Manfred Gerstenfeld on Ireland and the Palestine Question, 1948-2004

, March 1, 2007

 

Jewish Political Studies Review 19:1-2 (Spring 2007)

 

 

Ireland: A Country Hostile to Israel

Ireland and the Palestine Question, 1948-2004, by Rory Miller, Irish Academic Press, 2005, 266 pp.

Reviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld

 

Ireland is a minor member of the European Union and draws little international attention. Few people know that it is probably the EU country most hostile to Israel. Israeli ambassador to the EU, Oded Eran, said in a 2006 interview: “Sweden and Ireland are probably the countries that most frequently raise their voices against Israel.”[1] Since then, in Sweden the notoriously anti-Israeli Social Democrats have lost the elections and been replaced by a Conservative government.

One example of Ireland’s attitude toward Israel and Arab terrorism is that it is one of the only three countries, the others being France and Spain, that have prevented the EU from declaring Hizballah a terrorist organization.[2]

Rory Miller, Irish-born, is a lecturer in Mediterranean studies at King’s College, University of London. He is also associate editor of Israel Affairs. Miller’s book covers Ireland’s policy toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict since Israel’s establishment. It reviews developments fairly, which means exposing a little-known country’s discriminatory behavior against another democracy.

 

Politicians against Israel

Over most of the past decades, Ireland’s political attitude toward Israel has been largely negative. Miller explains that many Irish view Israel as a colonial state. Yet, in his opinion, Ireland has much more in common with Israel than with the Palestinians. Nevertheless, for decades Ireland has only rarely come out in favor of Israel.

Many Irish politicians have also personally played a negative role in accusations against Israel. Former foreign minister Sean McBride was chairman of an international Commission of Inquiry into the murders of Palestinians by Lebanese Christians at Sabra and Shatila. Its report said this was the “culminating instance” of Israeli massacres of Palestinians (112). Another well-known case of misconduct concerns Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former UN high commissioner for human rights. She bears major responsibility for the events leading up to the greatest postwar explosion of anti-Semitic hatred at the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism in Durban.[3]

In an interview Miller said: “If one were to throw a sack of flour over the Irish parliament, it is unlikely that anybody pro-Israeli would get white. Among the 120 members of the Dáil-the Irish parliament’s lower house-and the hundred members of the Senate, not one name springs to mind as a regular defender of Israel. There are either those who do not care or pro-Palestinians.”[4]

Miller mentions that Irish parliamentarians in session will regularly discuss Israel’s shortcomings while not one of them mentions Palestinian suicide bombings. Double standards so characteristic of the anti-Israeli mutation of anti-Semitism are typical for the Irish government. It will regularly condemn Israel but, for instance, in 1990, refused to denounce King Hussein’s and Yasser Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait (147).

American Law professor Anne Bayefsky points out that Ireland has been the EU’s leading state on the subject of religious intolerance at the United Nations. Yet it was determined to exclude any mention of anti-Semitism from the 2003 UN resolution on religious intolerance. Ultimately, to avoid a separate motion by Israel, Ireland agreed to include such mention if Israel withdrew its motion, which it did. Yet, the Irish delegation reneged on its promise.[5]

 

Nonpolitical Matters

Elsewhere, Miller has observed that the Irish government values economic and research relations with Israel. This explains the fact that the many Irish condemnations of Israel remain verbal only. Another reason is that, as a small country, Ireland feels that its policy should be in line with the EU mainstream.

Relatively strong forces on the Irish Left, however, favor boycotting Israel. Anti-Israeli organizations have rather more support in Ireland than in other European countries. Miller notes that:

the Irish branch of the International Solidarity Movement [an extreme anti-Israeli organization] . . . is among the most active in the world. In 2004 they handed a petition to the foreign minister with twelve thousand Irish signatures, 275 of elected officials across Europe, and fifty of elected officials or public figures in Ireland, calling for an economic boycott.

As Ireland has a population of three and a half million, this is far from insignificant. At that time the leader of the Irish Senate, Mary O’Rourke, said she would support an economic boycott of Israel unless the country improved its treatment of the Palestinians.[6]

After the summer 2006 war in Lebanon, it was a group of Irish academics who were the first in Europe to renew the call to boycott Israeli academics.[7]

 

A History of Anti-Semitism

Ireland has a substantial history of anti-Semitism. A main force has been the Catholic Church, which, however, has lost power in recent decades. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were pogroms in Ireland. Although much of the country’s current anti-Zionism is, according to the commonly accepted definitions, unabashedly anti-Semitic, it has not led to incidents against the local Jews. In this regard Ireland is an exception to the rule.

The Jewish community in Ireland has dwindled to about a thousand. The number of anti-Semitic incidents is very limited, and the government takes a strong stand against them. The Muslim community is relatively small at an estimated twenty thousand, only about half a percent of Ireland’s population.

A substantial area of friction between Israel and Ireland has been the tense relationship with Irish UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon. Since the summer 2006 war, a small Irish contingent is again participating in the new international force there. The failure of the latter to disarm the Hizballah terrorists may well lead to new frictions between the EU and Israel. Past experiences have already made Ireland sensitive on the subject, and this is another potential obstacle to improving relations with Israel. Miller’s book provides an excellent background for understanding future developments.

 

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Notes

 

[1] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Oded Eran, “Israel and the European Union,” European-Israeli Relations: Between Confusion and Change? (Jerusalem: JCPA, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2006), 91-101.

[2] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Rijk van Dam, “Anti-Israeli Bias in the European Parliament and Other European Union Institutions,” ibid., 79-90.

[3] Tom Lantos, The Durban Debacle: An Insider’s View of the UN World Conference against Racism (Jerusalem: Institute of the World Jewish Congress, 2002)

[4] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Rory Miller, “Irish Attitudes toward Israel,” European-Israeli Relations, 181-94.

[5] Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Anne Bayefsky, “The United Nations: Leading Global Purveyor of Anti-Semitism,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 31, 1 April 2005.

[6] Gerstenfeld, interview with Miller.

[7] “Academics Call for Ban on Israel,” Irish Times, 16 September 2006.