EU downgrades critique of Bil’in protester’s conviction

Level of statement changed after Israel accused Ashton of meddling.

catherine ashton 311 (photo credit: AP)
catherine ashton 311
(photo credit: AP)
A day after the government slammed EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for meddling in Israeli judicial matters via a statement issued in her name, the statement about a Palestinian’s conviction for incitement to attack IDF soldiers was placed on the European Council’s Web site on Thursday in the name of her spokesman.
Wednesday’s statement, which raised Israeli ire for expressing concern about the conviction of Abdallah Abu Rahma in an Israeli military court, was issued as a “Statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.”
On Thursday, the EU’s Web site had the statement under the heading “Statement by the Spokesperson of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.”
In the world of diplomacy, this tiny difference is not without significance.
As one diplomatic official explained, there are three types of statements that come out of Ashton’s office.
The first and strongest statement is issued by the High Representative in the name of the EU, and is a statement she makes after consultation with the EU’s foreign ministers.
The level under that is a statement issued in her name, which is a category of statements that she can make on her own. And the lowest level is a statement issued by the “Spokesperson of the High Representative.”
Israeli officials said the fact that the EU changed the level shows that there was a lack of coordination regarding the issuing of the statement, which Israel viewed as an unprecedented meddling in its transparent judicial affairs.
This, one official said, just shows that Ashton’s office is not yet up and running smoothly. The statement was issued while Ashton was on vacation.
Darren Ennis, a spokesman for Ashton, told The Jerusalem Post from Brussels that the “substance of the statement stands,” and that the difference between the two versions was “merely a technical typo in the header of the statement.”
The statement said Ashton was “concerned by the conviction” of Abu Rahma, and deeply concerned that the possibility of his imprisonment was “intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a nonviolent manner.”
Abu Rahma is one of the organizers of the weekly protests at Bil’in against the West Bank security barrier, and he was convicted in military court on Tuesday of inciting protesters to attack IDF soldiers and for participating in protests without a permit. Sentencing is scheduled for next month.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Wednesday that “interfering with a transparent legal procedure of a democratic country is not just highly improper, but is hardly consistent with promoting European values.”
Ennis said of Jerusalem’s reaction that the “Israeli government is well within its right to react in the way it sees fit, but the EU stands by its position.”