"This Is in the Spirit of Our Tradition": The First Jewish Biden Appointee Resigns Over Gaza

“It’s time for us to stand up against what is happening to Palestinians in our name,” Lily Greenberg Call says in an interview with In These Times.

Ari Bloomekatz

President Joe Biden has funded, fueled and enabled the Israeli military's genocide of Palestinians in Gaza while so many Americans are calling for a cease-fire. Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Lily Greenberg Call, one of President Joe Biden’s appointees, resigned from her position within the U.S. Department of the Interior on Wednesday in protest of how the administration is funding, fueling and enabling the Israeli genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. 

Greenberg Call is the first Jewish appointee to resign from the Biden Administration in protest and told In These Times that It’s time for us to stand up against what is happening to Palestinians in our name.”

"I have asked myself many times over the last eight months: what is the point of having power if you will not use it to stop crimes against humanity?"

In a four-page letter of resignation that Greenberg Call released publicly on Wednesday, she wrote that she can no longer in good conscience continue to represent this administration amidst President Biden’s disastrous, continued support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza.”

According to the Associated Press, Greenberg Call is now at least the fifth mid- or senior-level administration staffer to make public their resignation in protest of the Biden administration’s military and diplomatic support” of the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza.

She is the second political appointee to do so,” according to the Associated Press, after an Education Department official of Palestinian heritage [Tariq Habash] resigned in January.”

Sign up for our weekend newsletter
A weekly digest of our best coverage

In her letter of resignation, Greenberg Call proudly declared that she was an American Jew and wrote that: My family escaped antisemitic persecution in Europe and found refuge in America. They changed their names at Ellis Island and worked as farmers, peddlers, and salespeople. My grandparents could not go to college.”

Two generations later,” she wrote, I have the honor of working as an appointee for the President of the United States. The weight of this position is not lost on me. This is the story of many people in my community: a story of survival, upward mobility, and fulfillment of the American Dream. And yet, I have asked myself many times over the last eight months: what is the point of having power if you will not use it to stop crimes against humanity?”

Greenberg Call spoke with In These Times Executive Editor Ari Bloomekatz on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after news broke of her resignation. 

This interview has been edited for length, order and clarity.

ARI BLOOMEKATZ: When people are reading your letter of resignation, what is it that you want them to take away from it?

LILY GREENBERG CALL: The main one is that the President has the power to call for a cease-fire, to stop sending weapons to Israel, to condition aid and also to broker a hostage deal. I mean, if we care about the hostages, then we should stop bombing the area that they’re in and we should get them out. And the Israeli government clearly is not making that a priority.

But for others, for other appointees and people in government, I hope that this inspires them to take a public stance for Palestinian lives, even if that means resigning. I also hope that people will start to listen and defer to Palestinians for moral guidance on this issue. I want to note that the first appointee to resign over this, back in January, was Palestinian American, my former colleague, Tariq Habash.

But for others, for other appointees and people in government, I hope that this inspires them to take a public stance for Palestinian lives, even if that means resigning.

And then you know, I think, to the Jewish community, as I was saying earlier, I want us to really integrate that, it’s time for us to stand up against what is happening to Palestinians in our name. I want us to listen to the families of Israeli hostages who are demanding that this end. And I want us to, for our sake, understand that we have to be a part of making this end and it is what we need to do— not just for Palestinians, but for ourselves.

An image from a protest against President Joe Biden as he travels to give the State of the Union in Washington D.C. on March 7, 2024. Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images

BLOOMEKATZ: You’re not a stranger to the Biden Administration, even before you were appointed. These are people you’ve worked for and that you’ve helped elect and that it seems like you really believed in for a long time. What does it mean to you to resign from an administration you have spent so much time working to build?

GREENBERG CALL: You said it. I interned for Senator Harris when I was in college. She was always really inspiring to me. And then I moved to Iowa right after I graduated, a place I had never been before, to work for her campaign. And then moved to Arizona and was there from January through November of the general. 

I was terrified of a Trump presidency and knew that I had to dedicate myself in 2020 to preventing that. And you know, I think that one thing that is so devastating about this is it seems like the President is not taking the threat of another Trump presidency seriously, because the political establishment is ignoring their constituents, which are the American people, 60% of whom want a cease-fire.

My job as a public servant is to protect the American people and listen to them. That’s part of the oath that I took. And I feel like I am here fulfilling that oath. And it seems like the President is not.

It’s been very clear to me, what the right thing to do is here, and I think when you see people in charge not displaying that moral clarity and leadership, you know you have to take it on yourself.

BLOOMEKATZ: How long have you been thinking about resigning? How did you come to this decision?

It's also really horrifying to see Jewish trauma weaponized as cover for genocide, and in particular, as an American Jew, to hear the President say things like Jews wouldn't be safe if there wasn't Israel.

GREENBERG CALL: It definitely was a long process, and I sought counsel from a lot of trusted people in my life. But I think everything that has happened in the last few weeks is what led me to making this choice now. In particular, the invasion of Rafah that is happening. The brutalization of students across the country and the President’s focus on order instead of protecting people’s right to freedom and assembly.

It’s also really horrifying to see Jewish trauma weaponized as cover for genocide, and in particular, as an American Jew, to hear the President say things like Jews wouldn’t be safe if there wasn’t Israel. That’s terrifying to me, like my family came here to find safety from antisemitism. We, as American Jews, have been able to thrive here. Of course we still experienced antisemitism, but to hear the U.S. president say that and to make us decide between our moral values and to frame it as about our safety is not right, as though Palestinian life and Jewish life are somehow at odds with each other.

It’s wrong. And it’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

BLOOMEKATZ: One of the things I’ve been thinking about with your resignation is what it means for Jews to show leadership in this moment. Do you feel like a leader? Or like you’re trying to be a leader with this resignation? How are you thinking about all of this right now?

GREENBERG CALL: I don’t know if I thought of this as leadership necessarily. It became very clear to me that this was the decision, the thing that I had to do to maintain integrity. First and foremost, I could no longer stay and be representing the Biden administration. My job as an appointee is to serve at the pleasure of the President when I was morally disgusted by what is happening in Gaza, with American funding and American weapons.

Also the president’s continued commitment to using the narrative of Jewish trauma and Jewish pain to provide cover for this genocide to continue to frame the narrative as about Jewish safety and Palestinian, not even freedom, just like existence and life are somehow things that we have to choose between. And I know that that’s not true. I know that from my own experience, and I know from a broader perspective that the only thing that keeps Jews safe and anyone safe is multiracial democracy. 

This is not the narrative that I was taught in my Jewish community and growing up, and I’ve been very lucky to find new community and find leadership and guidance from people. But to me, this is a manifestation of the Jewish values that I was raised with, that I learned in day school, that I was taught by my family and by Jewish leaders. 

So even if they might not agree with me politically, I am certain that this is in the spirit of our tradition.

Ari Bloomekatz is Executive Editor at In These Times. He was previously the Managing Editor of Rethinking Schools and Tikkun magazines, and spent several years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. Follow him @bloomekatz.

Get 10 issues for $19.95

Subscribe to the print magazine.