JERUSALEM (AP/The Blaze) — Israeli leaders on Tuesday denounced the European Union's top diplomat for linking a deadly shooting attack at a Jewish school in France and Israeli military attacks that kill Palestinian children.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton later said her comments were "grossly distorted."
At a conference on young Palestinian refugees Monday, Ashton spoke of children killed "in all sorts of terrible circumstances," including the shooting in Toulouse, France, and events "happening in Gaza."
Israel's prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister all denounced the linkage. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he was incensed by "the parallel between the pinpoint slaughter of children ... and the Israeli military's defensive surgical strikes against terrorists who use children as live shields."
Gaza militants often operate within residential neighborhoods of the densely populated territory.
In her clarification, Ashton said her remarks referred to "tragedies taking the lives of children and around the world and drew no parallel whatsoever between the circumstances of the Toulouse attack and the situation in Gaza."
Four people, including three young children, were killed in the attack in France.
Ashton has a famously thorny relationship with France. In 2010, the Independent reported that she was losing an "image war" with French critics:
The initial goodwill towards the 53-year-old appears to be ebbing amid her continuing lack of confidence during foreign policy briefings and ministerial meetings, when she is regularly eclipsed by her more seasoned colleagues. Spain's Mr Moratinos – whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency – has reportedly been venting his frustration during visits to Brussels when he has compared her negatively to Javier Solana, the political veteran who held the post of High Representative for a decade. Senior officials within her team complain that she "sticks to generalities".
Her no-show in Haiti helped to tip what was just a mild undercurrent of consternation into a torrent of hostility. Her argument that "disaster tourism" would detract from vital humanitarian efforts was left looking silly when another senior EU official, Development Commissioner Karel De Gucht, was dispatched to the scene of the disaster. French newspapers seized on her absence, with the left-leaning daily Libération expressing outrage that Lady Ashton had returned to Britain to visit her husband and children on the same day that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Port-au-Prince. "It smacks of amateurism, even incompetence," the paper wrote. France's Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche deplored the "current void" left by Ashton. "The world does not wait for us," he told French reporters. She also left herself open to further attacks over her decision to forgo an international aid conference for Haiti in Canada, leaving the media-savvy French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to grab the limelight.
But supporters said criticism of what may have been an error of judgement is now degenerating into a personal character assassination. "The French seem to have it in for her. It is open to question how much of this is about her being British and a woman. And they have a huge guilt complex over Haiti anyway, which they might channelling through her. But it is becoming excessive," said one senior diplomat, referring to a recent French article that alleged that Lady Ashton "switches off her phone after 8pm" and makes off to London every weekend to visit her husband and school-going child, instead of travelling the globe.
So this is hardly Ashton's first gaffe, nor will it likely help her in whatever "image wars" she's in now.