Protest at US Embassy in Reykjavík on Nakba Day

US embassy protest Nakba day félagið ísland palestína facebook

A group of locals gathered in front of the US Embassy to Iceland in Reykjavík yesterday afternoon to protest the United States’ ongoing support of Israel’s actions in Gaza. The event was also held to mark Nakba Day, a commemoration of the permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinian people in 1948 preceding the establishment of Israel.

The event featured speeches from a Palestinian from Gaza and from a US citizen as well as a performance by Bashar Murad, a Palestinian musician residing in Iceland. Protesters called on the United States to stop sending weapons and funds to Israel. The protest was organised by the Iceland-Palestine Association, founded in 1987.

Protest Icelandic government response

Locals in Iceland have held regular protests since October 7 calling on the Icelandic government to condemn Israeli authorities for their actions and use its influence to call for a ceasefire in the conflict. Iceland abstained from voting on a ceasefire in an emergency meeting of the UN in October but voted in support of a ceasefire at a later UN meeting.

Locals have also criticised the Icelandic government for dragging its feet in extracting Icelandic visa holders from Gaza and suspending funding to UNRWA in January. The country reinstated UNRWA funding in April 2024.

 

Protest, Parliamentary Resolution Call for Immediate Gaza Ceasefire

Protestors outside US Embassy in Reykjavík

Demonstrators gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavík to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. A few hours before the protest, the Icelandic Parliament unanimously passed a resolution calling for the same thing, condemning violence against civilians and calling for adherence to international laws.

Protestors call for “immediate ceasefire”

A number of people gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy, near the Laugardalur neighbourhood in Reykjavík, to partake in a protest under the banner “Immediate Ceasefire” yesterday. The protest began at 5 PM, with speakers including Dr. Sveinn Rúnar Hauksson, physician and Chair of the Iceland-Palestine Association, and activist Lisa Mackey, Vísir reports.

A few hours before the protests, Parliament approved a resolution from the Foreign Affairs Committee calling for a ceasefire, with all votes in favour.

“The Parliament resolves that an immediate ceasefire for humanitarian reasons must be established in the Gaza region to ensure the safety of civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli. The Parliament condemns all acts of violence directed against civilians in Palestine and Israel. The Parliament demands that international laws be fully adhered to in the interest of humanity, the safety of civilians, and the protection of civil infrastructure,” the Parliamentary resolution reads, which, as noted by Mbl.is, was passed unanimously with 49 votes, following two discussions at yesterday’s parliamentary session.

Important to send a clear message

The resolution states that the Parliament condemns the terrorist attacks by Hamas on civilians in Israel that began on October 7. Similarly, the Parliament condemns all actions by Israeli authorities in the aftermath that violate international humanitarian laws, including the immense suffering, casualties, civilian deaths, and destruction of civil infrastructure. It is imperative that all violations of international laws by the warring parties be thoroughly investigated.

“The Parliament calls for humane treatment and immediate resolution of hostages, access for aid and humanitarian organisations, and that emergency shelter and medical assistance be provided to the public without delay,” it states. Additionally, the government was tasked with contributing additional aid for humanitarian assistance and investigating violations of international laws to follow up on the emphases outlined in the resolution.

As noted by Mbl.is, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, in her comments on the vote, thanked the Foreign Affairs Committee for its excellent work in highlighting clear viewpoints reflected in the proposal and for achieving this consensus. She stated it was extremely important for Iceland to send such clear messages to the international community, a clear will of the Parliament for an immediate ceasefire, and for the respect of international laws in the interest of humanity. “I want to take this opportunity to say that I am very proud to belong to the Parliament of Iceland at such times,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated.

Suspicious Package Reported at US Embassy

us embassy reykjavík

A staff member of the US Embassy in Reykjavík was sent to the hospital yesterday for examination after handling a suspicious package. The staff member in question was not harmed, but was sent to the hospital to ensure they had not come into contact with any hazardous materials.

The incident occurred around 14:00 yesterday, January 4.

According to a police report, capital area police, a hazardous materials unit from the fire department, and a special police unit were all dispatched to the scene after the package was reported.

Engjavegur, the road by the American Embassy, was closed while Icelandic authorities responded. It has since been reopened.

Reports also indicate that the suspicious package has since been removed. Authorities are investigating the contents of the suspicious package.

Kristinn Gilsdorf, press officer for the American embassy, stated that an incident occurred outside the embassy, leading to the decision to call Icelandic authorities.

During the course of the investigation, the American embassy was closed down. Some 60 staff work in the building. Kristinn Gilsdorf stressed that all remained calm during the incident, and that embassy workers are working with Icelandic authorities.

The embassy has reopened.

Update: According to an initial analysis by the University of Iceland, the contents of the package are stated to have been harmless.

 

 

 

 

New United States Ambassador to Iceland Appointed

Carrin F. Patman

The United States Senate has confirmed Carrin F. Patman as the next US Ambassador to Iceland. Patman is a lawyer by training and was a major fundraiser in both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden’s electoral campaigns in 2016 and 2020, respectively. Vísir reported first.

Patman, 65, was nominated for the position by Joe Biden in February. At the time of her nomination, she stated she had picked up some basic Icelandic, though in her words: “Just a little.”

Patman has been chair of Houston Metro in Houston, Texas since 2010. She was previously a partner at Bracewell LLP, where her specialisations included class action litigation and environmental violations. She was a founding board member of the Center for Women in Law and has been a leader in women’s rights organisations in Texas.

In a statement, Patman said she hoped to “strengthen our cooperation and understanding between the governments of the United States and Iceland.”

The last US ambassador to Iceland, Jeffrey Ross Gunter, was a controversial figure, not least for the social media posts he made throughout his tenure. A US government report published late last year revealed that embassy staff were still recovering from the “threatening and intimidating environment” created by Gunter.

Report: Former US Ambassador to Iceland Threatened Staff

Staff of the US embassy in Reykjavík are still recovering from the “threatening and intimidating environment” created by former ambassador Jeffrey Ross Gunter, a US government report reveals. Gunter held the position from July 2019 until January 2021, when he announced his departure. The newly-released report stated that the embassy’s new Chargé d’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission are working to rebuild diplomatic relations with the government of Iceland, which deteriorated under Gunter’s leadership. Mbl.is reported first.

The report comes from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US Department of State. It describes a difficult working environment during Gunter’s stay. Several months after his departure, “embassy staff were still recovering from what they described as a threatening and intimidating environment created by the former Ambassador. For example, staff reported to OIG multiple instances in which the former Ambassador had threatened to sue Department officials and embassy staff who expressed disagreement with him, questioned his wishes, or were perceived to be ‘disloyal’ to him. In addition, many employees reported to OIG that the former Ambassador threatened reprisal against employees who communicated with Department officials in Washington while conducting their official duties.”

Relationship with Icelandic government deteriorated

Gunter’s relationship with the government of Iceland deteriorated to the point that the Department of State decided to bypass him in communications with Icelandic officials. “The then-Undersecretary for Political Affairs instructed the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) to work directly with the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure proper management of the bilateral relationship. This action attempted to mitigate the negative impact of the former Ambassador’s frequent failure to respect diplomatic protocol or to coordinate with the Icelandic Government on policy initiatives and press statements touching on sensitive defense-related subjects,” the report states.

As mentioned in the document, Gunter’s social media posts generated controversy in Iceland throughout his tenure. The report also states that certain important procedures were neglected under Gunter’s leadership, including seismic safety assessments for 11 out of 15 of its leased residential units.

US Embassy Accuses Icelandic Newspaper of Irresponsible Journalism and Fake News

The US embassy in Iceland accused Icelandic newspaper Fréttablaðið of irresponsible journalism and fake news in posts on Twitter and Facebook yesterday. Earlier that day, Fréttablaðið reported that a staff member of the US Embassy had contracted COVID-19. In its social media posts, the US Embassy has confirmed that a local employee caught the virus.

Yesterday, Fréttablaðið reported that an embassy employee had contracted COVID-19 but nevertheless, all embassy employees were asked to come in to work next Sunday to help move the embassy to its new location in Engjateigur. US Ambassador to Iceland Jeffrey Ross Gunter had moved up the move to ensure that they would be done in time for the US presidential election next Tuesday. Fréttablaðið spoke to Kristinn Gilsdorf with the embassy’s public affairs office who stated he did not know about any infection. Fréttablaðið’s inquiry was forwarded to the Embassy’s Regional Security Office but had not received a reply.

The Facebook post asks whether fake news has arrived in Iceland and claims Fréttablaðið’s journalism is irresponsible and shameful to see. The post goes on: “Long after the dedication [of the new US Embassy], a single case of COVID-19 was caught by a local employee. The source of the infection was traced back to an Icelandic school outbreak.” The post also claims that Iceland has one of the highest COVID-19 rates in Europe and that the US Embassy is one of the safest havens from COVID-19 in Reykjavík. While Iceland is currently in the midst of the pandemic’s third wave, it’s 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100 000 is currently at 213,3. That is considerably lower than France’s 706, Belgium’s 1,600, the United Kingdom’s 437.7, and Spain’s 508.6, to name a few, according to the ECDC.

Donald Trump appointed Jeffrey Ross Gunter as US Ambassador to Iceland in 2018 after the position had been vacant for a year and a half. He recently made headlines in Iceland as well as his home country for his security concerns.

The US Embassy post on Facebook’s caption was published in both English and Iceland and can be read in full below.

“Has Fake News Arrived in Iceland?
America has succeeded with the #NewUSEmbassy completed and dedicated while having Zero COVID-19 infections ever in the entire U.S. Embassy history. It is shameful to see Fréttablaðið’s irresponsible journalism. Long after the dedication, a single case of COVID-19 was caught by a local employee. The source of the infection was traced back to an Icelandic school outbreak. Iceland has tragically one of the highest COVID-19 rates in Europe. It is terrible and sad that Fake News Fréttablaðið would be so unprofessional and disrespectful in using COVID-19 for political purposes during this crisis. The U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik Iceland has always been and is one of the SAFEST havens from COVID-19 in #Reykjavik.

Eru falsfréttir komin til Íslands?
Ameríka náði að vígja nýja sendiráðið án COVID-19 smits. Skömmin er núna hjá Fréttablaðinu fyrir ábyrgðarlausan blaðamennska. Löngu eftir vígslu kom upp eitt tilfelli vegna smits í íslenskum skóla. Smittíðnin á Íslandi er með því hæsta í Evrópu. Ömurlegt að Fals-Fréttablaðið væru svo ófagmannlegt og sýnir virðingarleysi með því að nota COVID-19 í pólitískum tilgangi. Bandaríska sendiráðið hefur alltaf verið og er öruggasta athvarfið frá COVID-19 í Reykjavík.”

US Embassy Thanks Police for Upholding ‘Basic Human Rights’

The death of George Floyd and the ensuing nationwide protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States were addressed by the US Embassy in Reykjavík in statement posted on Facebook this week. The post refers to Floyd’s death at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin as a “grave tragedy,” even while thanking police, “both in the United States and Iceland, who uphold and defend…basic human rights.”

“As a country governed by the rule of law, the United States’ justice system is taking action to seek accountability and justice in response to Mr. Floyd’s tragic death,” reads the post. “Four officers have been charged in connection to the case, which remains under investigation by state and federal officials.”

See Also: Over Three Thousand Attend Black Lives Matter Meeting in Iceland

It continues: “Though we face difficult challenges, the United States and free societies are strengthened through the debates produced through our citizens exercising their right to free speech. Governments that take human rights seriously are transparent and we welcome conversations about making our societies better.”

The post then ended with its thank you to police, a response which earned quick rebuke from many commenters, both Icelandic and American among them, as “tone-deaf,”  “propaganda,” and “disrespectful,” treating the death of George Floyd as “an isolated incident instead of a cultural and social issue of violence, division, and racism.”

US Citizens Encouraged to Fly Home Without Delay

The US Embassy in Iceland has encouraged citizens visiting Iceland to return to America as soon as possible. The statement follows a letter sent by Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressing uncertainty about the availability of Icelandair flights after Easter.

No repatriation flights scheduled

In a special health alert posted on its Facebook page yesterday, the US Embassy instructed all citizen tourists currently staying in Iceland to return to the US as soon as possible, unless they are “prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” The Embassy points out that the only confirmed Icelandair flights to the US are to Boston on April 8 and 15, after which time the airline will reassess flight needs and may fly cargo only. According to the alert, the US government does not anticipate arranging repatriation flights at this time.

A message to Icelandic citizens abroad

The statement follows a message posted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on April 6 in which the Ministry encouraged Icelanders staying abroad to take advantage of available flights as it is uncertain whether Icelandair will continue to schedule flights after Easter. “Commercial flights will not cease completely after April 15, but the schedule remains unclear.”

Deal set to expire

As previously reported, Icelandair reached a deal with the government in late March, in which the government agreed to provide financial support to the airline so that it could continue to operate minimal flights to Europe and the US. The deal is set to expire next week.

Trump Appoints US Ambassador to Iceland

United States President Donald Trump has appointed Jeffrey Ross Gunter as ambassador to Iceland, RÚV reports. The post has been unoccupied for one and a half years since the departure of Robert Barber.

Gunter is a doctor and speaks Spanish, French, and Dutch in addition to English. He has been a strong supporter of Donald Trump, contributing financial donations to his election campaign. Gunter is also on the Board of Directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The United States Senate has yet to approve the appointment. A new home for the embassy is currently under construction in Reykjavík, complete with bullet-proof glass and thick security walls around the property. The building is projected to cost ISK 6.7 billion ($62m/€55m).

New US Embassy But No Ambassador

A new home for the US embassy in Iceland is set to be completed in Reykjavík next summer, RÚV reports. There is no word, however, on when the position of ambassador will be filled. The post has been unoccupied for 572 days, since the departure of Robert Barber.

“All work in the embassy is proceeding according to routine under the leadership of the deputy ambassador,” the embassy’s public affairs officer Oscar Avila stated. Avila added that there is no way of knowing when the next ambassador to the country will be appointed.

The projected cost of the new embassy building is ISK 6.7 billion ($62m/€55m). The building design includes bullet-proof glass in all windows and thick security walls around the property.

This is the third time Icelanders have had to wait for an ambassador for a long period. Nine years ago, Robert S. Connan was appointed to take over the position from Carol Van Voorst, but never took on the position. Eventually Luis Arrega was appointed to the post, arriving in Iceland one year and nine months after Voorst left.

Robert Barber’s appointment was a political one on the part of Former President Barack Obama. He therefore was forced to resign from the position when President Donald Trump took power. Upcoming midterm elections in the United States may further complicate the appointment of the country’s next ambassador to Iceland.

The US Embassy is one of 28 in Iceland which currently has no ambassador. Others in the group are Angola, Andorra, Venezuela, Guinea, Kosovo, and Macedonia.