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842 EU staff members express fury over von der Leyen stance on Israel-Hamas conflict

October 21, 2023 at 12:52 pm

Israeli President Isaac Herzog (C) meets with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (R) and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola (L) in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 13, 2023. [IDF Spokesperson Unit – Anadolu Agency]

842 staff members of EU institutions have written a letter to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen expressing fury over her stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The letter, which has been seen by The Irish Times, accuses the commission of giving “a free hand to the acceleration and the legitimacy of a war crime in the Gaza Strip”.

It begins by condemning the Hamas attack on Israel before continuing: “We equally strongly condemn the disproportionate reaction by the Israeli government against 2.3 million Palestinian civilians trapped in the Gaza Strip”.

“We hardly recognise the values of the EU in the seeming indifference demonstrated over the past few days by our Institution toward the ongoing massacre of civilians in the Gaza Strip,” it continues.

The letter warns that the EU is “losing all credibility and the position as a fair, equitable and humanist broker” and damaging its international relations as well as risking the safety of EU staff.

“We are saddened by the patent show of double-standards which considers the blockade (water and fuel) operated by Russia on the Ukrainian people as an act of terror whilst the identical act by Israel against the Gazan people is completely ignored,” the letter reads.

The signatories are from a wide range of EU countries including Ireland.

READ: Israel demands evacuation of 20 hospitals in northern Gaza

“We cannot remain silent observers when the Institution you represent as President not only has been unable to halt the Palestinian tragedy unfolding for decades in full impunity, but by its recent unfortunate actions or positions seem to give a free hand to the acceleration and the legitimacy of a war crime in the Gaza Strip,” they write.

It follows stiff criticism of president von der Leyen in the European Parliament and among EU national diplomats for her expression of unqualified support for Israel’s response to the Hamas attack in a trip to Israel, while opting not to make a call for the respect of international law as member states had done.

The letter was circulated internally among staff of the European Commission and other institutions, with supporters invited to sign the letter on an online page which reached 842 signatures before the appeal closed.

Messages left by EU staff reflect deep anger and disillusionment, including among longstanding EU diplomatic staff and specialists in foreign affairs.

“As an EU diplomat I feel embarrassed by the stand taken by the institution in external communications since the start of the crisis,” one wrote.

“We observe the death of diplomacy unfolding in front of our eyes and we do not see any expression or action being taken rooted in the values on which the EU was built.”

Another commented that the EU had “destroyed all the good work done in the recent decades with the Palestinian authorities and people”.

READ: Israel settler: ‘Israel forces killed hostages, not Hamas’

“As a European, I do not want any war crimes supported in my name,” wrote another signatory. “I was surprised President von der Leyen proclaimed the Commission’s support for the Israeli government, regardless of how it chose to respond to the Hamas attacks, despite not having a mandate to do so by Member States.”

Others questioned the wisdom of expressing strong support to the current Israeli government, which includes far-right pro-settler politicians under prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a divisive figure within Israel whose popularity has sunk further following the Hamas attack.

“It is surely imperative that the EU uses its influence as a global actor to put pressure on Israel to take the first steps towards a peaceful settlement of this long ongoing conflict, by ending the continuous gross violations of basic human rights and international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” one signatory wrote.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said she was aware of the letter and that “the Commission is always ready to engage with staff members and with citizens, to listen to their views and explain its position”.

The spokeswoman also said that as well as condemning Hamas, following her trip to Israel Dr von der Leyen had also said it was important to look after the humanitarian needs of Palestinians and that Israel had the right to defend itself according to international law.

Source: The Irish Times