Until recently, I was convinced that the tiny pro-Israel lobby in my native Ireland was of little significance. When the first Gaza Freedom Flotilla was attacked last year, the best that lobby could do was wheel out two guys named Tom. Both Tom Carew and Tom Cooney competed with each other on the TV3 channel to see who could make the most absurd argument in support of Israel’s murder of nine peace activists onboard the Mavi Marmara.
On a quick visit to Dublin last week, I was surprised to hear that one of this wacky duo is now working for the national government. In April, Cooney was named an advisor to Alan Shatter, the Irish minister for justice and defense. A statement announcing the appointment indicated that Cooney, a law lecturer in University College Dublin, was something of an iconoclast, alluding to his track record of championing civil liberties at home and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
There was no mention of his views on Israel, a curious omission given that his new boss Shatter is a committed Zionist. Whereas the Irish government was generally more balanced in commenting about the Freedom Flotilla II than many of its EU counterparts over the past few months, Shatter was openly hostile to the effort, declaring it was “something of a mystery” to him why anyone could feel the need for a “political protest” against the Gaza blockade. Worryingly, Shatter has been put in charge of the department of defense by Ireland’s relatively new prime minister Enda Kenny; that department has awarded contracts to Israeli weapons firms in the not-so-distant past.
My trip also coincided with a protracted debate about who should be Ireland’s next president. Even though the role of the president in Ireland is largely ceremonial and the holder of that office has no executive power, elections for the position can be vicious affairs.
According to opinion polls, the front-runner in the race (the election is still several months away) was David Norris, a scholar of James Joyce who undertook an eventually successful legal challenge against Ireland’s ban on homosexual relations in the 1980s. This week, however, Norris withdrew from the contest after it emerged he had written a letter to an Israeli court in 1997 urging that it be lenient in sentencing his former partner Ezra Nawi, who was convicted of statutory rape of a 15 year old Palestinian.
Don’t get me wrong. I am horrified by the very idea of an adult having sex with a child. Unquestionably, Norris showed poor judgment in making his appeal, particularly by writing it on official headed paper supplied by the Irish Senate, of which he is a long-standing member.
Nonetheless, there is no evidence than Norris did anything more sinister than seek mercy for somebody he loved.
It is telling that it was not child protection advocates that drew attention to Norris’ relationship with Nawi. Rather, it was Zionist blogger John Connolly, an Irish law graduate living in London.
Connolly stated that his “main problem with Norris in recent times has been his outspoken criticism of Israel”. Among the alleged misdemeanors he cited were that Norris had invited Ilan Pappé, the dissident Israeli historian, to address his colleagues in the Oireachtas, Ireland’s parliament.
Connolly’s blog post inspired journalists with the reactionary Irish Independent to delight in Norris’ difficulties. Kevin Myers, one of Ireland’s best-paid columnists, inferred that Norris wouldn’t dream of writing to Arab governments demanding that they treat gay men or lesbians fairly. This was a patently ludicrous claim as Norris has been a consistent champion of human rights throughout the world.
Despite being few in number, Irish Zionists appear to be growing in clout to such a degree they can determine who may and may not stand in elections. The conclusion that they have no qualms about undermining democracy seems inescapable.