EU staff criticise von der Leyen for 'double standards' on Ukraine and Gaza

In a letter, seen by The National, almost 800 staff accuse the Commission president of widening the gap between Europe and the Muslim world

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About 800 EU staff members have signed a letter to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, accusing her of widening the gap between Europe and the Muslim world and escalating security risks for EU delegations with her response to the Israel-Hamas war.

The letter, seen by The National and dated Friday, starts by condemning the Hamas attacks on October 7 which killed more than 1,400 Israelis, before criticising Ms von der Leyen for her staunchly pro-Israeli position and her slow call on Israel to respect international humanitarian law as it shells the Gaza Strip.

The signatories accuse Ms von der Leyen of “double standards” regarding her reaction to the war in Ukraine and to the Middle East conflict.

“We hardly recognise the values of the EU in the seeming indifference demonstrated over the past few days by our institution towards the continuing massacre of civilians in the Gaza Strip, in disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law,” say the authors, who did not sign the letter by name.

They highlighted their “surprise” at the EU Commission flying the Israeli flag in the wake of the Hamas attacks.

“We are concerned by the strong and immediate support by the Commission you represent for one of the two parties without, at the same time, calling for the full respect of international humanitarian law.”

Israel has responded to the Hamas attacks with an intense shelling of the Gaza Strip, causing the death of more than 4,100 people in the enclave. It is also preparing a land offensive which many fear will cause the conflict to spill over to Lebanon.

The letter says Israel's siege of Gaza, which has left locals without running water and electricity, is “completely ignored” in Brussels, despite Ms von der Leyen describing similar acts committed by Russia against Ukraine as “an act of terror.”


As a result, the Commission's “partisan position” has “reinforced an unfortunate ambient short-sightedness”, continues the letter, which “is contributing to widen the gap between Europe and the Muslim world, inside and outside the borders of the Union, as well as increasing anti-Semitic feelings".

“This is not only hazardous from the security point of view, including for EU staff in headquarters and delegations, but it fosters the emergence of ideologies that have affected generations of Europeans before us,” says the letter.

Contacted by The National, a European Commission representative said they were aware of the letter which was signed by some Commission staff members.

“Of course, the Commission is always ready to engage with staff members and with citizens, to listen to their views and explain its position,” they said.

“This occasion allows us to recall a few elements relating to the horrific situation that the attacks by the Hamas terrorists have triggered in Israel and in Gaza.”

They pointed at Ms von der Leyen's comments during her visit to Israel last week, during which she said: “I’m very grateful that you said very clearly that Hamas are the terrorists but that we have to care for the Palestinian people in humanitarian needs.”

The footage seemed to show Ms von der Leyen's first public comments discussing humanitarian needs for Palestinians. It was published on Sunday on Ms von der Leyen's social media account on X, formerly Twitter, two days after the visit and over a week after Hamas's initial attack.

The representative also highlighted that in her meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ms von der Leyen said that “the horror that Hamas has unleashed is only bringing more suffering upon innocent Palestinians”.

Ms von der Leyen has since reiterated her call on Israel to respect international humanitarian law and has announced an increase in EU aid to Palestinians.

In a speech delivered in Washington on Thursday, she compared Hamas to Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying they both "deliberately sought out innocent civilians".

Her comparison is likely to hit a brick wall in the Arab world, Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at think tank ECFR, told The National.

"The unwillingness of European leaders to seriously articulate Palestinian political grievances and the reality that they have been living under an Israeli occupation will make it very hard for Arab states to align themselves in a serious way with the idea that Hamas equates to Putin", he said.

"If Europeans are serious about engaging with the Arab world and making progress in resolving this issue, they're going to have to do a much better job of acknowledging that wider context, even as they wholeheartedly condemn Hamas."

Ms von der Leyen, who has recently spoken to several Arab leaders including Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, and UAE President Sheikh Mohamed, also said "escalation was not inevitable" and that "dialogue between Israel and its neighbours must continue".

Yet the Commission's initial confused messaging about a possible suspension of all aid to Palestinians further deepened the impression of “European cacophony”, the letter to Ms von der Leyen said.

In the past week, some diplomats in Brussels have privately expressed fury at Ms von der Leyen's positioning on the conflict, telling The National that she had no mandate to represent all of the bloc's member states when she travelled to Israel.

“We urge you to uphold the conventions that the EU has ratified, and call out for other players to do the same, regardless of their respective positions,” said the letter.

“Otherwise, the EU risks losing all credibility and the position as a fair, equitable and humanist broker, which can only be legitimate if we hold ourselves and all the nations equally accountable.”

About 10 per cent of the EU Commission's 30,000 employees work outside the bloc.

Updated: October 20, 2023, 6:42 PM