Middle East Monitor / April 27, 2023
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has been slammed for repeating anti-Palestinian, far-right, Israeli talking points in a video message celebrating the 75-year anniversary of the apartheid state. Von der Leyen is a German politician who has been serving as the president of the European Commission since 2019.
“Today we celebrate 75 years of Israel’s independence and friendship with Europe,” said Von der Leyen in a video message. “Seventy-five years ago, a dream was realized, with Israel’s Independence Day. After the greatest tragedy in human history, the Jewish People could finally build a home in the Promised Land,” continued von der Leyen without mentioning that it was her country, Germany, that was responsible for the Holocaust where five million Jews were murdered.
“Today, we celebrate 75 years of vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Seventy-five years of dynamism, ingenuity and ground-breaking innovations. You have literally made the desert bloom,” Von der Leyen added, repeating the racist ahistorical claim that Palestine was barren and empty until European Jewish settlers made it “bloom”.
Von der Leyen ignored the fact that Palestine has a 4,000-year recorded history. Home to various indigenous communities, including Jews, Christians and Muslims, inhabitants of the territory had a distinct Palestinian identity. During the onset of the settler colonial Zionist take-over of Palestine in the early 20th century, over 95 per cent of the territory was inhabited by Muslim and Christian Palestinians.
Decades of colonization led to a sharp increase in European Jewish settlers. Most arrived following Germany’s genocidal policy of exterminating Jews. The sharp increase in European settlers led to communal strife especially after the realisation by the indigenous Palestinian communities that the goal of Zionism is to supplant Palestine with an ethno-nationalist state, preserving Jewish supremacy. Recognizing that the ethnic composition of Palestine, where Jews are a small minority, posed a major challenge to their vision, Zionist settlers initiated a program of ethnic cleansing which peaked in 1948 in what Palestinians call the Nakba.
“Today we also celebrate 75 years of friendship between Israel and Europe,” Von der Leyen said without any mention of the 750,000 Palestinian Muslims and Christians that were ethnically cleansed from the territory by Jewish paramilitary groups. “We have more in common than geography would suggest: our shared culture, our values, and hundreds of thousands of dual European-Israeli citizens have created a deep connection between us.”
“Europe and Israel are bound to be friends and allies,” she concluded. “Your freedom is our freedom. Happy birthday to all the people of Israel.”
In the huge backlash that followed, von der Leyen was slammed for erasing Palestinian history, a common practice amongst far-right Israeli extremists. “Israel ‘made the desert bloom’. ‘Your freedom is our freedom’. Celebrating the EU-Israel relation is one thing. But airbrushing the Palestinians and 50+ years of occupation out of existence as Von der Leyen is doing here in this video is deeply painful to watch,” said Hugh Lovatt, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“Disgraceful colonial mindset parroting Zionist propaganda about making the desert bloom,” said Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding. “Palestinians were making it bloom well before Israel existed & the Nabateans were doing it 1000s of years ago. To call Israel a vibrant democracy as it maintains a system of apartheid over Palestinians and a regime of occupation over 53 years old is a disgrace. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews fear they do not live in a democracy.”
Veteran Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi denounced Von der Leyen as “Absolutely disgraceful” while explaining that “The President of the Europ. Com. is expected to have more knowledge, integrity, & responsibility than spouting this vacuous regurgitation of tired old Zionist clichés & anti-Palestinian racist tropes that erase our very existence. Demeaning love fest.”
Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), accused von der Leyen of burying her head in the sand. “In February @hrw wrote in @euobs that the EU has “buried its head in the sand over Israel’s apartheid.” It’s only dug down deeper since. The EU needs to get its head of the sand, recognize the reality of apartheid & take the actions that a situation this grave warrants. #Israel75,” said Shakir.
Several Twitter threads debunked von der Leyen’s racist anti-Palestinian claims point by point. “Israel did not achieve ‘independence’ in 1948. What occurred was a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing and displacement of Palestinians, aimed at re-engineering the demographics and geography of Palestine from an Arab-majority nation to a Jewish-majority one,” said the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund, Jehad Abusalim.
In one of the tweets, Abusalim explained that the same European racist mindset that led to Germany committing a genocide of Jews was being practiced against Palestinians. “Ursula von der Leyen calls the Holocaust the greatest tragedy in history but fails to mention who committed it and where. She also neglects to acknowledge how European racism and violence, alongside colonial attitudes towards minorities, enabled the Holocaust,” said Abusalim.