European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s condemnation of the murders in Toulouse, France, on Monday was symptomatic of the problem facing Israel in the international community.
A man riding on a scooter opened fire at a Jewish school as children were arriving to begin their school day, killing a father and his two young sons and the eight-year-old daughter of the school’s headmaster. A 17-year-old victim was seriously injured. Yet Ms. Ashton seemed to conflate the deaths of children targeted and wantonly murdered with the deaths of children accidentally killed in the course of Israeli responses to terrorist and rocket attacks. To make matters worse, her attempt at clarification only compounded the outrage.
At a meeting of Palestinian youth in Brussels on Monday, Ms. Ashton, commenting on the attack in Toulouse, spoke of remembering “young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances – the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy” and then went on to say,
when we think about what happened today in Toulouse, we remember what happened in Norway last year, we know what is happening in Syria, and we see what is happening in Gaza and other places.
Israeli leaders quickly denounced the comparison. Alluding to the fact that Gaza terrorists often operate in densely populated residential neighborhoods, Prime Minister Netanyahu said he was incensed by “the parallel between the pinpoint slaughter of children…and the Israeli military’s defensive surgical strikes against terrorists who use children as live shields.”
Responding in turn, Ms. Ashton’s spokesman issued a statement of clarification on Tuesday, saying Ms. Ashton’s words had been “grossly distorted” and that her remarks “drew no parallel whatsoever between the circumstances of the Toulouse attack and the situation in Gaza.”
Maybe, but as a sophisticated diplomat, Ms. Ashton could not have been oblivious to the impact her Gaza reference was sure to make. After all, while the Belgian reference was to a tragic bus accident, her Norway reference was to a shooting spree by one Anders Behring Breivik last year that left 77 people dead. And in Syria, the Assad government is targeting civilian areas in a war of annihilation.
Given her position, we would have expected her to take pains to ensure she was not even remotely appearing to suggest Israel was intentionally making war on Palestinian children. Unless, of course, she had a different agenda.