They say they have struggled to reconcile their personal convictions with their professional obligations, which by definition require that they keep their opinions to themselves and zealously advocate the position of the member of Congress who employs them. They have voiced their dissenting opinions in internal meetings and grappled with what to say on calls with constituents.
And many have concluded that they have no choice but to speak out — albeit most without using their names — in a remarkably open break from the cardinal Capitol Hill rule that holds that aides should stay in the background and never publicly contradict the boss.
“For a lot of people, this is a real red line,” said Jeremy Slevin, a senior adviser to Representative Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who is among the few members of Congress in her party to have called for a cease-fire. “It’s so horrific what’s happening, and it’s so elemental to be able to oppose the bombing of a refugee camp, for example. And it feels like the conversation up here on Capitol Hill, it’s totally divorced from reality — from the reality on the ground in Israel and Gaza, but also from the reality of the views of their own constituents and staffers.”
Most lawmakers in both political parties are staunchly pro-Israel. There is typically little tolerance on Capitol Hill for harsh criticism of the Jewish state, which some members of Congress — particularly conservative Republicans — almost reflexively brand as antisemitic.
Some Democratic congressional aides have been outspoken on the record about their defense of Israel, in contrast with their co-workers who are challenging their bosses and who have generally felt compelled to stay publicly anonymous.
Adam Jentleson, the chief of staff for Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, recently wrote on X: “hamas just *broke a ceasefire* to slaughter innocents. some think hamas will now magically abide by a ceasefire. some of us think this is unrealistic & offers up more innocents for slaughter.”
Mr. Fetterman, a progressive Democrat, has vocally defended Israel and supported humanitarian pauses, but not a cease-fire.
In an email to staff members in late October, Mr. Jentleson reminded aides that while they were permitted to sign open letters anonymously, social media posts or comments that contradicted the senator’s positions were “prohibited.”
“You cannot use your status as a current Fetterman staffer to undermine John’s positions or otherwise make a public statement that is inconsistent with John’s views,” Mr. Jentleson wrote, adding, “As the saying goes, our names are not on the door.”
Aides typically play a significant behind-the-scenes role in advising and guiding lawmakers’ policy positions. But the large public displays of disagreement, including last week’s walkout at the Capitol and a wave of open letters to lawmakers, reflect a profound generational divide among Democrats about how far to go in criticizing Israel’s military campaign.
“I can’t think of a similar or comparable effort by staff,” said Mr. Slevin, who has worked in various jobs on Capitol Hill for the better part of a decade. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”
In the last few weeks, hundreds of staff members have signed on to letters calling on members of Congress to endorse a cease-fire. Dozens have appeared at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, including one steps from the White House where some hoisted signs that read, “Congress, your staff demands a cease-fire.”
“The voices of members of Congress hold immense power — we have seen it firsthand,” read one such open letter, which was led by Jewish and Muslim aides and signed by more than 550 staff members as of Nov. 9. “We now ask them to use that power to protect civilians in imminent danger.”
The signers accused lawmakers of ignoring the plight of Palestinian civilians killed in Israel’s military campaign while focusing intently on the Israeli civilians killed and taken hostage in Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7. The health ministry in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, estimates that 11,000 civilians have been killed there over the last month.
“We have appreciated seeing nearly every member of Congress express quick and unequivocal solidarity with the Israeli people,” the letter said, “but we are profoundly disturbed that such shows of humanity have barely been extended to the Palestinian people.”