The Brussels spin machine has been in overdrive, trying to explain and defend Baroness Ashton’s remarks earlier this week at a UNRWA conference on “Palestine refugees in the changing Middle East”. In her controversial speech in Brussels on March 19, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy drew a comparison between the deaths of young people in Toulouse and Gaza. Here is what she said, according to the official (recently amended) transcript provided by the European Union:
We are gathered here because we have recognised the potential of the youth of Palestine. Against all the odds, they continue to learn, to work, to dream and aspire to a better future. And the days when we remember young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances – the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy and when we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and Sderot and in different parts of the world – we remember young people and children who lose their lives. Here are young people who are asking not to be leaders of the future, but to be taken seriously as leaders of today. And it is to them that we should look and to them we should listen and it is to them that I pay tribute.
The comments drew an angry response from Israeli leaders. As The New York Times reported on Tuesday:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier that he was “infuriated” by what he called “the comparison between a deliberate massacre of children and the defensive, surgical actions” of the Israeli military that he said were “intended to hit terrorists who use children as a human shield.”
The interior minister, Eli Yishai, told Israel Radio that Ms. Ashton should not stay in her post and that her comments hurt the European Union’s ability to act as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said, “The comparison made by Ashton between what is happening in Gaza to what happened in Toulouse, and what is going on in Syria every day, is outrageous and has absolutely no grounding in reality.”
So far there has been no reaction to Ashton’s comments from the Obama administration or from the British government. Considering the Obama presidency’s reckless and wrong-headed support for the European Project and its refusal to even countenance any criticism of EU leaders, this is hardly surprising. It is disappointing though to see both Downing Street and the Foreign Office remaining silent on the issue, especially considering that Ashton is claiming to speak on behalf of all EU member states, and is being subsidised by the British taxpayer.
The Israelis are right to be outraged by Ashton’s remarks, which clearly equate the murderous actions of an Islamist, al-Qaeda-linked fanatic in the south of France deliberately gunning down Jews (as well as the brutal killing of thousands of people in Syria by President Assad), with the actions of the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza. Once again, a senior EU official is drawing moral equivalence between brutal atrocities committed by terrorists and dictatorial regimes, with the legitimate military operations of a fully democratic government in Israel which goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties while defending its people against an array of terrorist groups backed by Tehran and Damascus. Just last April Ashton issued a statement drawing a clear parallel between Israeli operations targeting Hamas in Gaza and terrorist attacks coming out of the Gaza strip targeting Israeli civilians, as though the two were the same thing:
I strongly condemn yesterday's mortar and rocket attacks out of the Gaza strip, which once again hit the innocent civilian population and which must stop immediately. I am deeply concerned by the current escalation of violence.
I also deplore the loss of civilian life in Gaza and call on Israel to show restraint. The lives of civilians must be spared everywhere and in all circumstances. Only an immediate cessation of all violence can bring back the calm necessary to allow for a lasting truce in the Gaza strip.
Baroness Ashton’s remarks this week were delivered as part of a carefully crafted speech designed to convey a politically charged message that specifically targeted Israel. It is hard to see how she can in any way be seen as a neutral, impartial figure when it comes to the EU’s role as part of the Quartet in supposedly brokering negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Ashton has zero credibility on Middle East issues, and her latest comments have made her position as the EU’s foreign policy spokesman even more untenable. It is time for European Union bureaucrats to be held to account for their actions and statements, instead of being given a free pass. Ashton should do the decent thing and resign from her post, returning to the obscurity from whence she came.