The people of Gaza can “go to Ireland or deserts,” an Israeli government minister has said over the past few days.
As a proud Dubliner, I’d like to believe that Amichai Eliyahu, the minister in question, did not choose Ireland at random when he expressed that genocidal wish – a wish accompanied by a now infamous warning that using nuclear weapons is an option in the current war.
Hopefully, Eliyahu is rattled by the outpourings of solidarity toward Palestinians displayed by ordinary Irish folk.
It should be emphasized that the solidarity comes from the streetsl. Contrary to impressions, the Dublin government has actually adopted quite a weak stance.
Yes, Ireland has been among the European Union states most critical of Israel. But given that the common EU position was to depict the horrors Israel inflicts on Gaza as defensive, a minor deviation from it is hardly worthy of celebration.
Proof of the gulf between elite and grassroots opinion could be seen a few days ago.
Protests in various Irish towns have demanded the expulsion of Dana Erlich, Israel’s ambassador to the country. Rather than expelling her, Fianna Fáil – the largest party in Ireland’s ruling coalition – invited Erlich to its annual conference last weekend.Fianna Fáil is headed by Micheál Martin, who is also Ireland’s foreign minister.
After Israel attacked Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza last week – killing hundreds – Martin argued that we “urgently need a humanitarian ceasefire and a significant scaling up of humanitarian access to get vital supplies to civilians.”
Perhaps Martin deserves a modicum of credit for stating the obvious. But nobody should get carried away in praising him.
Martin’s statement spelled out that he was going beyond the collective EU call for “pauses” to Israel’s violence against Gaza “for humanitarian needs.”
Yet the fact remains that Ireland had endorsed the EU’s call – which was worded in a way that it would not cause any umbrage to Israel. The Irish government was not bothered about how the EU’s call was so timid when it was drafted and evidently did not push too hard for bolder language.
Far from being applauded, Martin should be criticized for prefacing his ceasefire call with some formulaic cant about “Israel’s right to defend itself.”Occupying powers do not have such rights. They have obligations.
Martin poses as a defender of international law. A real defender would constantly remind Israel of its core obligation – to let Palestinians live in peace.
Under the Geneva Conventions, military occupations must be temporary.
Israel began its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 and – despite the so-called “disengagement” from Gaza rammed through by Ariel Sharon when he was prime minister – has given every indication that the occupation is permanent.
Israel is, therefore, an aggressor masquerading as a victim. By reciting mantras about “Israel’s right to defend itself,” Martin is humoring an aggressor.
In September – just one month before the latest war on Gaza was declared – Martin visited the Middle East, where he pressed the flesh with Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli ministers.
During that trip, Martin said that “the assumption that is sometimes made in the Israeli media and public discourse that our position on the conflict is evidence of hostility on the part of Ireland, or the Irish people, towards Israel is simply incorrect.”
Martin is correct that official Ireland bears no antipathy toward Israel. But he did not speak for the Irish people, huge numbers of whom despise Israel for the evils it does to Palestinians.
The problem is not confined to the ruling coalition.
Sinn Féin, the main opposition party in southern Ireland, claims that upholding the rights of Palestinians is a priority. Yet the party’s recent behavior does not inspire much confidence.
Responding to public pressure, Sinn Féin’s leadership has said in recent days that the position of the Israeli ambassador in Dublin is now “untenable.” That stance is welcome.But why did Sinn Féin have to wait until the confirmed death toll in Gaza had exceeded 9,000 before echoing the call to send Dana Erlich packing?
Why had Sinn Féin previously abstained when calls for the ambassador’s expulsion were put to votes in a number of elected assemblies where it is represented?
Treating an aggressor as a victim is evidently considered necessary as part of the subtle rebranding exercise which Sinn Féin has been undertaking for some time.
The purpose of that exercise is to allay fears that Sinn Féin would be too radical if it leads a government following the next general election in Ireland (opinion polls indicate that is likely). The fears are those expressed by official Ireland, not ordinary folk.
Based on its performance over the last few weeks, Sinn Féin’s support for the Palestinian struggle is now looking superficial