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Lily Greenberg Call, Jewish staffer who quit Biden administration over Israel policy: ‘There are so many of us who feel this way’

Lily Greenberg Call, seen here during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary season with Kamala Harris, whose staff she joined, became the first Jewish Biden administration staffer to resign publicly over the Israel-Hamas war. (Courtesy Lily Greenberg Call)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Before sending the letter she knew would ricochet around the world, Lily Greenberg Call gave her parents a heads-up and said goodbye to her colleagues.

Then she went home and prepared for the storm that she correctly predicted would be unleashed Wednesday night when she was revealed to be the first Jewish staffer to resign from the Biden administration to protest President Joe Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza.

Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after watching her story unfold in public, Greenberg Call apologized for the ambient noises — distant voices, the occasional stiff breeze, cars whooshing and a siren — audible from her side of the conversation.

“I’m just walking outside because I feel like I needed a break,” she said.

It was a rare moment of calm after the frenzy not just of her news-making resignation but after months of unsuccessful advocacy to call for change from within the administration. Greenberg Call had served as a special assistant to the chief of staff in the Department of the Interior for just over a year.

“There were internal meetings and listening sessions for appointees, and I was very vocal at all of them and I was vocal internally with colleagues about how I felt — and I think it’s been very clear because there are so many of us who feel this way,” she said. “But it’s really just a small group of people making the decisions.”

Greenberg Call said she had also been bothered that the department had held separate listening sessions for Muslim and Jewish staffers. “That was strange,” she said.

For Greenberg Call, the separate meetings were especially dissonant since she had been part of conversations that brought together Jews and Palestinians for a decade, since she was in high school at San Diego Jewish Academy in California.

Greenberg Call said her first reaction upon seeing her phone light up on Oct. 7 was to text loved ones in Israel to see if they were safe as Hamas terrorists massacred hundreds of people inside the country. Then she checked in with Palestinian friends to see how they were doing as Israel planned its retaliation.

Then, she said, she realized she was suffering from PTSD from her own memories of rushing to shelters when she was just 16 years old on a Young Judaea trip to Israel.

The trauma was rooted not just in the fear she felt as a Jew during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, but in the sadness she felt as she saw the other Jewish teens on the trip express anger at the Israeli Arabs they had just bonded with as part of the program.

“We did this wonderful coexistence seminar with teenagers in a Palestinian village in Israel,” she recalled. “I was very buoyed by it, and by what I felt was like some really genuine connections that were made between Jewish teens and Palestinian teens.

“And then it was very striking as the war started to break out, the way everyone kind of switched into survival mode and, and all of our trauma was activated and people no longer wanted to keep in touch with the the other kids we teens we had befriended and it was just really sad to me to see that kind of crumble,” she said.

In high school and then at the University of California, Berkeley, Greenberg Call was active with pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC and Hillel. Over time, her activism shifted to non-Zionist, anti-occupation groups like IfNotNow. Throughout, she said, her goal was was to bring people together and to achieve the fleeting bonds she experienced in 2014 and then again in 2017 when she visited Israel with Hillel Perspectives (which is underwritten by the Adelson family-funded Maccabee Task Force).

“We went to the West Bank, we went to Ramallah, we went to Bethlehem, we met with Palestinian Authority officials and tons of people within Israel,” she said of the group she traveled with, which was mostly not Jewish. “There were a lot of important conversations that were had.”

In the days after Oct. 7, Palestinians Greenberg Call had met through pro-Palestinian activism prior to joining the administration in 2022 texted and called to see how she was holding up.

“That was incredibly moving, and also really, I mean, painful in so many ways, to feel like we could understand each other and we could be there for each other,” she said. “And there were so many people outside of our worlds who I don’t know, who just don’t understand the reality that no one is going anywhere and that like our safety and our futures are connected.”

The decision to resign over the war was not an easy one, Greenberg Call said. She campaigned for then-Sen. Kamala Harris in her 2020 presidential bid, and then when Biden named Harris his running mate, Greenberg Call joined the campaign. She loved her job in part because of her admiration for Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, the first indigenous person to hold the job.

“I think she’s incredibly principled, and her appointment is historic,” she said. “The focus on Indigenous communities and representation and commitment to them is just unparalleled.”

But ultimately, she said, she was disheartened that the message she and her colleagues had been delivering about the war in Gaza did not seem to be making an impact.

Her privilege as a white Jew helped spur her to speak out. “I have the privilege of being Jewish of being white, and therefore people will listen to me more, you know, not accuse me of being a terrorist in the same way that they will accuse my Palestinian friends,” she said. “I have complicated feelings about the fact that people defer to Jewish people for guidance on this, and I don’t think that that is right. And I think we should be passing the mic to Palestinians more and more.”

That’s the message that Greenberg Call wants the Jewish community that raised her to hear: that t woman brought up in a Jewish day school and in pro-Israel advocacy is anguished about the prospects of people she loves on both sides of the conflict — and that ending it will protect everyone’s safety.

“I’m sure that there’s people who are not pleased,” she said. “But you know, ultimately, I hope that they can one day understand that this is for them and for us, too. And it’s not in spite of them. It is you know, because of the values I was raised with and then the convictions that those values have led me to.”

The post Lily Greenberg Call, Jewish staffer who quit Biden administration over Israel policy: ‘There are so many of us who feel this way’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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