“The history of Jews in Europe has not always been a happy one. Europe’s treatment of the Jews added certain words to the human vocabulary: disputation, forced conversion, inquisition, expulsion, auto da fe, ghetto, pogrom and Holocaust, words written in Jewish tears and Jewish blood. Yet for all that, Jews loved Europe and contributed to it some of its greatest scientists, writers, academics, musicians, shapers of the modern mind.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (1948 – 2020)
The Jews of Ireland have been as integral a part of Irish history as any other community on the island. Robert Briscoe, the Former Fianna Fáil TD, was entrusted with raising funds and arms for the Irish Republican Army in 1919 by the ‘Big Fellow’ Michael Collins, before going on to do so for the Irgun. Both he and his son would later go onto to serve as Lord Mayors of Dublin. During the famine which devastated Ireland’s population, the greatest giver of financial aid to famine relief was the Jewish MP Lionel de Rothschild. The Liberator, Irish MP Daniel O’Connell, the champion of Catholic Emancipation and of repealing the Acts of the Union, took up the fight of Jewish emancipation and equal rights.
Ellene Cuffe, who was a member of the Irish Jewish community, was appointed to the Seanad by W. T. Cosgrave as well as serving as President of the Gaelic League. Included in the initial text of Bunreacht na hÉireann in 1937 (the Irish constitution), was an explicit provision protecting the Jews of Ireland. The former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Isaac Herzog, was such a proponent of Irish freedom and a supporter of the IRA, that he was dubbed the “Sinn Féin Rabbi.” Alan Shatter, was a Jewish TD for Fine Gael who would go on to become a noteworthy Minister for Justice & Defence in the government of Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The list goes on. Albeit, a relatively small community, as is typical of the Jewish people, their contribution is disproportionate to their size.
However, despite the positive contributions of the Jewish people to the history of the Emerald Isle, sadly as is too often the case, where there is a Jewish community, there also exists Anti-Semitism. There is the historical Anti-Semitism in Ireland which has been well-documented, and is not the focus of this contribution. Rather, the ambit of this contribution is the Anti-Semitism that goes unchecked in contemporary Ireland.
I have previously referred to the particular predilection and apparent pre-disposition of Sinn Féin towards Anti-Semitism. They are not isolated in this regard. The ever-evolving Marxist cabal of People Before Profit, Solidarity and RISE would be a kindred spirit of sorts in this regard. One of their elected representatives wistfully wished for another Intifada against the Jewish State, whilst one of their Cllrs went out of his way to tear down an Israeli flag at a children’s sailing competition.
When the EHRC Report was published condemning the Anti-Semitism of Jeremy Corbyn, their leadership expressed solidarity with the disgraced former Leader. Previously, they have referred to the charges of Anti-Semitism as a witch hunt and defended nigh on every member of the Labour Party charged with Anti-Semitism from Ken Livingstone to Jacqueline Walker. There are independents from Mick Wallace, to Clare Daly, to Frances Black whose views of the Jewish State would not be out of place amongst this grouping.
There are also members of the Fianna Fáil party such as Niall Collins who have used anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish money and power in his attacks upon Israel. The Houses of Oireachtas composition is almost homogenous in its outlook on the Jewish State and her people.
The media is little better, from Vincent Browne to Kitty Holland. The press has been guilty of Anti-Semitism just as much as any Irish political party, and so accordingly sees little wrong with much of the Anti-Semitism peddled in the halls of power, as it is no different from what they themselves have said. Any Anti-Semitism to be discussed is that wholly disconnected from Anti-Zionism.
When the Anti-Semitism of Reada Cronin came to light, focus remained almost wholly on her comments that ‘Hitler was a pawn of Rothschild banks’ with glancing focus on her comparisons of Israelis to monkeys, Mossad conspiracy theories or comparing Israel to Nazis. Within a day or so, the story was forgotten and Cronin off the hook. Too much of focus on her Anti-Semitism may have exposed a deeper rot.
A particular incident springs to mind, where 19 year old Clíona Campbell from Cork served a two month stint in the Israel Defence Forces. Upon her return, she reflected upon her experiences in her local newspaper. What followed was a campaign of hate, where she, her family and her friends was targeted with hate mail. She was abused by a security guard in a clothes shop over her service! Miss Campbell was called a terrorist, told to keep her head down, and told she was not Irish anymore by virtue of her service.
This incident received scant coverage nationally, and is a largely unknown incident. It almost goes without saying that if Miss Campbell had gone and interned with the Palestinian Authority and received the mildest of criticism for this, it would have been on the airwaves for forever and a day. It would have been raised in the Dáil, as politician after politician would fall over themselves in an effort to exhibit their fealty to the Palestinian cause. Miss Campbell just had the misfortune of daring to serve in the Armed Forces of the world’s only Jewish State.
Ireland is a beautiful, proud nation with a painful history. Ireland’s people are defined by their generosity and their kindness. That is why the Anti-Semitism here must be tackled. A political cost must be attached to being Anti-Semitic. How do we achieve this end though? I think first and foremost we must expose the extent of the rot within certain sectors of Irish society. We must remove any doubt about the Anti-Semitism plaguing this country, and not allow for the issue to go so far as it did in Britain. That is why I propose an EHRC-Style report into Anti-Semitism in this country.
What should it focus on?
First and foremost, it should replicate the EHRC’s Report into Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, in that it investigates the leadership and culture within our political parties and the attitudes and responses towards Anti-Semitism. Particular emphasis should be had on analysing the rhetoric adopted towards Israel and the line between criticising Israel and Anti-Semitism. Downplaying of Anti-Semitism or peddling of Anti-Semitic tropes must also be analysed. It is imperative a complete picture is painted of the Anti-Semitism within our politics. Only by exposing the totality of rot, may we begin to reverse the damage.
Secondly, I think it is important that the report would scrutinise coverage of Anti-Semitism within the media. Why for example did it take months for the tropes peddled by Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins to be covered in the National Press? Why were Sinn Féin so confident that the Anti-Semitism of Reada Cronin wouldn’t last more than a day of the national news cycle? How can we expect fair coverage of the issue when members of the Irish Press such as Kitty Holland has said she won’t engage with Zionists?
Commissioning of a report into Anti-Semitism is the first step on the road to combatting Anti-Semitism. What must come then is the political will and moral courage to act upon the findings of that report. Will politicians or members of the press have the courage to attach a political cost to Anti-Semitism? If colleagues are found to have been Anti-Semitic, or been complicit in Anti-Semitism, will they have the fortitude to stand up to them? Will Ireland be different than many other European countries, who refuse to acknowledge the issue?
Bari Weiss writes in her book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” that “Europe is very good at building memorials for dead Jews. It is still learning how to protect the living ones. Vigils honor the dead, but they don’t do much for the living. Solidarity does.” It is not enough to condemn the Anti-Semitism of the past, we must also guard against it’s return in a new form in the future. Ireland’s Jewish community are proud patrons of the Emerald Isle, and have played key parts in her history. Let not the bigotry of others drive the Jews of Ireland from her shores. Let us turn the tide. The first step on that road is to discover the extent of the plague, then we can turn our attention towards ridding our country and communities of it.