EC chief Von der Leyen's praise for Israeli start-ups draws Palestinian ire

German politician lauds Israel for 'making the desert bloom'

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. AP
Powered by automated translation

Head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen praised Israel’s “vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East” and booming start-up sector in a congratulatory video on the country’s 75th anniversary, comments that drew swift Palestinian anger.

The high-profile German politician lauded Israel for “making the desert bloom”, a reference to the country’s powerful food-tech industry, which recorded total investment of $1.4 billion between 2017 and 2022, according to Israeli start-up news website CTech.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry described the comments as "inappropriate, false and discriminatory” and as using an “anti-Palestinian racist trope”. The EU is the Palestinian Authority’s main donor.

Israel often uses the term “making the desert bloom” to describe its development of the country’s landscape.

In response to the Palestinian foreign ministry, a spokesperson for the European Commission told the BBC: “The EU is unpleasantly surprised by the inappropriate statement of the Palestinian foreign ministry accusing the president of the European Commission of racism.”

In her address, Ms von der Leyen said: “Seventy-five years ago, a dream was realised with Israel's Independence Day. After the greatest tragedy in human history, the Jewish people could finally build a home in the promised land.”

The video, released on the EU in Israel Twitter account on Wednesday, has been viewed nearly four million times.

Updated: April 28, 2023, 8:38 AM