Ireland / 20-11-2012

Ireland's Transformation into one of the most hostile countries toward Israel


"I completely reject the claims according to which we have an anti-Israel agenda. We respect Israel and its right to determine its borders however we believe that it should revert to the peace process", said Pat Breen, Chairman of the Irish Parliament Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee during an interview to the 'Ma'ariv' newspaper's weekend magazine. The Irish Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, announced last week that Ireland will promote an initiative to boycott products from Israeli settlements.


Breen is one of the most ardent proponents of the boycott of products from the settlements. The committee he chairs has held a number of discussions on the expansion of the settlements and Breen has encouraged Foreign Minister Gilmore to express himself on the issue. The Foreign Minister's announcement is, as far as Breen is concerned, just the beginning of the struggle. "It is time for us to become involved in the peace process", he said. "In January, Ireland will be the President of the European Union, and that is a good opportunity to advance peace process. We have a special interest in all Middle East issues".


If you have such a special interest in the Middle East, why do you not protest against the events in Syria? Why did you not intervene in Libya, Egypt and Iraq?

"We have also dealt with that, however for a number of years we have had a special interest Israel. What is happening between Israel and the Palestinians is an ongoing problem, and we feel that now, the re-election of the American President Barak Obama, creates a good opportunity to advance the peace process. The settlements are not helpful in assisting this process".


Perhaps your criticism of Israel's conduct stems from antisemitism?

"I reject this claim. We are allowed to express our opinion without being considered antisemites. I recently met a group of Palestinian supporters in Ireland and they told us that we must act against the expansion of the settlements. Boycotting produce from the settlements is a symbolic act to demonstrate our view that expansion of the settlements obstructs the peace process".


Why have you never symbolically protested the human rights violations in the Palestinian Authority?

We object to violations of human rights anywhere in the world. What is happening in Gaza is also unacceptable".


Do you object to the firing of missiles at Israeli citizens?

"We believe that Israel should defend itself. I was in Israel three years ago and visited the south of the country. I witnessed what was happening in Israel, but I also saw what happened in Gaza after Operation 'Cast Lead'. An Israeli invasion of Gaza will not assist the peace process. There is only one way to solve the problem – peace negotiations. Peace will only be achieved through dialogue".


How did Ireland come to be one of the most hostile countries towards Israel?

"That is incorrect – We have had diplomatic relations for many years. We are not hostile towards Israel, we respect Israel. Reuven Rivlin was here a few months ago for a successful visit. The relations between us are very good. I intend to visit Israel in the near future.


Inherent Distaste

During recent years, Ireland has become one of the most hostile countries in the world towards Israel. Various types of boycotts and anti-Israel remarks are daily occurrences. "Being anti-Israel is part of the Irish identity", claimed the Irish artist Nicky Larkin, the director of a film on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict approximately six months ago. "We are supposed to hate Israel just as we are supposed to despise the English".


A study by the priest Michael McGreal, published approximately one and a half years ago, found that approximately one fifth of the Irish population would be against Israelis becoming Irish citizens. Eleven percent would extend this objection to any Jews being awarded Irish citizenship, and not just Israelis. Forty six percent of the youth between the ages of 18-25 said that they would not want to see a Jew as a member of their family, and forty percent of the general population would prefer not to have a Jew as a family member.


"In the last 25 years, the Irish public has toughened its stance towards Israel", says Morris Cohen, head of the small Jewish community in Ireland. "There are a number of reasons for this. The main one is the failure to arrive at a settlement with the Palestinians during the period in which the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland reached an agreement that previously seemed impossible. The Irish media claims that not only is Israel not making an effort to reach an agreement, but rather, that it even constitutes an obstacle to peace.


In the past, the base of support for Israel was the joint struggle against the British. The Irish narrative deals with the struggle for national independence against an aggressor force and with leaders that were prepared to risk their lives for their people, something that creates feelings of empathy towards the Palestinians and irrational opposition to Israel. The Irish public tends to support the underdog, David against Goliath, and Israel is Goliath".


It must be difficult living as a Jew in Ireland today

"We have a prominent and positive role in Irish life. The Minister of Justice, Alan Shatter, is a Jew. Even though we don't like the consistent and obsessive attacks against Israel, we don't think that criticism of Israel is antisemitism. It is also important to mention that some of the parliamentary criticism is from extreme left-wing elements that regard opposition to Israel as part of the struggle against American imperialism".


The level of interest in Israel is enormous. The word "Israel" has appeared 19536 times in the archive of the 'Irish Times' since 1996 in contrast to 14670 mentions of the Palestinians, 9553 of Jordan, 7743 of Gaza, 6996 of Egypt and only 5073 of Syria. A significant proportion of the mentions of Israel are hostile. "Israel is a cancer in international relations. It stole land from the Arabs", said recently Vincent Brown, a well-known Irish television presenter, who subsequently refused to apologize.


"I was the only supporter of Israel out of a panel of four at a book festival", wrote Kevin Myers of the Irish 'Independent' a year and a half ago. "There was a feeling of public animosity towards Israel. Nothing that Israel has done during its 63 years can compare to the murder of Fatah members by the Hamas over the course of 5 years, however empirical proofs do not change people's opinions".


In recent years, words have been exchanged for action. Approximately a year ago, Israeli soldiers were portrayed as Nazis in a street performance in Dublin, an auditorium in Dublin that was supposed to host Israeli musician Yizhar Ashdot was vandalized, dozens of Israeli artists signed a petition calling for a cultural boycott of Israel, and Irish artists in general were asked to refrain from appearing in Israel.


The 'Dervish' band cancelled its performance in Israel approximately six months ago after having been criticized on 'Facebook'. "I call on Irish artists not to surrender to cultural fascism", responded Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter. "I was called a 'Zionist pig' at one of the demonstrations, but I have broad shoulders".


The Irish writer Gerard Donovan cancelled his participation in the International Writers Festival six months ago, but claimed that he did so for personal reasons and that he objects to the cultural boycott campaign. "The campaign for Palestine - Ireland solidarity attempted to dissuade me from travelling to Israel", he said in an interview to the 'Irish Times'. "In the end, I didn't travel to Jerusalem because I was in New York recuperating from cancer treatment. The activists are idiots. Had I felt well, I would have travelled to Jerusalem. No-one will tell me where I can read my works".


Economic and Diplomatic Embargo

The Palestine – Ireland Solidarity Organization, considered to be one of the strongest influences on Irish public opinion, refused this week to respond to 'Ma'ariv'. The organization coordinates demonstrations and conferences against Israel. The President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, is considered one of the prominent supporters of the organization, and even participated in several demonstrations against Israel.


The organization was founded 11 years ago, and a year later organized a large demonstration opposite the hotel in Dublin which hosted a reception of the Israeli Embassy for Israel Independence Day.  Members of the organization call for the implementation of an economic and diplomatic embargo of Israel, and recently initiated a campaign calling for the boycott of Israeli potatoes. The organization's website stated that "Potatoes are part of Irish history and yet some of the chains sell Israeli potatoes". The site also sells stickers calling to boycott Israel.


Matt Carthy, a member of parliament of the 'Sinn Fein' Party, from the small town of Carrickmacross in Monaghan County, did not wait for the solidarity organization's campaign and succeeded alone in causing a scandal. In February 2010, the previous Israeli ambassador to Ireland Zion Avroni visited the town, a visit which Carthy opposed. The 'Sinn Fein' Party, which is identified with the I.R.A, has in recent years organized protest rallies throughout Ireland against Israel's policies in the Territories. Carthy is a young party activist who signals the harsh opposition to Israel. He notified the head of the County Council, Mary Kerr-Conlon, that he would organize a demonstration should the Ambassador's visit proceed.


Conlon refused to postpone the visit and felt that to do so would be rude. Carrickmacross, with its 5000 residents, is normally an island of calm and is known for its lace cloth. Carthy organized a few dozen demonstrators who 'welcomed' Avroni with placards. "Zion Avroni got the reception he deserved", wrote Carthy in his blog. "I told him that he is not welcome here, that he should get in his car and go back to the Embassy". Avroni refused the offer and participated in a short ceremony in the Council building. "When he left the building, we stressed to him that in Carrickmacross his government's actions are unacceptable".


Carthy was not satisfied with the demonstration and the discussion at the town council, and suggested that the page in the town's guestbook bearing Avroni's signature should be torn out of the book. Five council members voted in favor, four voted against. The page was removed, and the incident was publicized in newspapers around the world. "Zion Avroni received his answer from our small town in Monaghan County", Carthy wrote in his blog. This week he refused to answer questions. "The removal of the page from the guestbook is a deed that recalls dark days", I told him, "What is the reason for your violent hostility towards the State of Israel? Carthy refused to respond, promised to answer any question via e-mail, but has to date, failed to answer even a single question sent to him.


 A Waste of Breath

"When I grew up in Ireland, everything was different", says Menahem Gafson, Head of the Ireland Israel Friendship League. "During the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, thousands of Irish citizens took to the streets to demonstrate in favor of Israel. Since the 1980's there is a new generation in Ireland which has no knowledge of Israel as it was in the past. The intifadas, the Palestinians and Muslims, all pulling in their direction, have changed the picture. We used to be David, today the Palestinians have assumed this role".


Knesset Member Herzog: "I don't understand why there is a hostile attitude towards us".


"I hoped that I had changed the picture slightly", says Chairman of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin who visited Ireland in February. "When I arrived in Ireland, they looked for understanding and indeed I discovered understanding towards us, and I therefore regard the recent developments with concern. They admire Israel, but also support the Palestinians. I would like to explain to the Foreign Minister that the Palestinian Authority is not prepared to come to an understanding with us. Our relations with Ireland will, with time, improve if they understand that we are not the evil side of the conflict".


MK Yitzchak 'Buzi' Herzog, who accompanied Rivlin on his Irish visit, knows the country well. His grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog, was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland. His father, Chaim Herzog, was born in Belfast. "I myself cannot understand why there is such a basic hostile political perception towards us there", he says. "On the one hand, there is widespread respect for the Jews. We were received warmly and the leader of the 'Sinn Fein', Jerry Adams, even welcomed us in parliament, however they too, like the European Union, regard the produce from the settlements as an obstacle to peace.


Their hostility is not new. During World War 2, they did not agree to open the country's doors to Jews despite repeated pleas by my grandfather. During our visit, I met the Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, and we had a positive discussion, but the bottom line is that, with regards to the political issues, it is a waste of breath".


Gilmore refused to respond. The Foreign Ministry spokesman's office stated that the Irish Foreign Minister acts in accordance with the decisions of the European Union.