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USAID contractor resigns after claiming work on Palestine was censored

Resignation adds to growing list of people working for US government who have resigned in protest against Biden's Gaza stance
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meeting USAID administrator Samantha Power in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, on 29 February 2024 (Thaer Ghanaim/PPO/AFP)

Alexander Smith, a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), resigned from his private sector position on Monday, saying he could no longer perform contract work for the Biden administration after a presentation he was preparing on Gaza’s humanitarian crisis was cancelled.

Smith claimed that USAID gave him a choice between resigning or dismissal after he attempted to give a presentation on maternal and child mortality among Palestinians, according to The Guardian.

USAID material online shows that Smith has worked on projects including gender and global health and development and the economic cost of gender-based violence.

“I cannot do my job in an environment in which specific people cannot be acknowledged as fully human, or where gender and human rights principles apply to some, but not to others, depending on their race,” Smith wrote, according to a resignation letter referenced by The Guardian.

Smith worked for the Highbury Defense Group, which has a government contract with USAID.

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Palestine redacted

According to The Guardian, Smith was scheduled last week to give a presentation to an internal USAID conference on maternal and child mortality in Gaza and the West Bank.

USAID’s Middle East department told Smith to redact multiple sections, which Smith said included a slide on international humanitarian law, language that alluded to a Palestinian state, and references to agencies that have Palestine in their title, like the UN Family Planning Association (UNFPA) Palestine. The US does not officially recognise a Palestinian state. 

After disagreements over the edits, USAID cancelled Smith’s briefing, and two days later his company told him USAID wasn’t satisfied with his work. Given the choice of resigning or being dismissed, Smith chose the former.

A USAID official told The Guardian that Smith’s talk was cancelled because the presentation he wanted to give was outside the scope of his contract with USAID. Smith worked for the infectious disease section of USAID.

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“Alex's resignation…highlights the corporate kowtowing to political pressure that leads companies to censor and punish intellectually honest commentary rather than risk corporate profits,” Josh Paul, an official overseeing US arms transfers who was the first State Department official to quit in protest against US support for Israel, wrote on LinkedIn.

“If USAID initiated Highbury's actions to remove Alex, after years of positive performance reports, on the basis of his presentation, and if Highbury moved to remove him on the basis of his professional analysis, it is an outrage against the mission of the former, and a stain on the reputation of the latter,” he added.

Smith’s resignation adds to a small but growing list of officials working inside or for the US government who have resigned in protest against the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza.

On Tuesday, Stacy Gilbert, a career official in the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), told staff she was resigning because she felt the State Department had wrongly concluded that Israel was not preventing the entry of aid into Gaza.

Earlier this month, Lilly Greenberg Call became the first Jewish-American political official to resign. Call worked in the Department of Interior, but there have been a number of high-profile resignations from officials working on the Middle East and defence.

Major Harrison Mann tendered his resignation from the Department of Defence Intelligence Agency in May, citing Washington's support for the war on Gaza.

USAID didn't respond to MEE's request for comment by the time of publication. 

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