. They found that the group has received funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Ford Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Foundation.

The organization holds the position that Israel is an apartheid state, and penned letters calling for the U.N. to adopt sanctions and for the world to institute an arms embargo against the Jewish state. Both of those letters were co-signed by organizations like Al-Haq, Addameer and others, which Israel has designated as terrorist groups for their ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. 

DAWN has called for individual IDF officers to be banned from the U.S. and investigated by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. 

The NGO also opposes the Abraham Accords, which it calls “regressive” and “an endorsement of arms sales and political favors between the U.S. and authoritarian regimes…in exchange for the sidelining of Palestinian rights.”

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