This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War. An event in which the state of Israel successfully defended itself against a genocidal invasion by its Arab neighbours. As with all events involving Israel, the tone surrounding commemorations of the Six Day War varies. Some rejoice in the magnificent achievement of a genuine underdog in facing up to the thuggery of Arab states. There are those, however, who see this as an opportunity to condemn Israel for its occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel´s detractors are numerous; ranging from so-called human rights organisations, dedicated anti-Semites, terrorist groups and those on the extremities of the political spectrum. The Israeli occupation, as in most western countries, is a particularly polarising topic in Ireland. One would think a country in which Leo Varadkar, an openly gay, second-generation Indian, was chosen as Taoiseach should fully embrace the only bastion of homosexual rights and ethnic diversity in the Middle-East. The reality is quite different. Indeed, Irish left-wing activists have been at the forefront of the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel (Adl, 2016).
The Irish-Palestine Solidarity Campaign enjoys the support of two of Ireland´s four main political parties: Sinn Féin, an offshoot of the IRA, and Irish Labour, as well as the smaller People Before Profit. A march, dubbed the ´National Demonstration for Palestine´, has been organised by the IPSC for this coming Saturday, 10th of June. Vocal advocates of the IPSC are Mary Lou McDonald, deputy leader of Sinn Féin, and Richard Boyd Barrett, leader of People Before Profit, formerly of the Socialist Workers Party. Both are Teachtaí Dála and well-known critics of the state of Israel, with Boyd Barrett having gone as far as to question her right to exist (Fitzgerald, 2009).
At a press launch for the planned demonstration both McDonald and Boyd Barrett were present. A common sentiment evoked by those on the left of Irish politics is that Ireland and Palestine have a shared history. McDonald, whose party-political platform is entirely based on its dedication to reuniting the Republic of Ireland with Northern Ireland, stated that Irish people understand the Palestinian experience because “it resonates with our own history”. Considering myself an Irish republican, I find such a statement to be absurd. Indeed, like the citizens of the West Bank and Gaza, Ireland struggled throughout much of its history for self-determination. What Mary Lou McDonald fails to realise is that this is where the similarity ends.
Ireland fought a war of independence against Britain which led to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, later to become the Republic of Ireland. It is true that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Hamas have fought to rid the occupied territories of what it sees as an oppressive occupation, however to equate the ideology and methods of these terrorist organisations with that of the original Irish Republican Army is to engage in a low form of moral equivalence. The IRA of the Irish War of Independence, never came to within an inch of espousing the genocidal murder practiced by Hamas or the PLO. Certainly, the IRA and its founders sought to evoke Ireland’s Catholic identity as a vehicle towards independence. It did not however claim that Ireland would remain unfree until her lands had been cleansed of every trace of Britishness, as Hamas have said of the Jews in Israel. Nor were Pádraic Pierce, Michael Collins or Eamon De Valera waging a war of annihilation against the British in which the only acceptable victory was one in which British people, both in Ireland and in Britain, were forcibly deported from their homes, as were the longstanding demands of the PLO.
For a scholar of Irish history, it strikes me that Mary Lou McDonald is speaking from a position of unique dishonesty. Before entering Irish politics, McDonald studied European Studies at Trinity College Dublin. Surely, she will know of the great tradition of the democratic process in Irish nationalism, indeed were it not for constitutional nationalism Ireland would never have achieved the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921. Unlike Palestinian political leaders of the past and present, the founding fathers of the Irish Republic accepted compromise with Britain. The result was partition of the island of Ireland, an end to centuries of conflict in which countless Irish and British people died, and the creation of a free and independent Ireland which is now a powerhouse of freedom and prosperity. In no way, whatsoever are there parallels between this story and the enduring struggle for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Peace settlements were consistently offered by the Israelis, often to the detriment of their own territorial integrity, only to be rejected by the Palestinians , most notably in 1948, 1978 and 2001. Had Ireland adopted the approach of Yasser Arafat at the Camp David-Taba peace negotiations in 2000-2001, I have no doubt that we would remain under British control today.
The underlying impetus of Mary Lou McDonald´s statement is her support for the Provisional IRA, which ran a murderous bombing campaign in Ireland and Britain throughout the troubles. Now defunct, the PIRA shared many similarities with Hamas and the PLO. They enjoyed the financial and political support of some of the vilest regimes in the world, including Libya and Iran, moreover the PIRA did not distinguish between legitimate military targets and innocent British and Irish civilians. Neither do Hamas. Perhaps Mrs. McDonald is confusing constitutional Irish nationalism with terrorism.
As a measure of how distorted Mrs. McDonald´s version of Irish history is, let us imagine that during the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, at the negotiating table with Michael Collins sat Ehud Barak, as opposed to the British PM of the time, David Lloyd George. The result would have been infinitely more favourable to the Irish. At the Camp David-Taba peace negotiations, not only did Barak agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state with 95% of the territory demanded by Yasar Arafat, and a $30bn reparations settlement for the 1948 refugees, but he offered to surrender East Jerusalem. Again, if Michael Collins had behaved like Yasar Arafat, who knows when the Irish War of Independence would have ended.
Given that Collins was ultimately forced into accepting the partition of Ireland, to many an insuperable crime which led to the Irish Civil War, it is truly inconceivable to say that the Israelis are a hawkish, aggressive oppressor on the same scale as David Lloyd George and his then secretary of state for British colonies, Winston Churchill.
Considering recent events, I feel it necessary to address another claim made at the IPSC press launch, this one from Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit´s TD for Dún Laoghaire. Boyd Barrett claimed:
“I think if people are concerned, and I think they should be deeply concerned, about growing instability in the Middle-East, about recent events in Britain and elsewhere, key to helping to resolve this situation, this conflict in the Middle-East, is to finally give justice and self-determination to the Palestinian people”.About
Once again it is clear that another member of our enlightened political elite is profoundly misinformed and incorrect in their analysis. Aside from the ludicrous claim that any concessions given to the Palestinian Authority or Hamas will help diffuse the myriad of conflicts in the Middle-East, he then claims that the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and the lifting of the blockade against Gaza would have prevented the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London!
As a well-educated man and someone who genuinely campaigns on behalf of the poor and marginalised of Ireland, I will do him the service of addressing both arguments.
Boyd Barrett may have been referring to any of the 8 active conflicts in the Middle-East. For the sake of word space and congruity, I shall take the current triangle of pornographic violence taking place between Syria, ISIS, Iraq and their numerous proxies as an example. Israel has neither caused, contributed to nor enflamed this war. Admittedly it has conducted airstrikes on Hezbollah positions within Syria to stem the flow of weapons it receives from Iran. If Hezbollah, and by proxy Iran, undermine the security of Israel it will continue to be a target of airstrikes, and I support such measures. Aside from this limited intervention, Israel has neither sided with any force in the Syrian conflict, nor has it sent troops to any combat areas. To claim that Palestinian independence would stop Bashar Al Assad from gassing his own people or ISIS beheading aid workers and journalists is simply untrue and unfounded. In fact, if there has been any nation state more committed to consigning the extremism of ISIS to the dustbin of history it has been Israel. Hamas, the de facto leaders of Palestine and the political beneficiaries of any anti-Israel demonstration, are as brutal as ISIS. Hamas justify the killings of Israeli and Palestinian civilians by claiming they are doing so in the name of Islam. Hamas and ISIS are currently the only authorities in the Middle-East known to engage in the unimaginably cruel practice of throwing homosexuals to their deaths from rooftops. Surely the international left should champion the efforts of the Israeli Defence Force to operationally defeat such a group! What´s more, as a civil libertarian and a defender of gay rights in Ireland, I would think it is more appropriate that the PBP TD reserves his ire for Hamas, not the IDF which, according to retired British Army Colonel Richard Kemp, does more to safeguard the lives of civilians in conflict than any other army in the world (Avraham, 2015).
Even if we were to grant that Mr. Boyd Barrett believed his own claim that the policies of the Israeli government may impact on the deranged minds of Islamist terrorists in Manchester and London, it is a rudderless argument. Is he saying that they would be less inclined to murder innocent people if there was no occupation? If so, he demonstrates his lack of knowledge of recent events. History has shown that every time Israel softened its stance towards Palestinian violence, terrorism increased, e.g. during the term of Ehud Barak. Whereas when Israel took appropriate military action against Palestinian terror groups, the number of attacks against its citizens decreased, e.g. the under the hawkish Ariel Sharon and the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is unclear whether Boyd Barrett believes Israel needs to disengage from a conflict it is not part of, or whether it should soften its stance on those who would machine-gun school children and blow up discos of teenagers. Either way he is empirically wrong.
In conclusion, I must emphasise that I do not attack Richard Boyd Barrett or Mary Lou McDonald for criticising Israel. It is necessary to criticise Israel, just as it is necessary to criticise all governments, indeed I am personally in favour of the creation of a Palestinian state. I also do not point out the lies or flaws in their arguments as a mere intellectual pursuit. My reasons for defending Israel against the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign are that it unfairly challenges Israel as a barrier to peace, without accepting the real barrier to peace, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Also, I resent that the peace-loving people of Ireland have been misled by internationalist anti-Semitism into hatred of Israel, a tolerant and open society unlike any other in the Middle-East and with an unparalleled record of adherence to human rights during conflict.
Adl, C. (30 de May de 2016). Ireland becomes 3rd EU state to defend BDS movement. YourNewsWire.
Avraham, R. (20 de December de 2015). Colonel Kemp: “The IDF is the world´s most moral army”. Jerusalem Online.
Fitzgerald, M. (2009, April 13). Violence in Gaza a ´victory´ for Palestinians. The Irish Times.