“Give us the future, we’ve had enough of your past. Give us back our country, to live in, to grow in, to love.”
(General Michael Collins during the Treaty Negotiations)
Albeit, these words could so easily be those of Theodor Herzl or Ze’ev Jabotinsky or of any Zionist who endured the scorn of colonialism in their historical and timeless home of Israel, they are in fact those of an Irishman. Michael Collins to Irish men and women of all generations was in essence our founding father, a man who drove the British forces from our shores in the manner that the Irgun and Hagganah would replicate later in the British Mandate of Palestine prior to independence. General Collins fought a covert war of independence and resistance which culminated in the passage of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. This Treaty did not deliver a 32 county republic completely free of the British yoke, but it did lay before us a pathway to peace which served us true. And so a people who were systematically oppressed, religiously persecuted, slaughtered and starved were finally liberated from the shackles of imperialism.
And so in an almost parallel course, did the Jews achieve sovereignty for their peoples in the newly revived State of Israel. Through pogrom and holocaust, did the Jews persevere; through forced conversions and systemic persecution, did Judaism survive; and this perseverance culminated in the sanctuary of the Jewish State of Israel. And from this sanctuary has flowed a prosperous and righteous nation which has pursued the equality of all peoples and sought to ensure the endurance of its people at every turn. Yet this historical similarity is wherein lies such pain and regret for the sons and daughters of Ireland who advocate for Israel.
Notwithstanding, that our nations bear congruent histories and the scars of our tribulations, our likeness and indeed our veneration for one another ends there and so our two paths have now diverged and currently stand in conflict with one another with the prospect of cordiality, let alone respect, being the product of wishful thinking rather than that of any rational hope.
This leads one to ask the question as to where this political, cultural and societal enmity towards Israel stems from. I believe the roots of the anti-Israel movement within Ireland are attributable to two distinct sources.
First of all, the blood libel has found much fertile soil in Ireland be it in the hardcore Irish Republican supporters of the Palestinian terror campaigns, or be it the traditional anti-Semitic prejudices prominent amongst the elites of much of 20th century Europe. Due to the anti-Semitism arising from several sides as opposed to one side over the other, anti-Semitism has been very prominent and gone unchallenged.
Particularly, against the Jews of Ireland, the anti-Semitic pretence of the blood libel was revived. As enunciated by former Minister for Justice in Ireland, Alan Shatter, this led to the Fianna Fáil government of the day turning away Jewish refugees who came to Ireland and sending them back into the clutches of Nazi Germany. When he made this speech in the Dáil in 2015, he was told to “go back to where he came from” and was also compared to Josef Goebbels for offering a moderate defence of Israel. I would like to be able to say that this incident was unprecedented and inconceivable when one thinks of Irish society; a cursory glance at history would tell of a different tale.
Perhaps the exemplar of the anti-Semitism fostered and bread in Ireland is the appalling outburst came from Oliver J Flanagan – a TD and Minister for Defence no less, who in 1943, said: “There is one thing that Germany did, and that was to rout the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country, it does not matter a hair’s breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are there is the honey, and where the Jews are there is money.”
Looking further back, in 1904, there was Ireland’s most infamous outburst of anti-Semitism. In the wretchedly poor city of Limerick, Father Creagh stirred up the local population with sermons detailing how their poverty stemmed from the conniving Jews who had stolen their money and how this lust for gold seemingly stemmed from their killing of Christ. To provide a little context – demographically, Jews accounted for 170 residents of a 38’000-strong city. Though no one was killed, the Jewish residents of Limerick were physically assaulted and their properties vandalised. Subsequenting this outpouring of violence was an organised boycott so as to drive the Jews from the city, and ensure Limerick’s steadfast place in wider Christendom.
Also, there is a pseudo-equation of Ireland’s lifelong quest for self-determination and a united republic with the supposed plight of Palestinians. The apparent corollary of this has been that Israel is seen as the equivalent of the British Empire or the Black & Tans. This equation was copper-fastened in the minds of many Irish nationalists when, during the violence of the Troubles, embattled Unionist communities would often fly Israeli flags to symbolise endurance through violence and the seeming parallels between the persecution of the Jewish state and the so-called persecution of Unionists in the North. And so as an instinctive response, Irish nationalists began championing the pro-Palestinian cause. And with this, the seed was planted and the pro-Palestinian cause was interwoven into the Republican narrative. Traditionally within Irish culture, there has been an almost continuous jostle to see who can be the most Republican, the most Irish. This is not confined to merely chants of “IRA” at sporting events, nor opposition to all things British; it is now apparent that a sine qua non of being considered a Republican is a blind affinity with the Palestinians.
Perhaps this is why the enmity borne against Israel by a nation of a similar trajectory is so lamentable to those who attempt to preach the cause of Zionism and the legitimacy of Israel in Ireland. For Ireland is a nation forged in conflict, supposedly conditioned against violence by the Troubles, and so achieved peace so that not one more child of Ireland would be prematurely buried beneath the red skies of war. Surely, these experiences predispose Ireland towards the path of peace, or at least engrain in their supposed peacemakers the salience of impartiality and righteousness? Seemingly not, all these experiences seem to have done is remedied our own misfortunes rather than educating us on how to weave the tapestry of peace seamlessly across the earth.