Blinken: US missions can lower flags if host countries declare mourning for Gaza hospital victims

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in Tel Aviv, October 17, 2023. (AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in Tel Aviv, October 17, 2023. (AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sends a cable to all American diplomatic and consular posts around the world, The Times of Israel has learned, authorizing them to lower flags to half-staff  “to observe national periods of mourning following an official proclamation by the host government with respect to the loss of innocent lives at the Al Ahli hospital blast on October 18.”

Diplomats are instructed to consider whether failing to do so “would expose the US Mission to added security risk and/or isolate the US Mission vis-à-vis like-minded embassies.”

If the host government’s call for mourning expresses regret over Hamas deaths, support for terrorism, or condemns Israel, US missions may still lower the flag but must put out a statement that it is only being done to mourn the loss of innocent lives.

Blinken says guidance on what to tell local press will be forthcoming.

There was no guidance to all missions about lowering flags after the October 7 massacre. Israel too did not lower flags or declare a mourning period.

Members of the Jewish Americans in Diplomacy organization have asked the State Department to explain the policy, but have yet to receive a response, an official with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak publicly tells The Times of Israel.

Many US government agencies, including the USDA, USAID, and HHS sent out messages to employees about the Hamas attacks and antisemitic incidents in its wake, but the only communication to State Department employees was a message announcing a therapy group around the Israel-Hamas war, says the official.

“The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict- Protect your Mental Health” is designed to “address the personal, emotional, and mental health impact of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis,” says the message.

Asked about this report later Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said, “What we said in respect to the lowering of flags is that embassies could make decisions consistent with long-standing State Department policy… to decide to lower their flag when a state of mourning has been declared in that country.”

We of course, mourn the loss of innocent civilians who died in that explosion at the hospital just as we mourn the loss of 1,300 Israeli civilians in the deadly terrorist attacks by Hamas.”

“With respect to the question about [lowering] the flag at our embassy in Israel, there was not a national day of mourning them that was declared, which is one of the things that goes into the policy,” he adds.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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