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Calls For The Resignation Of The Commission's President Escalate Over The Israel-Palestine Stance

As of October 28, 2023, a remarkable surge of public outcry reached over 50,000 signees endorsing a petition initiated by the German political party MERA25, demanding the resignation of Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission. The petition's call for her ouster stems from her contentious testimonies concerning the Gaza war.

Specifically, it contends, "While denouncing attacks on Israeli civilians, she has paradoxically supported the isolation of Gaza's civilian population from essential resources like water, food, and electricity, along with the bombing of Gaza residents under the pretext of 'defence.' Such unilateral actions run afoul of international law and the democratic mandates of EU member states." Put differently, not only is von der Leyen's unconditional stance with Israel far from representative of the Europeans' public opinion, but it is also devoid of a mandate from EU member states.

Von der Leyen's apparent overreach in foreign policy, which traditionally falls outside the Commission's purview, raised concerns among the general population as well as the elected officials. Among many others, Clare Daly, an Irish European Parliamentary Member, voiced her discontent in her Tweet on October 8, 2023. "Who do you think you are? You're unelected and have no authority to determine EU foreign policy, which is set by the EU Council. Europe does NOT' stand with Israel'. We stand for peace. You do not speak for us. If you've nothing constructive to say, and you clearly don't, shut up," - stated the MEP.

The petition also underscores that the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a result of the Israeli government's collective punishment – a practice of intentionally targeting a group of individuals for an act committed by a part of that group. In line with the Geneva Convention Article 33, this form of a crime is explicitly prohibited, with the law stating, "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and all forms of intimidation or terrorism are strictly prohibited." Yet, the President did not hesitate to steadfastly express her solidarity with Israel, for which the initiative also emphasizes von der Leyen's blunt disregard for international law as such.

The uneven application of the law of nations by the President is particularly baffling once contrasted with her response to the war in Ukraine. In a Tweet dated October 19, 2022, she decried Russia's actions as "war crimes," particularly highlighting attacks on civilian infrastructure. "Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with winter coming - these are acts of pure terror." she continued. However, a complete siege on Gaza on October 10, 2023, followed by the elimination of the sole water source and two primary electricity sources disabled, did not receive von der Leyen's condemnation. Even more so, Israel, as an occupying power in Gaza, was not addressed to comply with the international humanitarian law, by which it bears the responsibility to ensure the provision of necessities for Palestinians as well as facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. 

However, the collective dissatisfaction with the Commission President's stance did not go unnoticed among the EU officials. With roughly 32,000 people on the payroll of EU institutions, nearly 850 staff members signed an official letter on October 21, 2023, criticizing von der Leyen's ultimate support of Israel, as reported by The Brussels Times and Euractiv.

So far, no explicit response from the President has been received, except for an internal memo mentioned by Euractivwhereby von der Leyen indirectly referred to the received criticism by highlighting Europe's solidarity with human rights across all faiths and nationalities. Reassuring or not, the number of petition endorsers persists and the continuing calls for accountability of the European Commission's leadership echo throughout the EU and the international community.

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