Von der Leyen’s Israel comments provoke Palestinian ire

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has come under attack from Palestine, after praising Israeli democracy in comments to mark the 75th anniversary of Israel’s foundation.

In a video message posted by the EU embassy in Israel, von der Leyen paid tribute to Israel as “a vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East.”

“You have literally made the desert bloom,” she added — a comment that was denounced by the Palestinian foreign ministry.

“The State of Palestine rejects the inappropriate, false and discriminatory remarks by the president of the European Commission, particularly the ‘make the desert bloom’ anti-Palestinian racist trope in relation to Israel’s 75 year colonial project,” a statement said, accusing von der Leyen of “propagandist discourse.”

Von der Leyen, who visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last June, also praised the EU-Israel relationship.

“We have more in common than geography would suggest, our shared culture, our values and hundreds of thousands of dual Israeli-EU citizens have created a deep connection,” she said in the video message addressed to Israeli President Isaac Herzog. “Your freedom is our freedom.”

The Palestinian foreign ministry said that the statement by von der Leyen “undermines the European Union’s standing and casts serious doubts on its declared commitment to international law and human rights.”

Israel is currently mired in political division following the proposed move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to overhaul its judicial system. The move sparked massive protests and strikes in the country, and was condemned by the international community, including U.S. President Joe Biden. Following domestic and international pressure, Netanyahu announced he would delay the changes until the next parliamentary session.

Earlier this year there were reports that Israel had blocked EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell from visiting Israel, though a spokesperson refused to confirm that this was the case, saying it was a matter for the Israeli government.

The European Commission is far from the only institution to mark this week’s anniversary. Several countries commemorated Israel this week, with buildings in Poland, Lithuania and the U.S. illuminated in Israeli flag colors.

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