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‘Dehumanizing’: Muslim and Arab Congressional Staffers Feel 'Betrayed' by Capitol Hill Employers

© AFP 2023 / ROBERTO SCHMIDTMembers of the US Jewish community protest against the Israeli military operation in Gaza ousside the Cannon Senate office building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 18, 2023.
Members of the US Jewish community protest against the Israeli military operation in Gaza ousside the Cannon Senate office building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 18, 2023.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 18.11.2023
Capitol Hill staff describe the struggle of working within an institution that, to them, feels like funding the death of those who look like them in Gaza.
Muslim and Arab US Congressional staffers shared their frustration over legislators’ apparent lack of concern over a climbing death toll in Gaza in a report in US media Saturday.
“They have the same faith as us, have the same names as us, a lot of our families live in the region,” said one Capitol Hill employee. “So when we hear that dehumanizing language, it’s dehumanizing us… My life would not matter to this place if I had been born somewhere else.”
Each staffer interviewed for the article requested anonymity, fearing reprisal as critics of Israel’s month-long attack on the Gaza Strip have often faced firings and other disciplinary action from employers on Capitol Hill.
Congressional staffers spoke of an environment that reminded them of the days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, even as Muslim and Arab representation has increased in the country over recent years. That perception was reinforced after Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) advocated US support for what he called Israel’s “religious war.”
“We can’t even start a conversation about whether what’s going on in Palestine is in our national interest,” said one staffer. “We’re finding that you can come to the table with every possible qualification, but just by coming to the table as a Muslim American, your opinion will be cast aside as ‘biased.’”
Another staffer recounted the congressman they work for helping to organize transportation for Tuesday’s March for Israel, an event on Washington DC’s National Mall where legislators spoke before pro-Israel constituents. Official backing for the event was seen to legitimize support for Israel, while concern over the deaths of Palestinians was seen as an afterthought.
Newly-minted House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) instigated a chant of “no ceasefire!” among the gathered crowd on Tuesday. Activist groups in the US have called for a suspension of hostilities in the besieged Gaza enclave as the death toll there has surpassed 11,000, including at least 4,500 children.
If moderate and liberal legislators’ reaction to the crisis has been seen as underwhelming by Arab and Muslim staffers, Johnson’s response represents the outright hostility they’ve perceived from more conservative members of Congress. Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) accused a constituent of support for Hamas after they sent an email calling for an end to Gaza’s siege and a restoration of electricity to its hospitals.

“You need the facts because your position is alarming,” read the response from Foxx’s office. “It is unwise to support a regime which destroys its own hospitals during a humanitarian crisis.” Though, some investigators have cast doubt on Israel’s claims that a rocket from militant group Islamic Jihad would’ve been capable of the destruction of Gaza’s al-Ahli Arab Hospital, an event that caused the death of hundreds last month.

When a reporter asked Foxx’s office for comment, they demanded to know the identity of the person who leaked her office’s email response.
Staffers expressed an overall sense of powerlessness over the issue. One recalled breaking down in tears in front of their boss who had refused to support a ceasefire. Another recounted expressing fear for their relatives in Palestinian territories.
US Congressional leadership has continued to organize events mourning the deaths of some 1,200 Israelis during Hamas’ October 7 attack more than a month later. But one congressional staffer described feeling “invisible” after an invitation to a candlelight vigil made no mention of the thousands of casualties in Gaza. She privately wept in a stairwell of a House office building.
“Mourn Israeli lives, release the hostages – I agree with all of that,” said the staff member. “We just want to be included in the empathy. Even if you truly don’t care. Even if you just add ‘and Palestinian lives’ and you don’t mean it. This is a place of performances. We do that all the time.”
“Several of the children who have died have not only looked like me or my siblings but bore my name,” said another staffer. “Literally you have people working in this building who know people who have died because of the policies this institution is supporting.”
The staffer said the home of a friend had been destroyed in an Israeli bomb attack last month. The friend survived but spent hours trapped underneath her mother’s body in the rubble of the building.
“Inside I feel like I’m being torn apart,” said the staffer of their experience working in Congress amidst the crisis. “I cannot wait to leave every day.”
“At the end of the day, do they really think my life matters?” asked another. Staffers noted that not even the presence of US citizens trapped in Gaza has seemed to generate urgency on Capitol Hill.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have protested US support for Israel's military in recent weeks, with many of those demonstrations being led by Jewish groups like If Not Now and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Some legislators have responded by calling for the disbanding of pro-Palestine activist groups. Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) recently ordered the dissolution of chapters of the group Students for Justice in Palestine on the state’s college campuses, triggering a lawsuit with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The saga has prompted a debate over the limits of free speech in the United States, with some lawmakers even demanding the banning of social media platforms where users share pro-Palestine views.
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