The foreign policy chief of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, has come under fire from Israel for comparing the murder of four Jews in the French city of Toulouse to the killings of Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli military.
On Monday, a gunman in a motorbike shot at Ozar Hatorah, a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing four people, including three children, and seriously wounding another. French police are searching for the killer.
According to Agence France-Presse, later Monday in Brussels, Ashton, who is British, told a gathering of Palestinian youths: 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 -- we remember young people and children who lose their lives.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni all condemned Ashton’s linking the killings in France to events in Gaza.
Lieberman, visiting Beijing, demanded that Ashton retract her statement and added that she should be more concerned about the Jewish children in southern Israel who live “in constant fear of rocket attacks ... from Gaza.
Lieberman denounced Ashton’s remarks as inappropriate and I hope that Ashton re-examines and retracts them.
He added that: Israel is the most moral country in the world, despite having to fight terrorists operating from within a civilian population. The IDF [Israel Defense Force] is doing everything it can to not hurt that population even though it is defending terrorists.”
Barak, who commands the IDF, called Ashton’s remarks outrageous and far from reality.
The IDF operates with maximum caution in Gaza in order to prevent harm to innocents, he said, according to the Jerusalem Post. I hope that the EU's foreign minister will quickly realize the mistake she made and withdraw her comments.
Similarly, Livni called on Ashton to retract her statement.
There is no similarity between an act of hatred or a leader killing members of his nation and a country fighting terror, even if civilians are harmed, Livni said.
Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai went a step further, demanding Ashton step down.
The statement by Lady Ashton further harms the ability of the European Union to be an honest broker,” Yishai said. She can no longer serve in her position.”
In response, Ashton denied likening the murders in Toulouse to the situation in Gaza and said her comments had been grossly distorted.”
Indeed, in a statement released by her office on Tuesday, Ashton strongly condemns the killings at the Ozar Hatorah … and extends her sympathies to the families and friends of the victims and to the people of France and the Jewish community.
The EU added: We want to make this clear, because her words… were grossly distorted… and drew no parallel whatsoever between the circumstances of the Toulouse attack and the situation in Gaza.
Leading French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy, who is Jewish, declared that in the wake of the Toulouse shootings, France must deal with its long-entrenched anti-Semitism.
In a column published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Levy wrote: “French children … were coldly gunned down, in broad daylight, on the territory of the Republic. … There can be no worse blow to French culture, to the soul of our country, its history and when all is said and done, to its grandeur than racism and, today, anti-Semitism.”