My first hint that Baroness Catherine Ashton had infuriated people was a flutter in the Twittersphere. The only British comment was one from Paul Staines, the political gadfly who blogs as Guido Fawkes. He rather cheerfully noted that “national embarassment Cathy Ashton” had got herself in trouble again.
My next hint was a small but harsh furore from people very near and dear to me who were appalled that I had written something apparently friendly to Baroness Ashton.
Because the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs et cetera is something of a nonentity in the United Kingdom I hadn’t realised that she was viewed in Israel as the nastiest anti-Semite since Jezebel.
Now that the condemnation has rocketed around the world and her staff have discovered a missing phrase about Sderot in her speech, those who condemn feel they’ve done something useful. These condemnations of Baroness Ashton mean little, however, because apart from her vast salary and enormous staff the EU Foreign Minister means little.
You see, Baroness Ashton was sent to be a European Commissioner by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as a reward for political services rendered. She hadn’t convinced anyone that she could be anything more than a junior minister, so she had got into cabinet as Lord President of the Council, the Leader of the House of Lords. Sending her to Brussels was easy: she has no political power base in Britain, and that suited our Gordon just fine.
When it came time to install an EU foreign affairs supremo, Tony Blair modestly said he couldn’t possibly do the job, thus letting the world know he wanted it. His arch-enemy Gordon Brown was hardly going to get him this post, and the rest of Europe wasn’t especially interested in seeing a high-profile person in the job to overshadow their own foreign ministers. So the job, at more than a quarter of a million Euros a year, alleged by the Daily Mail to be the highest-paid job held by any female politician in the world, went to Baroness Ashton.
One cannot emphasise enough that there is no connection between her appointment to Europe’s top foreign policy job and her husband’s job as president of the pollsters YouGov.
Cathy Ashton fell off the British political map. She had to take leave of absence from the House of Lords, so even that quiet chamber didn’t ring with her voice. Paul Staines calls her a national embarrassment because she was appointed to Europe’s top foreign affairs post with no background whatever in foreign affairs.
She has been criticised by the foreign ministers of elected European governments for not saying anything useful. Her response has been a few uncontroversial pieces in the Guardian. She has been criticised for being invisible. She has been criticised for trying to create a large, expensive, redundant European foreign service.
Apparently in the course of doing her job she has convinced many Israelis that she is a vile anti-Semite. In consulting the very user-friendly database at anti-semitism.net I discovered that with respect to Israel she mostly regrets it when Israel proposes property development in Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. This is unremarkable: Hillary Clinton regrets it too and nobody calls her an anti-Semite.
She has visited Israel, as have most European foreign ministers. She has visited Gaza without meeting with Hamas representatives. Reporting on her most recent visit she said:
I wonder how many of you knew that the children of Gaza now proudly hold four Guinness world records: the most people playing parachute games; the largest handprint painting; the most footballs dribbled simultaneously; the most kites flown simultaneously!. I have one Gaza kite in my office. Given the opportunity, the children of Gaza can achieve whatever they want. This is what I say to PM Netanyahu everytime I meet with him.
This was to illustrate to the staff at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that UNRWA did a great deal to foster Palestinian national identity. This is absolutely true. When UNRWA was founded there was no Palestinian national identity. By doing its best to maintain thousands of Palestinian Arabs and their children and their children’s children in humiliating refugee status, UNRWA has helped to create and nurture a national identity. By resisting the re-housing of refugees (unlike other agencies which do the opposite), UNRWA can stand alongside the PLO and the Israeli Border Police and claim to have created the Palestinian nation.
Whatever you feel about kite-flying, UNRWA and its policies, speaking encouraging words to their staff isn’t anti-Semitic.
Turning Baroness Ashton from a well-paid Eurocrat into a diabolical Jew-hater certainly does her no harm in the chanceries of Europe and the Middle East. It won’t hurt her chances for re-election because she’s not elected. It will not damage linkage in the minds of the murderous between the black legend of Israeli atrocities and open season on European Jews. Condemning Cathy Ashton does nothing to undermine the myth of the murderous Zionist. The only thing that will undermine it is a robust, truth-based counter-narrative.