Ireland latest EU state to defend BDS

A Palestine solidarity contingent takes part in the Reclaim the Vision of 1916 march in Dublin, on 24 April, marking 100 years since Ireland’s Easter Rising. (via Facebook)

In another blow to the Israeli campaign to criminalize Palestine solidarity activism, the Irish government has affirmed that the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement represents a “legitimate” means of protest “intended to pressure Israel into ending the occupation.”

In the Irish parliament on Thursday, foreign minister Charles Flanagan stated that “while the government does not itself support such a policy,” the BDS movement holds a “legitimate political viewpoint” and that the government does “not agree with attempts to demonize those who advocate this policy.”

Second blow in a week

This is the second major setback Israel has suffered this week to its campaign to delegitimize and criminalize the global movement within the European Union and other Western states.

Ireland is the third EU government to make such a statement in recent months.

Earlier this week, Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders said that “statements or meetings concerning BDS are protected by freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as enshrined in the Dutch constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

In March, the Swedish foreign ministry stated that BDS “is a civil society movement. Governments should not interfere in civil society organization views.”

At Israel’s urging, governments in the US, UK, France, Canada and elsewhere are attempting to introduce anti-democratic legislation, and taking other repressive measures to undermine the BDS movement.

Israel has also said that it is using its intelligence services to spy on BDS activists around the world.

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli cabinet minister charged with combating the global movement, described BDS activists as threats, saying they must “pay the price” for their campaign work.

“With the Netherlands and Ireland joining Sweden in defending the right to advocate and campaign for Palestinian rights under international law through BDS, Israel’s attempt to get BDS outlawed in Europe and to bully its supporters into silence have been dealt a serious blow,” said Riya Hassan, Europe coordinator for the Palestinian BDS National Committee.

“Israel’s attacks on our movement appear to be backfiring as they have led to European governments and some of the world’s most famous human rights organizations and political organizations across Europe and the world speaking out in defense of our right to advocate BDS,” Hassan added.

“Across European civil society, there is a fast spreading recognition of the BDS movement as a legitimate form of nonviolent, grassroots human rights advocacy for the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people,” Hassan said.

Ireland “deeply concerned” about Omar Barghouti

The Irish foreign minister’s comments came in the context of a parliamentary debate concerning Palestinian human rights defender and co-founder of the BDS movement Omar Barghouti, who is facing politically motivated repression by Israel.

Israel is refusing to renew the travel document of Barghouti, a Palestinian born in the diaspora married to a Palestinian citizen of Israel, preventing him from pursuing his campaign work internationally. He has been told that his permanent residency status is being reviewed.

The human rights groups Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Front Line Defenders have all made statements concerning Barghouti’s liberty and safety, with Amnesty and Front Line Defenders designating him a human rights defender.

Responding to a question from the Anti-Austerity Alliance member of parliament Mick Barry, the foreign minister said that “the EU delegation in Israel has asked for clarification of [Barghouti’s] position and we will follow all developments in the case.”

Flanagan added that the government was “deeply concerned about wider [Israeli] attempts to pressure [nongovernmental organizations] and human rights defenders through legislation and other means to hinder their important work. We have raised this both at EU level and directly with the Israeli authorities.”

The minister also promised that the Irish government “will monitor the ongoing developments in this case in conjunction with the EU delegation and as part of our broader engagement in support of the role of human rights defenders and the protection of civil society space.”

Flagging friend of Israel

The Irish government’s position will perhaps be especially galling for Israeli officials as Flanagan is considered to be very friendly towards Israel, having formerly been a member of the small Friends of Israel grouping in the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament.

Before becoming foreign minister in July 2014, as chair of the governing right-wing Fine Gael party, Flanagan was a vocal opponent of the BDS movement.

In 2013 he publicly criticized the Teachers’ Union of Ireland for its adoption of a motion to support the academic boycott of Israel.

In 2012, Flanagan lambasted Trocaire, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, when it began a campaign asking the Irish government to ban products from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law, calling the move a “very partisan political campaign that is beyond their remit.”

In a 2013 interview with pro-Israel columnist Carol Hunt, Flanagan made clear his belief that “Israel has been demonized by an Irish media slavishly dancing to the Palestinian drumbeat for decades.”

“Israel has a far better and more progressive record on human rights than any of its neighbors,” Flanagan claimed. “The truth must be told.”

But now it would appear that even for certain officials and governments with sympathies towards Israel, including Flanagan, the latest attacks on the civil society BDS campaign are proving either too anti-democratic or too embarrassing to defend.

Notably, in the Irish general election earlier this year, Israel lost three of its most vocal parliamentary friends; disgraced former minister for justice and defense Alan Shatter of Fine Gael and Joanna Tuffy of the Labour Party lost their seats, while former education minister Ruairi Quinn, also of Labour, did not contest the election.

Tuffy was vice-chair of the small Oireachtas Friends of Israel group.

Meanwhile, a pre-election campaign initiated by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign saw around 40 candidates who were ultimately elected to Ireland’s 158-seat parliament sign pledges opposing the Irish arms trade with Israel and supporting the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement due to Israel’s human rights violations.

Israeli funding booted from literary festival

This wasn’t the only bad news for Israel’s propaganda, or hasbara, efforts in Ireland this week.

On Tuesday, the Listowel Writers’ Week Festival announced it would be refusing funding from the Israeli embassy in Ireland to bring an Israeli writer to the festival.

The issue came to light on Sunday when members of Ireland’s artistic community began highlighting on social media that the festival’s brochure listed an event in which the Israeli embassy was explicitly thanked for its support.

After having been contacted by concerned individuals, including many artists, the organizers announced that the fesitval would honor its commitment to host the Israeli writer Savyon Liebrecht, but was rejecting the Israeli embassy funding.

This move is in line with cultural boycott guidelines issued by PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which call for a boycott of Israeli institutions, not individuals.

“As a Palestinian woman who is exiled from her homeland, I thank the festival for refusing to take Israeli state funding for this event,” IPSC chair Fatin Al Tamimi said, “This decision is courageous, principled and absolutely the right thing to do. This is a small, but certainly significant, positive gesture that will be appreciated by the Palestinian people struggling for freedom, justice and equality, whether under Israel’s apartheid regime or living in exile.”

Kevin Squires is a journalist and national coordinator of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign.