B’nai B’rith International is deeply disappointed with remarks that Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, made at a Palestinian refugee youth conference in Brussels. Ashton drew a connection between Mohammed Merah’s shooting of three students and a rabbi in Toulouse, France, and deaths in Gaza.
Soon after, she apologized, claiming her words had been distorted and misinterpreted. While her apology and efforts to clarify her statement are welcome, the remarks were nonetheless ill-advised, ill-timed and unacceptable, especially as she neglected to address that the shooting in France was an anti-Semitic hate crime.
Ashton highlighted various recent tragic killings to demonstrate that killing children anywhere is reprehensible. However, she inappropriately compared the accidental deaths of Palestinian children to the premeditated murder of Jewish children in Toulouse and deliberate acts of terror against Israeli civilians in Sderot. What she failed to say was that the Palestinian terrorists, by launching rockets across the Israeli border, often use Palestinian civilians as human shields behind whom they launch their rockets.
Ashton told the Brussels gathering: “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 see what is happening in Gaza and in different parts of the world.”
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s landmark 2004 Berlin Declaration stated: “unambiguously that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.” Merah’s intentional killing of Jewish victims represents a stark repudiation of this cherished principle. The Toulouse tragedy is a sober reminder that the problem of anti-Semitism remains a momentous challenge in Europe.