The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Jewish Chronicle all report on a row that has erupted between Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative on Foreign and Security Policy, and Israeli officials after an inaccurate transcript of comments she made at a conference on Palestinian youth was circulated.
Baroness Ashton, reflecting on the murders in Toulouse referred to the plight of innocent children caught in the crossfire of conflict around the world including in Gaza and Sderot, but her comments were reported as mentioning only Gaza inviting the rebuke of Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, for drawing a parallel between the “targeted massacre of children” and Israel’s “surgical defensive actions … intended to strike at terrorists”.
Both the Jewish Chronicle and the Daily Mail have failed to incorporate the corrected transcript of Ashton’s comments mentioning “what is happening in Gaza and in Sderot and in different parts of the world,” when the oversight was rectified by her office and her actual comments uploaded.
From the EU Observer:
“Just about every top politician in Israel has in the past 24 hours attacked EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for her remarks about killing of Jewish and Palestinian children.
“One MP, Danny Danon, called her "anti-Semitic." Another, Einat Wilf, said: "Whoever says such things isn't worthy of representing the European Union."
"What Ashton actually said, at a UN conference on Palestinian refugees in Brussels on Monday (19 March), was: "When we remember what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened when I was in Norway last week, a year ago. When we know what's happening in Syria, when we see what's happened in Gaza and Sderot, in different parts of the world, we remember young people and children who lose their lives."
“Reacting to the criticism, Ashton told MEPs at a hearing in the EU parliament on Tuesday: "I am really saddened at the distortion of my remarks ... I drew no parallel whatsoever between this tragedy and events elsewhere in the Middle East."
“The EU damage-control effort was not helped by its handling of the official transcript of her UN comments.
“The first version put online made no mention of the Gaza-rocket-pounded Israeli town of Sderot, indicating that her original intention was to make no allusion to Palestinian culpability. But a second version updated the text with her actual remarks, including Sderot, when the Israeli reactions began to come out.
“An EU diplomat earlier told this website that Ashton's visit to Gaza in 2010, where she saw first-hand the squalid living conditions and fear of Israeli air strikes, was "a life-changing experience" for the British politician.”
Israeli officials have launched a vicious attack against Baroness Ashton. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for example stated that "What especially outrages me is the comparison between a targeted massacre of children and the surgical defensive actions of the IDF intended to strike at terrorists using children as human shields.”
The dubious claim on the use of children as human shields aside, what Netanyahu’s comments suggest is an unwillingness to countenance the suffering of Palestinian children on a daily basis.
Journalists and human rights campaigners have long advocated the level of suffering experienced Palestinian children under Israeli occupation; reports have highlighted issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, malnutrition, insufficient access to medical care, as well as the more overtly deliberate mistreatment of minors in Israeli custody (as highlighted in recent special reports by the Guardian and the Independent- here and here).
Moreover, what responses such as those expressed by the Israeli leadership cloud is the human suffering which unites people of different backgrounds, different faith and even those on opposite sides of a conflict. Those criticising Ashton should ask themselves if there is not a common innocence and tragedy which befalls all children caught up in violence and conflict situations, whatever their religious background and whomever the perpetrator.
The furore sparked by the misreporting of Lady Ashton’s remarks, including pressure to force her resignation, raises questions of whether the slip is for some an opportunity to exploit the situation and seek a replacement for the role of EU foreign affairs chief. One who will be less critical of Israel.
A full transcript of Baroness Ashton’s speech is available to read here.
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