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Dr Musa A Keilani: Wise woman under scrutiny
March 27, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Israelis are up in arms against European Union Foreign Affairs Commissioner Catherine Ashton over comments she made on Tuesday condemning Monday’s attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in which one adult and three children were brutally killed.

The point of order was an Israeli interpretation that she compared the Toulouse attack to Israel’s operations in the Gaza Strip.

What exactly did Ashton say? Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with Palestinian youths in Brussels on Monday, Ashton said: “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, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, described the comment as “outrageous” and demanded she should retract it without delay.

Ashton was forced to issue a formal statement saying that she “strongly condemns the killings at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse and extends her sympathies to the families and friends of the victims and to the people of France and the Jewish community.”

The statement said Ashton’s comments on Monday at a meeting of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were “grossly distorted by one of the news agencies.”

Ashton was referring to tragedies taking the lives of children around the world and drew no parallel whatsoever between the circumstances of the Toulouse attack and the situation in Gaza.

First of all, there could not be any such parallel, but not the way Israel interprets it.

The irony is that Ashton could have indeed meant just the opposite of what her statement said. The absence of an apology or expression of regret in her statement could probably imply that the British diplomat could have meant that the children of Gaza live in perpetual terror on a daily basis; the Jews of France live in tight security, with no fears for their lives.

The Toulouse attack was an isolated incident that falls into no pattern of violence against Jews per se.

The entire population of the Palestinian enclave are exposed to daily Israeli attacks that kill and maim innocent civilians, including children. There could be no comparison between the situation in Gaza and Toulouse or the rest of France or any other country.

Israeli leaders grabbed Ashton’s original comments as a pretext to counter European Union (EU) pressure on it to soften its hardline approach to peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

They have put the comments at par with European criticism of Israel’s apartheid practices and its settlement policy in the occupied territories. They are also upset that EU officials have been calling for boosting Arab control in occupied Jerusalem.

Ashton went into Israel’s watchlist when she started calling for a two-state solution in Palestine and spoke in favour of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. The sum total of Israel’s understanding is that it could no longer take Europe for granted on the basis of “responsibility” for the Holocaust.

The last brush Europe had had with Israel was when the Jewish state said it was very upset when Hamas leader Ismail Al Ashqar spoke before some members of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this year.

Israel was further angered when the UN council last week endorsed a resolution ordering a first investigation of how Israel’s West Bank settlements may be in violation of the Palestinians’ rights.

European members of the council did not vote the way Israel would have wanted them. No European country voted against the resolution, which was adopted with 36 votes in favour and 10 abstentions. Spain and Italy abstained, and the United States was the only one to vote against the resolution.

Responding to the resolution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the UN council and whipped out the Hamas card he had stored away.

“This is a council that should be ashamed of itself. The UN Human Rights Council has no connection to human rights,” he said. “This council has proven once more that it is detached from reality, by inviting a member of Hamas – an organisation whose creed advocated the murder of innocent people – to speak before it.”

Netanyahu’s words highlighted Israel’s human rights record although he meant otherwise.

“This is a hypocritical council with an automatic majority against Israel,” Netanyahu said. “Until today, the council has made 91 decisions, 39 of which dealt with Israel, three with Syria and one with Iran,” he said.

Well, the latest Ashton episode – she continued to receive harsh criticism – should be yet another pointer to Europe and the rest of the world to how Israel remains ever alert for any opportunity to put Europe and others on the defensive and seek to exploit from the resulting situation.

And Israel’s critical response to the UN resolution calling for investigation into its settlement policy and its attack on the UN council itself are tailor-made to ensure that it comes under no pressure to co-operate with the inquiry.

But one fact remains valid. The Toulouse incident is a crime that should be condemned by all those who respect the innocence of childhood and value the dignity of human life.

The authora former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman.

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