Joël Lion appeared on Radio-Canada’s TéléJournal program Thursday night to discuss the mounting conflict in Gaza.
When asked about the killing of the four boys aged 9 to 12 by a shell fired from an Israeli gunboat at a Gaza City beach on Wednesday, Lion questioned why the boys’ father allowed them outside despite the hostilities.
"If you were at war with someone, as a father, would you let your children play outside on the beach," Lion said.
Lion acknowledged that Israel’s military is responsible for the boys’ deaths, and said the Israeli government regrets all civilian casualties.
However, he said the ultimate responsibility for such deaths lies with Hamas.
Lion’s comment about the boys’ father quickly went viral on social media and sparked a prompt reaction from Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan, who heads the European Muslim Network.
On Twitter, Ramadan called Lion’s remarks “outrageous.”
The comment was retweeted more than 1,000 times.
Asked about the substance of his Radio-Canada interview by CBC News, Lion stood by what he said.
“I’m telling my kids all the time ‘listen to what the security forces are telling you.’ Even if they are nine or 10 years old, they know exactly what that means,” he said.
When asked if he blamed the boys’ father, Lion would only say the responsibility for their deaths lies with Hamas, which he said uses civilians as human shields around military installations targetted by Israel’s military.
That view was echoed by Steven Slimovitch of Quebec’s B’nai Brith branch, who came to Lion’s defence.
“He wasn’t trying to denigrate the children, nor blame the father. But he was simply asking the question, and it ties into the whole question of using people as human shields,” he said.