Monday, July 6, 2020 -
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Targeting children

When children are victims, tragedies feel greater. We associate children with innocence; after all their lives are just starting, and they haven’t had the time to make bad decisions and mistakes the adults among us surely have. We associate children with inception, with the beginning of life, not the end. When children die, families are destroyed. Any death changes a family forever, but the unexpected shock of a child dying harms a family in untold ways.

It’s a big part of the reason the events in Toulouse are so heartbreaking. Three children and one adult murdered point blank, the adult being a parent to two of the victims. The cruel irony is that one of the killer’s motivations was to “avenge the death of Palestinian children”.

Whoever was still questioning whether anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are two separate things must realize the indefensibility of this position. In Mohammed Merah’s case, his hatred for Israel motivated him to murder in cold blood people who were in no way seemingly related to events in Israel. Moreover, in avenging children, he chose to murder more children. If one is deeply disturbed by the death of innocents, why commit the same act? And if one is aiming to avenge acts committed by the State of Israel, why are French children being targeted? This utter lack of logic reveals a hatred so deep it cannot be persuaded. It’s truly pathological.

Then comes along the EU’s foreign minister, Catherine Ashton and lumps together children victimized by traffic accidents, racist killings and warfare. Is this moral equivalency at its worst?

At a conference on Palestinian youth, just hours after the Toulouse shootings, Ashton said, “When 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, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and in different parts of the world – we remember young people and children who lose their lives.”

Or did she?

Ashton’s words, which rightfully elicited strong critique from Israeli and Jewish leaders, were taken from an advance copy of her speech. If you watch the video of the delivered speech, however, Ashton seems to focus solely on the tragedy of children’s lives being lost (circa 12:10). In fact, she even mentions Sderot in the context of Gaza. But despite what could have been good intentions, Ashton’s words – both in writing and in speech – were badly chosen. When the world is reeling from an event that happened only hours earlier, an extra dose of sensitivity is required which Ashton’s speech was sorely lacking. Had Ashton made a smilier statement hours after the massacre in Norway, where nearly 70 children died, would it have been appropriate?

It’s an interesting exercise to imagine the Norwegian response. Objectively what happened in Norway last summer was far more traumatic and took many more lives. But would the Norwegians have reacted so strongly to Ashton’s statement? Or does the Jewish community, because of the history of anti-Semitism, sometimes respond too quickly or too strongly?

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