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Estonian PM to replace Josep Borrell as top EU diplomat

Kaja Kallas is set to replace an international representatives whose tenure was marked by constant clashes with the Israeli government.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas addresses reporters at press corner of E.U. Leaders Summit in Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 27, 2023. Photo by Pier Marco Tacca via Getty Images.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas addresses reporters at press corner of E.U. Leaders Summit in Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 27, 2023. Photo by Pier Marco Tacca via Getty Images.

European Union leaders negotiating Brussels’ top jobs since this month’s elections have nominated Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of Estonia, as the bloc’s top diplomat.

Kallas is set to replace High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, whose five-year tenure in Brussels was marked by constant attacks on the Jewish state.

According to Politico, Kallas’s candidacy was set to be discussed by leaders of the E.U.’s 27 member states during a meeting on Thursday.

The liberal leader’s views on Israel are not widely known. Since taking up the premiership in 2021, she made her name primarily as a prominent critic of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In April, Kallas denounced “in the strongest possible terms” Iran’s “unjustified” missile and drone attacks on Israel. “This is a serious escalation putting more lives at risk,” wrote the politician.

Following the 2022 election victory of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she congratulated him, saying she was looking forward to strengthening Estonia’s “close bond” with the government in Jerusalem.

“In difficult times, democracies stick together—this is the way to stand against pariah states and safeguard our freedom and sovereignty,” Kallas added in a post on X.

‘Self-defense against terrorism’

Receiving the Europe Prize on Oct. 18, Kallas in her speech mentioned that the Jewish state was “facing some of the deadliest and darkest days in its 75-year history” since the Hamas massacre earlier that month.

“Israel is engaged in self-defense against terrorism. Throughout this defense, civilian lives should be spared, and norms of international law followed,” she stated, adding that Hamas terrorists show “no regard for human life, including for the lives of their fellow Palestinians.”

Speaking with reporters on the sidelines of a European Council meeting in Brussels on Oct. 26, she stressed that “everybody” was worried about the humanitarian situation amid the war with Hamas. “Humanitarian aid has to reach people in Gaza and humanitarian laws have to be followed, which means civilians cannot be targeted,” she warned.

In a 2022 interview with Axios, Kalas criticized the previous Israeli government’s “neutral” stance on the war in Ukraine, urging Jerusalem to speak up about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “playing on the suffering of the Jews” by claiming he seeks to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

A spokesperson for the European Leadership Network (ELNET), an NGO that seeks to foster close relations between the European Union and Israel, told JNS on Thursday that Kallas “knows firsthand the implications of living in an unstable region and experiencing foreign aggression.”

“She has been a tireless advocate for supporting Ukraine in the face of Russian hostility,” said spokesperson Daniel Shadmy.

Kallas “has a deep understanding of foreign aggression and terrorism, and what Israel is going through since Oct. 7,” he added. “Just as the Russian threat looms over Europe, the Iranian threat destabilizes the Middle East, highlighting the need for a united front against these common challenges.”

Israel’s Ynet news outlet reported on Thursday that a summit of Brussels’ E.U.-Israel Association Council, during which Borrell intended to raise the issue of the Jewish country’s “compliance with human rights obligations,” will now take place in the fall after he leaves office.

The postponement was the result of diplomatic efforts—including an appeal by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz to his Hungarian counterpart and the support of Germany, Greece, the Czech Republic and Austria, according to the report.

In October, Borrell slammed Israel’s response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre and appeared to call for a ceasefire, leading to criticism from European leaders.

Ahead of a summit of E.U. foreign ministers in Brussels in March, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on Borrell to stop bashing the Jewish state and recognize its right to defend itself.

“It’s time” for the E.U. diplomat to “stop attacking Israel and recognize our right to self-defense against Hamas’s crimes,” said Katz.

Borrell has also been criticized over his reluctance to list Tehran’s IRGC as a terror group. Charlie Weimers, a Swedish member of the European Parliament for the Conservatives and Reformists group, said in April, “We won’t miss you, Mr. Borrell, but I’m sure the mullahs will.”

David Isaac contributed to this report.

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