Yesterday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton put her foot in her mouth when she seemed to compare the death of 3 children in a terrorist attack in Toulouse, France, to the death of children in Gaza at the hands of Israeli forces. Ashton’s comments managed to infuriate both members of the French Jewish community and Israeli ministers, some of whom quickly called on her to resign.
Ashton’s inane comments are the last thing you would expect from such a senior diplomat. They were offensive and hurtful to more than one party – the blood boils at a senseless and cruel attack against children, with the killer still at large. But let’s take a look at her exact comparison. Ashton grouped together the deaths of Belgian children in a bus crash, Norwegian children in a politically-motivated hate crime, Jewish children in a racially motivated attack and Gaza children in a political conflict. Indeed, these events have nothing in common aside from the fact that they all involve children. And that is the only point Ashton’s mindless comment was trying to make. It was not a political statement on Israeli policies nor was it an estimate of the value of Jewish blood. If it were, the Norwegians would have the same right to be angry as we do for being compared to a bus accident in Switzerland.
But the fierce, almost Pavlovian Israeli and Jewish reaction to Ashton’s comment can backfire in more than one way. Firstly, the nitpicking about the tragic death of children is tasteless and makes it seem (even if this is not our intention) that we value Jewish children’s lives over the lives of others. This is a terrible message to convey. Secondly, we make enemies of important diplomats who need not be our enemies.
Yes, Asthon was wrong to say what she did. But she should be condemned for being un-diplomatic, perhaps even a moral relativist, but not anti-Semitic.