Foreign Affairs officials criticize Dutch response to war in Gaza in letter to ministers

The Dutch government is acting “selectively” and “inconsistently” by not strongly condemning the fact that many Palestinian civilian deaths are occurring in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. A group of officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote this in a letter sent on Friday to the outgoing Ministers of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot (CDA) and Liesje Schreinemacher (VVD). The Netherlands is undermining its international credibility “by abandoning the foundations of international law in the case of Gaza,” says the letter, which is in the hands of NRC and which has been signed by more than 350 ministry officials. The letter writers want the Netherlands to “emphatically focus on a ceasefire and de-escalation.”

Outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) spoke last week after the attack by Hamas “unconditional support” for Israel, and Minister Bruins Slot also consistently pointed out Israel’s right to self-defense. The officials “strongly” condemn Hamas’s attack on Israeli civilians, but also see a “disproportionate response” from Israel in Gaza. The fact that the Netherlands does not condemn this “is not consistent with the mission of our ministry, the values ​​of the Netherlands and our broader foreign policy,” the officials write.

According to officials, the Netherlands is undermining its international credibility “by abandoning the foundations of international law”

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs it is highly unusual for civil servants to write so critically to their own ministers. The ministry employs approximately 6,200 civil servants worldwide in The Hague and at diplomatic posts.

In response to the statements made by cabinet members, an app group was set up at the end of last week, of which more than 230 civil servants are now members. The initiative for the letter was taken in that group. When the top officials got wind of this, a meeting followed last Monday with a delegation of civil servants from the app group. This included the possibility of an internal town hall meeting discussed, in which officials could vent about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is unclear whether that meeting will follow, but the conversation with the top officials certainly yielded too little, according to the officials. That is why the letter was forwarded to the ministers: the critical civil servants are not convinced that their concerns are “sufficiently taken into account”.

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‘Selective’ sentencing

Officials are surprised at the “selectivity” when it comes to the Dutch response to the civilian deaths. If they occur in countries such as Yemen, Syria or Israel, the government always condemns them, the letter writers note. And since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “the Netherlands has been committed to combating war crimes and impunity worldwide.” That is why the officials do not understand that “a comparable strong condemnation by the Netherlands in the case of violence by Israel” is not forthcoming.

Furthermore, the group of officials regrets “the lack of compassion and sympathy for Palestinian civilian victims.” The officials explain this based on “institutional racism within our organization”. A study published in December last year showed that bicultural employees and people of color in diplomatic posts face racism and discrimination. “Institutional racism shapes and perpetuates parts of our foreign policy,” the officials write, which they now also see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It has once again become apparent that Palestinian lives are considered less valuable. One victim does not seem to be the same as the other.”

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Diplomat Lebanon leaves

The war in Gaza is causing unrest in more ministries. Another letter who calls for “a stop to Israel”was signed by more than 200 government officials on Friday afternoon.

Last week, a Dutch diplomat in Lebanon stopped working due to the current war in Gaza. This concerns Yvette Hogenelst, who worked at the Dutch embassy in Beirut. Hogenelst writes in a message on LinkedIn that she is quitting the ministry, among other things, because she disagrees with “the policy towards the occupied Palestinian territories”. About her friends in Lebanon, she says: “I could no longer watch my friends having to live under the threat of war, while we civil servants spend hours debating whether or not we should send the minister a letter about the situation in Gaza .”

The Dutch handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been causing unrest in the ministry for some time. Last year, civil servant Berber van der Woude left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In a farewell email she wrote that the Netherlands turns a blind eye to human rights violations by Israel and that this is “a disgrace to our work.” In an interview with NRC said Van der Woude: “Look this difficult point in the eye and say ‘in this case our relationship with Israel takes precedence over human rights.’ It’s not nice to say, but it is what we do in practice.”

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Berber van der Woude, former diplomat.