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The European Commission Building in Brussels Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen

'Battle of flags doesn't help’: Irish politicians condemn Israeli flag on EU Commission building

Minister Eamon Ryan has said Ireland has been consistent in its support of the Palestinian people.

A GOVERNMENT MINISTER and two MEPs have said they do not agree with the projection of the Israeli flag on the European Commission building in Brussels over the weekend. 

Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews said the display of the flag on the building was “an overreach” while Independent MEP Clare Daly said that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had “gone far beyond the powers afforded to her”.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said that a “battle of flags and emblems isn’t exactly going to help”.

Landmarks around Europe, including the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and Downing Street in London, have been lit up with the blue and white flag of Israel in a show of solidarity since Hamas’s attack on Saturday. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted a photo of the Berlaymont building in Brussels, home to the headquarters of the European Commission, lit up with the projection of the Israeli flag. In the accompanying caption, she wrote: 

“Today, Hamas terrorists have struck at the heart of Israel capturing and killing innocent women and children. Israel has the right to defend itself – today and in the days to come.

“The European Union stands with Israel.”

At least 700 people were killed in southern Israel on Saturday when Hamas militants stormed out of Gaza and attacked Israeli settlements in an unprecedented surprise strike. 

In Gaza, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave said that “560 people were killed and another 2,900 injured” in Israeli strikes in retaliation.

Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews was unequivocal in his view that the projection of the flag onto the Commission Building was inappropriate and said Ireland’s stance on Israel-Palestine was “clearly at odds” with President von der Leyen.

He added that doing so was “undoubtedly an overreach” by the Commission.

Andrews told The Journal: “I do not believe it was appropriate to display the Israeli flag on the European Commission building, not only because this is a highly divisive conflict, but especially because the European Commission has no authority as regards the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.”

He said foreign policy is a competence of Member States who are collectively represented by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, alongside the President of the European Council Charles Michel.

“The official EU stance on this conflict is in support of a negotiated two state solution and I don’t believe that displaying one side’s flag moves us closer to this goal, nor does it equate to solidarity with those affected,” he said. 

The Journal asked Andrews if Ireland was at odds with the EU in relation to the Israel-Palestine issue to which he responded: 

“In the Council, Ireland’s stance is shared by some other Member States, but Ireland is clearly at odds with President Von Der Leyen on the matter. As such, the issue is not as simple as Ireland versus EU.”

Andrews added that he condemned the “attacks and terrorism” by Hamas since Saturday morning in the same way he has “continuously condemned the Israeli government for its illegal occupation and annexation of Palestine as well as the crimes against Palestinians”.

“Attacks on citizens are a breach of international law, no matter which side they are from,” he said. 

“We must express our solidarity with both the Israeli and Palestinian people whose lives have been upturned by the recent escalation. However, this does not mean legitimising either the actions of the Israeli government, or Hamas, who do not represent Palestine.”

On Ursula von der Leyen’s assertion that Israel “has the right to defend itself – today and in the days to come”, Andrews said he would be reluctant to support Israeli retaliation.

“I have been appalled at the actions of the Netanyahu government in Gaza and the West Bank, which include illegal occupation, torture, civilian killings and countless other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, so I would be reluctant to support Israeli retaliation under Netanyahu’s leadership.

“Ultimately, the current situation reflects a gross failure of leadership on both sides, as well as internationally,” he said. 

Looking ahead, Andrews said Ireland’s priority must be pushing for an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated two-state solution.

He said Ireland has an opportunity to advocate on behalf of Palestinian civilians but that “we must be careful not equate Hamas with Palestine, nor to support the narrative that terrorism is an essential part of any resistance, otherwise the European Union will become deeply polarized and Ireland risks badly damaging its reputation”.

Independent MEP Clare Daly told The Journal that von der Leyen has “gone far beyond the powers afforded to her”.

Daly’s retweet criticising von der Leyen’s message has been liked over 96,000 times, including by fellow MEP Luke Ming Flanagan. 

“There is no unanimous agreement across the 27 Member States on the unqualified, unconditional support for the Israeli government expressed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the weekend.

“In that sense, the President of the European Commission, who was appointed as the head of Europe’s civil service, is at odds with the Council, which is made up of democratically elected governments,” Daly said.

She added that she believes the lighting up of the European Commission building with the Israeli flag is not just inappropriate but “grotesque” and calls into question the credibility of the EU. 

She also pointed out that the same has never been done with the Palestinian flag following acts of Israeli violence. 

Daly said: “The state of Israel’s murderous violence against Palestinians is well-known and well-documented, as is the fact that Israel is an apartheid state responsible for a catalogue of war crimes over decades, and a state which has zero regard for international law.

“For the European Commission to express unqualified support for Israel, at this time, in the full knowledge that Israel will carry out heinous acts of violence against Palestinians in retaliation for Saturday’s attacks by Hamas, is reckless, it is irresponsible, and it is yet another hammer blow to the credibility of the European Union.”

In addition to this, Daly said it is “completely inappropriate and reckless” for von der Leyen to offer Israel “carte blanche and unconditional support for anything they may do in the future”. 

Daly pointed to the declaration of a siege of Gaza by Israel earlier today which will cut off all electricity, food and fuel supplies. 

“An untold number of innocent people will suffer horribly because of this; many will die,” Daly said. 

Daly agreed with Andrews that Ireland has a unique opportunity to advocate on behalf of Palestinian civilians and said this must be seized by our government.

“In the days and weeks to come, the Irish government and Irish diplomats must stand firm in support of peace, de-escalation and international law, and against those reckless voices who only seek to feed the cycle of violence,” she said. 

Eamon Ryan 

Speaking to reporters in Dublin this afternoon, Transport Minister and leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan said a “battle of flags and emblems isn’t exactly going to help”.

“I think it is a moment for slightly calm heads and trying to dial down a lot of the tensions, of any flags,” Ryan said.

He pointed to the lessons learned from the Troubles in Northern Ireland and said: 

“Well firstly we condemn terrorist violence but also we stand up for Constitutional Rights, and it’s a very hard balance to make.

“But I think we in our country have been good at that. One of the things we’ve learned is maybe a battle of flags and emblems isn’t exactly going to help.”

Ryan said he “unreservedly condemns what has happened in Israel in recent days” and said Ireland remains very supportive of the Palestinian cause which he said has been “deeply harmed and damaged by the actions of Hamas”.

“We all know, the Irish government have been very strong in also calling out the lack of action from the Israeli government to address the rights and the right cause of the Palestinian people.

“But that can’t be a reason to be unequivocal in terms of what is an absolute and utter tragedy and a crime in the killing of those people,” Ryan said.

He added that the occupation of Palestine and the injustice that the Palestinian people have suffered “cannot be an excuse for terrorism” but said that Ireland’s position on seeking to recognise Palestinian statehood remains unchanged. 

“To condemn one does not undermine the case for the other,” he said. 

So far, over 1,200 people have already been killed since Saturday in Israel and Gaza.