By Ciaran Tierney
As the world looks on aghast, rightly, at the slaughter in Ukraine, it seems that some of the Irish politicians who championed the rights of Palestinians –and turned occupation into an election issue — have simply moved on.
When Israel was accused of practicing apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) during a conference in Dublin last week, where one of the guest speakers was the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the region, there wasn’t a Fianna Fail (or Fine Gael) politician to be found.
Addressing the conference which was organised by Sadaka, the Ireland Palestine Alliance, outgoing Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk said his latest UN report came to the conclusion that Israel practices apartheid in the occupied territory.
Sadaka assembled an impressive array of speakers with expertise in human rights, including Professor Lynk, who described “a deeply discriminatory dual legal and political system that privileges the 700,000 Israeli Jewish settlers living in the 300 illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Sometimes at a conference like this, however, those who decided not to attend can be just as telling as those who did.
Marie Crawley of Sadaka Ireland expressed regret that the two main Government parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, opted not to send a representative to the day-long conference entitled ‘Dismantling Israeli Apartheid: Developing Ireland’s Strategy’.
Fianna Fáil had included the Occupied Territories Bill, drafted by Sadaka Ireland for Senator Frances Black (Independent), in their manifesto for the 2020 General Election but abandoned it at the 11th hour in Government formation talks with Fine Gael and the Green Party.
Both the outgoing Dáil and Seanad voted in favour of this bill, which would have banned goods from illegal settlements on occupied lands, only for it to be blocked after going through eight of ten stages by Fine Gael.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, undoubtedly has a hectic schedule these days with the ongoing war in Ukraine, but it was telling that he did not see fit to send a deputy or any representative from Fine Gael.
Minister Coveney has always maintained that banning goods from settlements is a European issue, even though the settlements are illegal according to international law.
For his part, Senator Vincent P. Martin of the Green Party admitted that it was an uphill task to convince his government partners of the need to stand up for the human rights of the people of Palestine.
He expressed regret that the Occupied Territories Bill had not been enacted into Irish law.
Fine Gael’s absence was no surprise.
In recent weeks, members of Fine Gael have been accused of “completely failing to reflect the views of the Irish people” by reviving a cross-party Ireland Israel Friendship grouping within the parliament.
A ‘Friends of Israel’ group has not existed in the Oireachtas, the two houses of the Irish parliament, since a number of prominent members lost their seats in a 2016 general election.
The decision to revive the group caused controversy just weeks after a 280-page Amnesty International report, published in February, concluded that Israeli authorities must be held accountable for the crime of apartheid.
Invitations to attend the re-launch of the grouping were issued by Jennifer Carroll McNeill TD, a member of the Fine Gael party which has been in power since 2011.
Ms Carroll McNeill recently organised and chaired a meeting at Leinster House, Dublin, in which Israeli-Arab speaker Yoseph Haddad was invited to attack Amnesty International for describing Israel as an apartheid state.
Mr Haddad was invited to speak to TDs and Senators alongside the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Lironne Bar Sadeh, who has described criticism of the state of Israel as a form of “modern anti-Semitism” in the letters pages of The Irish Times.
Mr Haddad was welcomed to Dublin by members of the Ireland Israel Alliance (IIA), a group which lobbies on behalf of Israel in Ireland.
The IIA is headed by a Christian fundamentalist based in Co Kerry, Jackie Goodall, which is also the home place of Senator Ned O’Sullivan (Fianna Fail) — seen as one of the most vocal “pro-Israel” voices in the upper house of the Irish parliament.
In a recent Seanad debate in Ireland, Senator O’Sullivan claimed that the comprehensive Amnesty International report was “completely uncalled for” and “unbalanced”.
Ms MacNeill, who worked for then Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter TD, from September 2013 until his resignation in May 2014, has described herself as the “convener” of the newly formed cross-party group.
Ms MacNeill is also the Fine Gael spokesperson on equality.
At the meeting, she announced that she was also a member of the Friends of Palestine group in the parliament.
The Jewish National Fund, a provocative agent in the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes and villages for over a century, has described Yoseph Haddad as a “defender of Israel” who has dedicated his life to promoting the country overseas and opposing the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Although Mr Haddad describes himself as a staunch defender of Israel, he has written in The Times of Israel about racism in Israeli society after an Israeli-Arab medical intern was denied entry to a settlement on the basis that he was an Arab.
A Friends of Israel group has not existed in the Oireachtas since a number of prominent members, including Mr Shatter, lost their seats in 2016, and they are not known to have held any meetings since the February 2020 election.
The meeting to revive the Friends of Israel group was not without rancour, however, as a number of TDs from the Sinn Fein and People Before Profit (PBP) parties turned up to express opposition to Mr Haddad’s visit.
Richard Boyd Barrett TD (PBP) recently highlighted the double standards of those who condemn crimes against humanity by Russia in Ukraine while ignoring how the state of Israel treats the people of Palestine.
“All of us have rightly condemned the crimes against humanity that are being committed by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. And the government has moved instantly within five days to sanction Putin’s regime and take urgent action. And the strength of language that was used rightly against Putin as a barbarian, as a thug, as a murderer, as a warmonger, all of which are true,” he told the Dáil.
“All of those things, all of those things apply to the state of Israel in its treatment of the Palestinians. But you will not use the same strength of language when it comes to describing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. If you are going to have moral standards, those standards have to be consistent. Otherwise, they are not consistent at all. They are just cynicism.”
Among those who criticised the Friends of Israel meeting was Chris Andrews TD (Sinn Fein), who has been to Palestine and seen the impact Israeli policies have had on the people of Palestine with his own eyes.
In an emailed reply to Ms Carroll MacNeill’s invitation, Mr Andrews said that the Israel Ambassador to Ireland, rather than being invited to the parliament for the launch, should be expelled for the continuing crimes of apartheid carried out by her government.
He said that Mr Haddad’s invitation to Ireland was a clear indication that the Israeli government was increasing its lobbying overseas after B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN Special Rapporteur have all found that Israel practices apartheid in reports published since early last year.
“We see more and more people are coming to understand and realise that Israel is enforcing policies of brutal apartheid on the Palestinian people. The Israeli Government must be increasing their lobbying and are attempting to combat being labelled as racist and apartheid,” said Mr Andrews.
He felt the decision to revive the ‘Friends of Israel’ group within the Irish parliament and to invite Mr Haddad to Dublin was part of wider efforts by the state of Israel to “fight off” labels of apartheid and racism.
“Ireland has a long and proud tradition of standing with the Palestinian people,” said Mr Andrews. “It’s a cause that has generally received cross-party support and strong support from the Irish people. The Irish people rallied strongly in the fight against South African apartheid in the past, and many see no difference in this struggle for justice.”
For the members of Fianna Fáil, however, taking concrete measures to stand up for the human rights of Palestinians living under a brutal system of apartheid declined in importance once the 2020 election was out of the way and they had the chance of getting back into power.
Find Ciaran Tierney on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ciarantierney