Obama, Warren, Sanders: Former Staffers Are Calling on Their Bosses to Demand a Ceasefire

There is a growing trend of onetime campaign staffers using their former bosses’ words to implore them to call for a ceasefire.

More than 130 former Obama campaign staffers and political appointees are begging the former president to "leverage" his influence to call for a ceasefire.Scott Olson/Getty

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More than 130 former Obama campaign staffers and political appointees have sent the ex-president a letter demanding he “leverage” his influence with President Joe Biden and other elected officials to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and broker the return of hostages, the Intercept reported Tuesday. 

“You always called on us to be courageous in reaching our hands high to help bend the arc toward justice,” the letter says. “Today, we call on you to stand with us, to do the same.”

The signatories—who signed the letter with their former or current titles, not their names—referenced Obama’s own words. In a Medium post last month, Obama wrote that Palestinians “continue to be forcibly displaced by a settler movement that too often has received tacit or explicit support from the Israeli government.” In Jerusalem a decade ago, the staffers pointed out, the former president said: “Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.” 

Representatives for the Obamas and the Obama Foundation didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Obama letter is part of a growing trend of onetime campaign staffers using their former bosses’ words to implore political figures to call for a ceasefire. More than 500 former Biden campaign staffers sent him a letter last week demanding he call for a ceasefire, among other measures, noting: “As you have said, silence in the face of human rights violations is tantamount to complicity.” (Biden has said there is “no possibility” of a ceasefire.)

More than 400 former staffers for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign sent her a letter last month requesting she “demand an immediate ceasefire in Palestine and the return of Israeli hostages, and take concrete steps to end Israeli occupation,” explaining that “one of your last calls to action for us at the end of your presidential campaign was to ‘always choose to fight righteous fights.'” Warren said she respects her former staffers and that they’re “doing exactly what I have always encouraged them to do—stand up and fight for what they believe in,” Politico reported.

Over 400 former staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns sent him a letter—five days after Warren’s former staffers sent theirs—asking the Vermont senator to introduce a companion bill to the House resolution calling for a ceasefire, work to end US military funding to Israel, and facilitate more humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“Many of us, your former staff, are Muslim and/or Arab, and were inspired to support your campaign because of your calls to end the ‘Forever Wars’ waged against people who look like us and worship like us,” they wrote.

Sanders doesn’t appear to have directly responded to the letter, but told the Washington Post that the “tragic reality” is that Hamas wants “permanent war and the destruction of Israel” and wouldn’t abide by a ceasefire. Sanders thinks Israel should enact an “extended” humanitarian pause.

“I wish there was a simple solution,” he told the paper. “There isn’t.”

Federal officials are also calling on their current bosses to support a ceasefire: as I reported yesterday, dozens of State Department employees and hundreds of USAID staffers have voiced dissent internally and called for the administration to support a ceasefire. And more than 400 officials anonymously sent Biden a letter yesterday protesting his support for Israel and demanding he call for an immediate ceasefire, according to a New York Times report.

The White House doesn’t appear to have publicly commented on the letter—but a White House spokesperson pointed Mother Jones to a letter that more than 115 former officials signed in support of Biden’s policy toward Israel, as first reported by CNN yesterday.

The letter, which includes the names of signatories, praises Biden’s “moral clarity, courageous leadership, and staunch support of Israel, one of our nation’s strongest allies, in the aftermath of the worst massacre of Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust.” It also says that “a ceasefire is not possible at this time” and that a more than two-year ceasefire had been in effect when Hamas carried out its attacks on Oct. 7.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shares that perspective, writing in the Atlantic yesterday that a full ceasefire “would give Hamas a chance to re-arm and perpetuate the cycle of violence” and “would leave the people of Gaza living in a besieged enclave under the domination of terrorists and leave Israelis vulnerable to continued attacks.”

Not everyone supports the public shaming of elected officials. According to New York columnist Jonathan Chait, the staffers protesting their current bosses should either quit or accept their cog-in-the-machine status: 

If an elected official hires you to look out for their interests, and instead you attend rallies and sign petitions labelling that elected official a moral monster, I’d say your professional credibility is very much in doubt. Indeed, that behavior indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of the job of congressional staffer.

What that seems to ignore is that getting on the federal payroll—or that of a onetime presidential campaign—doesn’t mean that staffers can’t dissent from their bosses or the candidates they once supported, particularly on an issue the majority of American voters agree with them on and that has left thousands of children dead, injured, and traumatized. 

As the letters show, the signatories are simply asking the politicians to live up to the ethical stances—or the “professional credibility”—they’ve campaigned and governed on. And they might even be helping make sure that Democrats can keep getting elected: a new poll conducted by Marist, NPR, and PBS shows that 56 percent of Democrats—and nearly half of people under 45—think Israel’s response to the Hamas attack went “too far.”  

With Biden facing tough headwinds against former President Donald Trump going into an election year—and with presidential campaigns notoriously relying on the grueling labor of young people—that poll isn’t promising for the Biden campaign. As Juliana Amin, a former official on Warren’s campaign, told Vox, the letter signers are “the people who do the work that campaigns need, that wins elections, that uplift people and their platforms, and I know a lot of people who aren’t willing to do that work anymore if Democrats continue to enable genocide.”

Not only that, but with Biden’s original promise of student loan relief being struck down by the Supreme Court in June, he has a tough road ahead if he wants to win the votes of young people. Biden has long cast Trump as a threat to democracy, and himself as the saner alternative. But as long as he’s backing this war, all signs point to a vote for him being harder for young Democrats to justify next November.

As a Democratic strategist told my colleague Noah Lanard, Biden’s response to the war could “absolutely” cost him the election. 

Correction, November 15: This post has been updated to better reflect who signed a letter urging Obama to call for a ceasefire.

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