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Ireland and Israel: More than a little criticism

Israel’s actions in Gaza displease many in Ireland. The relationship between the two countries has never been particularly close.

Foreign Minister Martin and Prime Minister Shtayyeh during a conversation.

Irish Foreign Minister Martin with Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh on November 16th Photo: Zain Jaafar/Pool/reuters

DUBLIN taz | In no country in Western Europe is criticism of Israel louder than in Ireland. Parliament rejected the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador on Thursday night, but with 85 votes to 55, the result was not exactly overwhelming. The governing coalition had argued that expulsion would be counterproductive.

The channels of communication must be kept open to enable Irish compatriots to leave Gaza, said Deputy Prime Minister Micheál Martin, who is currently on a trip to Egypt, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In addition, everything must be done to ensure that the Irish-Israeli Hamas hostage Emily Hand, who turns nine this Friday, is released, he said.

On Wednesday evening, 23 people with Irish passports were allowed to travel to Egypt, and others are expected to leave Gaza by Sunday evening at the latest. However, the Irish-Palestinian surgeon Ahmed El Mokhallalati and his family have decided to stay in Gaza Cityin order to be able to help as many injured people as possible.

In another vote Wednesday night, the motion to report Israel to the International Criminal Court in The Hague over its actions in Gaza failed by 77 votes to 58. The motion was supported by Sinn Féin and the left-wing People Before Profit, but also by Labor and the Social Democrats.

Israel’s view of Ireland

In one open letter in the Irish Times More than a hundred Irish academics demanded that all ties with Israeli educational institutions be severed immediately. The Gaza war is a “campaign of ethnic cleansing,” the letter says. In addition, more than 600 Irish artists have signed a pledge to boycott Israel until the country abides by international law and human rights principles.

Ireland’s stance is met with indignation in Israel. Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu said the Palestinian population could go “to Ireland or to the desert.” He was temporarily excluded from cabinet meetings for this, but so was the Israeli ambassador Dana Erlich said: “When I arrived in Ireland almost three months ago, I knew I would be working in a special country. At the time I was warned by some people that Ireland would be perceived as anti-Israel with anti-Semitic elements.”

Politicians in the conservative government coalition, however, emphasize that criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza is by no means anti-Semitic. All parties, of course, castigated the Hamas attack as barbaric.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Israel of course has the right to self-defense. However, he added: “What is unfolding is not just self-defense, it is more like revenge.” The government is calling for a ceasefire to ease the situation for the population in Gaza.

Political a deserted island

This means that Ireland is pretty much alone in the EU. However, political commentator Fintan O’Toole points out that a consistent foreign policy is essential for a small country like Ireland – otherwise the Foreign Ministry could be dissolved and the positions from Brussels and Washington adopted. The Biden administration cannot continue to criticize Russia’s war against Ukrainian civilians while simultaneously supporting Israel’s war against Palestinian civilians.

O’Toole also criticized the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen: She had described attacks on civilian infrastructure as “pure terror”. However, she was referring to the Russian attacks on Ukraine. “When Israel announced that it would do the same to the people of Gaza, they fully supported these actions.”

The relationships between Ireland and Israel have always been quite cooleven though Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, appointed in 1949, wrote of the “close and cordial relations” between Jews and the Irish state: “Ireland is one of the very few countries that has never had its record marred by serious anti-Jewish riots.”

Israeli diplomats expelled

But Ireland did not recognize Israel until 1963, and the Israeli embassy in Dublin opened in the mid-1990s. After Israeli intelligence agency Mossad used fake Irish passports in a failed assassination attempt on a senior Hamas member in Dubai in 2010, the Irish government expelled an Israeli diplomat.

A year later, the Palestinian mission in Dublin was elevated to the status of an embassy. And three years ago, Parliament voted for a law banning the import and sale of goods, services and natural resources Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories is prohibited.

The leader of the far-left Irish Social Democrats, Holly Cairns, said the Irish people were “disgusted by the killing in Gaza” and that the threat of genocide required action, not words. “Israel kills with impunity. While the Irish government has done more than other EU countries to bring about a ceasefire, words are not enough. The crimes committed by Israel against the civilian population of Gaza must have consequences.”

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