European Parliament debates Israel-Hamas war

Though the EU unanimously condemned the October 7 attacks by Hamas, the bloc is divided about IDF strikes on Gaza

During a debate, members of the European Parliament tempered words of solidarity for Israel with rebukes (photo: DW)
During a debate, members of the European Parliament tempered words of solidarity for Israel with rebukes (photo: DW)


Since the fresh eruption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the European Union has struggled to speak with one voice.

The 27 member states have universally condemned the October 7 assault on Israeli territory by the militant group Hamas, which is classified as a terror organization by the EU, US and other governments. But some EU member states have been much more critical than others of Israel's response: An onslaught of rockets and a total siege on Gaza, the Palestinian territory ruled by Hamas.

Addressing the European Parliament in the French city of Strasbourg on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — who has been under fire for going it alone on foreign policy of late — once again stressed solidarity with Israel.

"Hamas' terrorists slaughtered over 1,400 men, women, children and babies in one day for one single reason, because they were Jews, just living in the State of Israel, with the explicit goal to eradicate Jewish life," the German center-right politician said.

Von der Leyen, who traveled to Israel last week, also condemned a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital compound Tuesday night that killed an estimated 500 Palestinians. Israel and Hamas accuse each other of responsibility. "The scenes from Al-Ahli hospital are horrifying and distressing," von der Leyen said, without pointing fingers in either direction. "There is no excuse for hitting a hospital full of civilians."

Not for the first time in the past week, the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, took a noticeably firmer line on Israel than von der Leyen. "Yes, we condemn these terrible terrorist attacks, but I think we also have to condemn the fact of civilian victims," Borrell, a center-left Spaniard, told the European Parliament.

"It is clearly stated that depriving a human community under siege of a basic water supply is contrary to international law — in Ukraine and in Gaza," Borrell said. "If we are unable to say so, for both places, we lack the moral authority necessary to make our voice heard."

No 'unconditional support'

EU countries decide on their collective foreign policy positions together, but individual member states don't always see eye-to-eye in the long-standing conflict. Some tend to side more with Palestinians (such as Ireland, Spain and Luxembourg) while others tend to back Israel (Hungary, Austria and Germany).

Left-leaning members of the European Parliament are much more critical of Israeli authorities, while their counterparts across the aisle emphasize the country's right to self-defense and the threat posed by Hamas. EU representatives taking the floor in Strasbourg on Wednesday unequivocally condemned Hamas' attack.

"We must be crystal clear: We stand with Israel — no hesitations, no excuses, no buts," said Manfred Weber, a member of the European Parliament from Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union and the leader of the EU legislature's center-right European People's Party.

"We are fighting against Hamas, against terrorism, not against the Palestinian people," Weber said. He also took a swipe at Borrell for not visiting Israel, where von der Leyen and senior US officials have met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Iratxe Garcia, the leader of the center-left Socialist group, offered a message of compassion for Israel, but added that "we should remind Mr. Netanyahu that crimes cannot be fought with other crimes." Garcia said the Israeli military's call last week for 1.1 million people — roughly half the population of Gaza — to leave home in just a few hours was "totally unacceptable." The European Union must call for international mediation, a ceasefire, the release of Israeli hostages taken to Gaza on October 7 and the opening of a humanitarian corridor through neighboring Egypt, Garcia said.

Manon Aubry, a French representative from the democratic socialist The Left group in the European Parliament, laid into von der Leyen on Tuesday for offering "unconditional support" to Netanyahu, speaking of millions of civilians trapped by bombs and siege by Israel on Gaza. "Three thousand are dead, a third of them children," Aubry said, calling on the European Union to push for a cease-fire.

Members of the European Parliament are set to vote on a joint resolution summing up their shared position on Thursday.

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Published: 19 Oct 2023, 11:33 AM