Business groups pressure Ireland to drop ban on Israeli settlement goods

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach (prime minister), has told US politicians that he is against banning goods from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank. 

Jim Young Reuters/Newscom

Ireland’s elected representatives are coming under pressure from corporate lobbyists to drop a proposed ban on goods from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank.

A briefing paper submitted to members of the Oireachtas – the Irish parliament – warns there may be a hostile response from the US if the Occupied Territories Bill becomes law.

The bill, which has already won approval from both houses in the Oireachtas, would outlaw imports if they were grown or manufactured on land seized by Israel during the June 1967 war.

The paper was written by Europe Economics and Optimity Advisors, two groups which lobby on behalf of major companies.

It was commissioned by a research service within the Oireachtas. Although that service claims to produce “impartial” briefings for Ireland’s lawmakers, the conclusions of the paper strongly resemble threats made by US Congress members recently.

According to the paper, the Occupied Territories Bill “could create legal issues for US companies operating in both Ireland and Israel.” Since the 1970s, it says, US firms have been prohibited from cooperating with boycott measures targeting Israel.

The paper – published below – warns of “a serious negative impact on the Irish economy” if the US sanctions the country should the bill become law.

That conclusion is similar to a threat made by Israel’s supporters in Washington. In a letter dated 30 January, 10 members of the US Congress warned Ireland’s political leaders that the Occupied Territories Bill “could have broader consequences.”

Headed by veteran New York lawmaker Peter King, the 10 members of Congress wrote, “We do not want to see the strong economic links between our two countries [Ireland and the US] weakened due to ill-considered legislation.”

“Absurd assertion”

Sadaka, a Dublin group campaigning for Palestinian rights, has rejected the warnings made by the corporate lobbyists.

Gerry Liston, a Sadaka representative, said it was an “absurd assertion” that the legislation could bring about the withdrawal of US foreign direct investment in Ireland.

Fianna Fáil, one of Ireland’s largest political parties, criticized the briefing paper too.

Niall Collins, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on foreign affairs, took issue with the predictions that Ireland could lose investment.

Despite how he has taken a vocal stance in favor of the bill, Collins said that no US corporation had reached out to him about its contents.

“As public representatives, we get lobbied about all sorts of stuff,” said Collins. “But nobody from Google, Facebook or anybody else has contacted me to make their views known.”

While a majority in the Oireachtas has backed the bill, the Dublin government is firmly against it.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s taoiseach (prime minister), replied to the letter from the 10 members of the US Congress by noting his opposition to the bill “on both political and legal grounds.” The Irish Times has reported that Varadkar’s government is likely to prevent the bill from entering law.

The main argument which the government has made against the law is that trade is a matter handled by the European Union and Ireland is, therefore, unable to impose import restrictions unilaterally.

But Gerry Liston of Sadaka stated that a number of legal experts have analyzed the bill and found it compatible with EU law.

Liston complained that the briefing paper by Europe Economics and Optimity Advisors failed to mention the assessments supporting the bill, even though they were cited during Oireachtas debates.

Although the briefing paper echoes the threats by members of the US Congress, it does list some of the arguments put forward by the bill’s supporters.

One such argument is that a ban could have a “domino effect,” according to the paper. Campaigners for a ban on Israeli settlement goods, it notes, are inspired by the international mobilization which helped end white minority rule in South Africa.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist based in Galway, Ireland. He won the Irish current affairs and politics blog of the year award at the Tramline, Dublin in 2018. Website: