The Credibility of the West

Eight Hundred forty-two EU employees protest against von der Leyen's Gaza policy. Diplomats warn, the West has lost all credibility in the Global South because of its disregard for civilian deaths in Gaza.

BERLIN/BRUSSELS/TEL AVIV (Own report) – In an unprecedented protest letter, some 850 EU staff members launched an attack on Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's high-handed policy on the war in Gaza. The protest was sparked by the debate on how Brussels should react to Israel’s attacks on Gaza and the cutting off access to food and water to the civilian population in the wake of the Hamas massacres on October 7. Whereas an EU majority demands that Israel comply with international humanitarian law, von der Leyen had initially avoided it, thereby effectively adopting Berlin's position. In their protest letter, the staff members write that they are concerned about “the seeming indifference demonstrated” toward civilians in the Gaza Strip and warn that “the EU risks losing all credibility.” Already last week, diplomats told the Financial Times that the same standards applied to Russia in the war in Ukraine should also apply to the war in Gaza. Since this was obviously not the case, we must now assume that the countries of the Global South “won’t ever listen to us again.” Already at the next UN vote on Ukraine, “we’ll see a big explosion in the number of abstentions.”

The Humanitarian Catastrophe

The humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip is spreading. As the WHO reports, twelve of the Gaza Strip’s 35 hospitals are no longer in operation, because they were either destroyed or have no electricity. Around a thousand dialysis patients, 130 prematurely born babies, as well as many patients in intensive care, who have had or need surgery are in acute danger. Hospitals in the north, cannot receive supplies as long as there is no humanitarian ceasefire. The medicine and medical material, beginning to arrive in small quantities are insufficient for the hospitals in the south.[1] Food is also getting low. So far, only 54 trucks have reached the Gaza Strip. It is reported that before to the war, they totaled 100/day. At the same time, some of the aid supplies cannot be used. Rice and lentils, for example, cannot be cooked due to a lack of potable water and fuel. Drinking water is running out for a growing number of people. Lack of water and mass exodus are leading to desolate hygienic conditions. Doctors are already registering an increase in relevant diseases. At least 5,791 people have been killed by Israeli strikes, including 2,360 children. Another 1,550 people are missing.[2]

Multifront Wars

The United States is now urging Israel to continue to postpone its long-awaited ground offensive into the Gaza Strip. Already during their visits to Tel Aviv last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and then US President Joe Biden called for moderation, warning especially against an Israeli attack on Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which would open a second front. Both also urged greater restraint in the Gaza Strip, to avoid an escalation of the war into a conflagration. US government officials were quoted predicting that a two-front war would be very difficult for Israel to win and would draw not only US military forces in, but possibly Iran’s as well.[3] Should that happen, Washington would once again be tied down in the Middle East – in addition to its military support for Ukraine. The consequences in terms of power policy are already apparent. Over the weekend, the conflict between China and the Philippines over a reef in the South China Sea, has escalated. Although the USA has assured the Philippines that, in an emergency, it would – even militarily – come to its aid, however that would lead to a 3-front war which, its military predicts, cannot be won.[4]

Dispute over the Ceasefire

At the same time, the dispute over the EU’s stance on Israel’s actions is doing is escalating. Sunday, for the first time, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen supplemented her original position – Israel has the right to defend itself – adding that this “must be “in accordance with international law.”[5] The fact that during her visit to Israel, she had avoided saying that, sparked strong criticism in Brussels and in numerous EU member countries. Moreover, she has agreed to expand humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, which the commission had completely halted following the October 7, Hamas massacre. Like the German government, whose standpoint von der Leyen had adopted for the EU – even without any legitimacy from EU resolutions – she is just as unwilling to take further steps to alter her course. At a meeting with her EU counterparts, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock explicitly rejected the demand for a “humanitarian ceasefire,” and spoke in favor of continuing the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.[6] On the other hand, hand, EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell and several other foreign ministers explicitly demanded that the weapons be silenced at least for a period to guarantee that supplies can reach the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. The United Nations is also calling for a ceasefire.

Unconditionally Indifferent

Von der Leyen’s unilateral approach is provoking strong protests, not only from member states, but also from within the EU bureaucracy. Late last week, the President of the Commission received a letter signed by 842 EU staff members shapely criticizing her position on the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. The signatories condemn the massacre carried out by Hamas on more than a thousand Israeli civilians, but also criticize the fact that von der Leyen – contrary to the current state of the debate in the EU – “seems to give Tel Aviv a free hand to the acceleration and the legitimacy of a war crime in the Gaza Strip with her “unconditional” support for Israel’s actions.”[7] The signatories are “concerned” about “the seeming indifference demonstrated by our institution – the Commission – toward the ongoing massacre of civilians in the Gaza Strip, in disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law”.[8] Finally, the letter, which observers consider extraordinary, even characterizing it as a possible unprecedented rebellion, warns that “the EU risks losing all credibility.”


Last week, that is precisely what critics were warning about, not just pertaining to the EU, but to the West, in general. The warning grows out of the fact that in the Middle East conflict many countries in the Global South are on the side of the Palestinians, but are now witnessing again that the West adamantly criticizes acts of war by its adversaries – e. g., Russia’s war in Ukraine – but unconditionally tolerates Israel’s methods against Hamas. This pertains particularly to attacks on the infrastructure and cutting off the civilian population from energy, food and water. The Financial Times quoted a senior G7 diplomat warning that “we have definitely lost the battle in the Global South.”[9] The diplomat added, “What we said about Ukraine has to apply to Gaza. Otherwise, we lose all our credibility. (...) The Brazilians, the South Africans, the Indonesians: why should they ever believe what we say about human rights? Forget about rules, forget about world order. They won’t ever listen to us again.”

No Longer Without Consequences

That is exactly what is now happening. Last Saturday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II declared at the Cairo “Peace Summit”: “The message the Arab world is hearing is loud and clear. Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones. Our lives matter less than other lives. The application of international law is optional, and human rights have boundaries — they stop at borders, they stop at races and they stop at religions.”[10] Ex-NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned already last week that the resentment that gives rise to such statements is no longer without consequences. “We, the West, do not call the shots anymore,” observed Hoop Scheffer, “and the Global South says: ‘Please, we have a voice as well, which you have neglected for some time,’”[11] Unlike in the past, it can be expected that the Global South will ally with Russia and China. “There’s a risk” de Hoop Scheffer noted “that at the next vote in the [UN] General Assembly on supporting Ukraine, we’ll see a big explosion in the number of abstentions.”


[1] As Gaza's health system disintegrates, WHO calls for safe passage of fuel, supplies for health facilities. 24.10.2023.

[2] Death toll in Gaza from Israeli airstrikes rises to 5,791 Palestinians according to Hamas-run health ministry. 24.10.2023.

[3] Edward Wong, Ronen Bergman, Julian E. Barnes: Biden and Aides Advise Israel to Avoid Widening War With Hezbollah Strike. 20.10.2023.

[4] Jochen Stahnke: Kollisionskurs im Südchinesischen Meer. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 24.10.2023.

[5] Hans von der Burchard: Von der Leyen doubles down on pro-Israel stance, lashes out at Iran. 22.10.2023.

[6] Thomas Gutschker: Strategisches Händchenhalten. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 24.10.2023.

[7] Daniel Steinvorth: Protest gegen von der Leyens Gaza-Politik. Neue Zürcher Zeitung 24.10.2023.

[8] Aurélie Pugnet, Davide Basso: EU staff criticise von der Leyen over Israel stance. 20.10.2023.

[9] Henry Foy: Rush by west to back Israel erodes developing countries' support for Ukraine. 18.10.2023.

[10] Vivian Yee, Matina Stevis-Gridneff: Peace Summit in Egypt Shows a Shift in Rhetoric but no Consensus. 21.10.2023.

[11] Henry Foy: Rush by west to back Israel erodes developing countries' support for Ukraine. 18.10.2023.