Many may be aware that the pro-Palestinian movement in Ireland played a particularly significant role in the Gaza flotilla incident as well as previous attempts to penetrate the Gaza blockade. After the death of nine on board the Mavi Mariner, there was a very substantial fallout with the Irish Government which prompted my letter to Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Martin.
Tensions remained high throughout that week due to the delayed approach of the “Irish” ship, the Rachel Corrie, which was in itself something of an international incident. Martin is continuing to agitate against Israel. He called again at a European Union gathering for an international enquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident. On the June 15th, he requested that the Israeli Embassy remove a member of staff due to suspicions that Irish passports were used by Israel in the killing of Hamas’ Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January. However, he said their investigations had not discovered any links with Israel and the staff member being expelled is not suspected of wrongdoing. He asserted Israel’s involvement was an “inescapable conclusion” as the passports were used by the same group who forged British and Australian passports.
After the capture of the Rachel Corrie, it was disappointing to hear Israeli representatives state in the media that they considered the members of the ship to be human rights activists in contrast to the crew of the Mavi Mariner. This sentiment was repeated by Benjamin Netanyahu, who took the unusual step of making a statement to the Irish media released via the Israeli Embassy in Ireland on June 7th:
Yesterday, the entire world saw the difference between a humanitarian flotilla and a hate flotilla by violent, terrorism-supporting extremists. … Only on one ship, on which dozens of thugs from a terrorist organization – or, to be more precise, an extremist, terrorism-supporting organization – had prepared in advance, armed with axes, knives and other ‘cold’ weapons were our soldiers compelled to defend themselves against a tangible danger to their lives. According to the information currently in our possession, this group boarded separately in a different city, organized separately, equipped itself separately and went on deck under different procedures. In effect, they underwent no checks. The clear intent of this hostile group was to initiate a violent clash with IDF soldiers. … This is a continuous process that enemies of Israel have been orchestrating for years in order to deny Israel’s right to defend itself. It began in 2001, with an attempt to arrest Israeli officers abroad, and continued in 2004 with similar attempts. Then there was the Goldstone report, which was born after Operation Cast Lead. This process continues today with the attempt to prevent Israel from stopping the smuggling of missiles and rockets into Gaza.
I agree with Netanyahu’s statement, but with one important exception. The opening line describes the Rachel Corrie as being part of a “humanitarian flotilla.” In the latter part, he seems to be associating the Turkish ship alone with an international movement to prevent Israel from defending itself. While I understand he wants to emphasise the difference between the Rachel Corrie and the Mavi Mariner, this is drawing too much of a distinction. The spirit of the pro-Palestinian movement in Ireland is very far from “humanitarian,” as I will illustrate.
I don’t take any pleasure in bashing my fellow countrymen, but I have to say with some regret that Ireland’s impact on Israel has been extremely negative, particularly in recent years. The conduct of the Irish participants of the Gaza flotilla and the behaviour of their allies leads only to this conclusion. This has origins in the history of the Irish state.
Ireland never had a large Jewish population – at its height, they numbered 5,000, mainly descended from immigrants fleeing the Eastern European pogroms of the late 19th Century. They are just one-fifth that number today. The Irish people inherited the Roman Catholic credo of the “perfidious Jew.” There was a common Catholic fear of Jews, Communism and freemasonry. Anti-Jewish sentiment was also very common in Irish trade unionism and amongst the working classes as in many other parts of the Western world. Jews were seen as economic aliens who exploited the Irish people as moneylenders, and as labourers preventing Irish workers from obtaining employment.
These negative stereotypes were inherited by many in the Irish republican movement which was as strongly tied to Catholicism as British Unionism was associated with Protestantism. Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein, was notoriously anti-Semitic. He supported the most serious episode of violence towards Jews in Irish history, the Limerick Pogrom. This was a two year boycott of Jewish businesses, organised by a priest, Fr. John Creagh, in 1904, although there had been intermittent protests and attacks since 1884. The small Jewish community fled Limerick, never to return. Griffith asserted, “When Catholics – as Catholics – are boycotted, it constitutes undoubtedly an outrageous injustice, and similarly, if Jews – as Jews – were boycotted, it would be outrageously unjust. But the Jew in Limerick has not been boycotted because he is a Jew, but because he is a usurer.” His claim of just boycotting moneylenders is false, since the great majority of the Jews affected were, in fact, tradesmen, shop keepers, and tailors. It clearly echoes the “not because they’re Jews but because they’re Zionists” pro-Palestinian stance of today.
Some IRA members, such as the high ranking Sean Russell, collaborated with the Nazi’s. Many were interned during the war. Writer and IRA member Francis Stewart assisted the Nazi propaganda machine in Berlin. He was an overt anti-Semite who never regretted his role in the Third Reich. He was elected leader of Aosdána (an elitist government-funded arts group which boycotts Israel) in 1996. There was never any real confrontation with the vicious anti-Semitism of mainland Europe, and so, Ireland remained surprisingly unsympathetic even after the Holocaust. Only a tiny number of Jewish refugees were granted sanctuary in Ireland. By contrast, quite a number of shady individuals connected with the Nazi’s took refuge there. Even Nazi wartime propagandist, Lord Haw Haw, a Unionist who blamed the Jews for the expulsion of the British from Southern Ireland, was welcomed back (then deceased) for reburial in 1976. Sinn Fein still regard Russell as a patriot and commemorated him with a statue in 2004.
Many in Ireland identified with the Palestinian cause, albeit mistakenly in my view, not just in moral terms but also because Irish history bears significant similarities with that of the Jews. “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland intensified in the late 1960s around the same time the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) became more active. In the 70s, Sinn Fein publicly supported the Palestinian cause and identified the PLO as kindred spirits. The IRA and the PLO became extremely close. They learnt a lot from each other (strategy and terrorist technique) and often trained together. The IRA received substantial funding and military aid from Colonel Gadafi, and also collaborated with Hamas and Hizullah.
After Sinn Fein gained political acceptance in the 1990s, they remained extreme in their criticism of Israel. They have demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland and advocated boycott. Aengus O’Snodaigh (MP) described Israel as “without doubt one of the most abhorrent and despicable regimes on the planet.” When the Israeli Ambassador explained the cause of Operation Cast Lead in 2009, O’Snodaigh repeatedly compared him to Goebbels. He was one of the politicians who attempted to sail on the flotilla, but was turned away by the Cypriot authorities.