Gerald M. Steinberg

Ireland’s anti-Israel Obsession

Today, the Irish Seanad, one of the houses of Parliament, will vote on a proposal to criminalize business with Israeli “settlements”, including in Jerusalem. Actions which might be criminalized include the purchase of a souvenir by an Irish visitor in Jerusalem’s Old Jewish Quarter.

In all likelihood, and despite an apparently guaranteed majority in today’s vote, navigation of the boycott through the nine additional hurdles required for the legislation to become a bill is considered to be small. The Irish government opposes the measure on both technical and legal grounds. The dubious wording of the bill, its possible violation of EU law, and the expected political consequences would harm Ireland diplomatically and economically.

Rather, the authors and supporters understand that this is a political statement and a public relations stunt.

The proposal was introduced by Senator Frances Black, who has become obsessed with anti-Israel activism. Analysis of her social media posts over the past three months illustrate her extreme focus on the conflict, and on portraying Israel as solely responsible for any and all Palestinian suffering. Her tweets on the Arab-Israeli conflict outnumber her comments on domestic Irish social issues or music (she was an Irish folk singer before joining the Seanad) by a ratio of almost five to one.  Black also signed a public letter calling for the boycott of all Israeli products and called on Ireland to boycott the 2019 Eurovision song competition in Israel.

Senator David Norris is another sponsor, and has made highly prejudicial comments regarding immigrants in Israel, claiming that “…the Israel I knew more than 40 years was a left leaning, socially conscious, politically active and decent country, before the inrush of 1 million Soviet citizens…”

Revealing further hostility, Norris made malicious and uncorroborated claims in reference to the April-June violence along the Israel-Gaza border, including allegations that the IDF used “Dum-dum bullets, which expand in the wound and create appalling injuries, are being used against children in Gaza…” He previously made statements that would be classified as antisemitic under the working definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association, claiming that “[W]e in Europe resolved our consciences after the Holocaust by inflicting what the Palestinian people call the Nakba, the catastrophe or disaster, on third parties, the Palestinians…”

Not surprisingly, an number of anti-Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working closely with and in support of Black and Norris. For example, Trócaire, the Irish Catholic Church’s overseas development agency, has spent years promoting highly politicized campaigns against Israel, including those calling for BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions).  Trócaire, together with fellow NGO powerhouse Christian Aid, helped prepare the legislation to target Israel specifically, and has run an intense lobbying campaign in support.

As mentioned, the Irish government opposes the legislation because, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney noted, it is legally problematic and appears to contravene EU laws prohibiting “unilateral restrictions on trade.” It may also breach US anti-boycott laws, as detailed inlaw Professor Orde F. Kittrie’s analysis, “This Irish Bill Could Create Huge Problems for U.S. Companies Like Apple”, and would have consequences for the many American companies with Irish subsidiaries.

In this context, that fact that Trócaire is funded in part by the Irish government is highly significant. The government is paying the group to lobby against itself and in favor of a law that it sees as harmful to Ireland.

In February, Senator Black and members of the Sinn Féin party traveled to the Middle East where they met with a small group of political NGOs including fringe Israeli group Breaking the Silence and the Palestinian group Al-Haq, a leader in BDS. Following the trip, Senator Black invited Al-Haq’s head, Shawan Jabarin, to address the Irish parliament. It is unlikely that the parliamentarians were told that Jabarin has been convicted of membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an EU-designated terrorist organization involved in suicide bombings, hijackings, and assassinations.

In June, parliamentarians from the Irish Fianna Fáil party participated in their own “Fact Finding Mission” to the region, where they too met with Al-Haq and Breaking the Silence. Upon the trip’s conclusion, Fianna Fáil announced their support for Senator Black’s boycott bill. Being anti-Israel in Ireland is increasingly a matter or political correctness across the different parties.

The impact of this political correctness and the damage that will result from vote on the legislation initiated by Black and Norris is not that Ireland will adopt a discriminatory economic boycott of Israel. Rather, as also noted by their Irish critics, in an already poisoned relationship which includes significant antisemitism, this campaign will add to the hatred, and contribute nothing to peace.

About the Author
Gerald Steinberg is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Bar Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor. His latest book is "Menachem Begin and the Israel-Egypt Peace Process: Between Ideology and Political Realism", (Indiana University Press)