29th Feb 2024


The EU is failing on Israel-Gaza, so it's now up to member states

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As calls for a Gaza ceasefire intensify and antisemitism and Islamophobia flare up across Europe, EU countries continue to demonstrate a woeful inability to meet their international and domestic obligations.

The EU's failure to press Israel on an immediate ceasefire makes a mockery of the bloc's repeated claims to be a defender of international rules including the so-called rules of war.

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  • Europe's sad history — and especially Germany's dark past — make it essential that Jews are forever free of prejudice in Europe. However, history should also teach us that racism and discrimination are despicable regardless of the form they take

Meanwhile at home, instead of stretching out a healing hand to all, EU politicians seem intent on dividing rather than uniting their citizens.

EU governments are quite rightly going out of their way to condemn Hamas and the terror attack on Israel on October 7 which killed 1,400 Israelis. Hostages taken during that raid must be freed.

Since then, Israel's reprisals — including attacks on hospitals — have killed over 11,000 people in Gaza, including 8,000 children and women. It is the worst loss of life in living memory for Palestinians.

The EU as a peace project and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 would have been expected to spearhead calls for peace, starting with an immediate ceasefire.

Yet following the latest meeting of EU foreign ministers, hopes of a forceful and credible joint EU position on the ceasefire have faded even further.

Ministers managed to call for a humanitarian pause and agreed to a much-need increase in humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

But the lack of EU common ground on ending Gaza's intolerable tragedy makes it essential that states which want a ceasefire break free of the EU institutional straitjacket and take urgent action on a national level.

EU countries like France which have come around — albeit belatedly — to the urgency of a ceasefire must act outside the bloc's institutional rules and framework to reach out to other fellow travellers.

The search for an EU "common position" can go on.

But EU states like France, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain — which voted recently for a humanitarian truce at the UN — should waste no more time in building a broader global coalition of like-minded nations who want to end the war.

This is not an easy conclusion to reach for those — this columnist included — who have long been avidly pro-EU and believe that the bloc is stronger when its members work together.

That assumption still applies in many areas, including in the Russia-Ukraine war.

But seeking agreement on the Middle East is depressingly impossible given EU states' different histories and cultural sensitivity — or in Germany's case insensitivity — to the Palestinian plight.

Extraordinary times and this extraordinary tragedy demand extraordinary action. The "pandemic of inhumanity" cannot be allowed to continue.

This means putting aside geopolitical rivalry and working together with countries like Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Qatar and China.

It also means recognising that the US remains stymied by its no-limits friendship with Israel and that even after four weeks of Gaza's unending nightmare, Arab and Muslim states remain incapable of decisive action.

Yet as illustrated by continuing pro-peace demonstrations across the world, calls for an immediate ceasefire are growing louder, with Amnesty International already collecting over one million signatures in favour.

Here in Europe, with Jews and Muslims on edge in the face of increased racist violence, harassment and hate crimes, the Israel-Palestine conflict has dangerous domestic implications.

What people need more than ever from those in power is a healing touch, compassion and humanity — an exceptional effort to bring people together.

Regretfully, none of this is happening.

Instead, European politicians are engaging in selective outrage and creating an informal hierarchy of rights.

Like some of their counterparts in Israel, many European Jews have joined the call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Yet even as the UN insists on peoples' right to freedom of assembly and expression, too many European politicians are conflating pro-Palestinian and pro-peace voices with support for Hamas and trying to restrict peace demonstrations and carrying of the Palestinian flag.

The increase in antisemitism across Europe is unacceptable and has very rightly been denounced by many European politicians, including some on the traditionally antisemitic Far Right.

Europe's sad history — and especially Germany's dark past — make it essential that Jews are forever free of prejudice in Europe.

However, history should also teach us that racism and discrimination are despicable regardless of the form they take.

As such, the all-too familiar knee-jerk reaction which makes all Muslims responsible for the actions of an extremist minority must also be denounced as unacceptable.

European politicians which transfer racism directed at one discriminated European minority to another must be called out for dangerous hate-mongering.

This makes it vital that data is collected also on the rise in Islamophobia across Europe and that EU policymakers start paying attention to the spike in anti-Muslim hatred, rather than referring to it in quasi-footnotes.

European politicians failure to live in a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious Europe has serious implications for Europe's societal cohesion, geopolitical reputation and economic prosperity.

Public calls for a ceasefire will grow, not diminish, in the coming weeks. By turning a deaf ear to such demands, EU leaders risk widening the trust gap between governments and citizens and further eroding the EU's already much-diminished global reputation.

Some states can still be on the right side of history. But only if they break free of the EU's self-imposed constraints, act according to their conscience and work for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Author bio

Shada Islam is an EUobserver columnist, and independent EU analyst and commentator who runs her own strategy and advisory company New Horizons Project. She has recently won the European Woman in Media award and the Media Career Award 2023 for her outstanding work and powerful voice on EU affairs and focus on building an inclusive Union of Equality.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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