The story of Ireland and Israel is not one that will be remembered in the lore of geopolitical matches cooked up in diplomatic heaven.
A country with a historically tiny Jewish population, Ireland only granted permission to Israel to open an embassy in Dublin in 1994 after receiving belated de jure diplomatic recognition in 1975.
If one were to suggest that a good deal of begrudgement and passive aggression could be read into that luke-warm acknowledgement of the mere existence of the Jewish State, I would suggest that they would be entirely correct. To say that Ireland has never been an enthusiastic fan of Israel would be to make a gross understatement.
The Irish Government’s Hatred Of Israel — Obsessive, Pervasive, Relentless, Legendary
As a Jew born in Ireland, who lived there until the age of 25, Ireland’s obsessive fixation with Israel — almost always highly negative in character — made me feel increasingly alienated from the society I grew up in.
As I grew up, I found myself appalled by the fact that the Irish discourse about Israel that took place online was widely tainted by the hallmarks of blatant antisemitism.
Skeptical voices opined that the online sphere is not a good barometer of more widespread opinion. Increasingly I found myself dubious of these attempts to sanitise the debate.
Ireland is a country with little firsthand experience of Jews beyond those depicted in its literature, and with a generally meagre grasp on Jewish history.
As I grew up and formed political opinions, I was disappointed but not surprised to discover that the mere mention of the word ‘Zionism’ was met with looks of disdain.
In Ireland, ‘Zionism’ Is A Dirty Word
‘Israel’ in the Ireland I grew up in was something of a dirty word too.
To be uttered only under one’s breath. It was better not to talk about Israel at all — at least out of the house. One would hate to collect dirty looks, after all. Or to make people uncomfortable. Fake equanimity is arguably even worse.
To be a compliant Irish Jew was to be tepid in support of Israel at best — or preferably to offer ideological support to the other side. Not quite full-blown Marranos. But perhaps not more than half a step above. The last time I voiced support for Israel announcing myself as Irish-born, my inbox was flooded with a deluge of hate mail for quite literally days.
Most appropriately it was an Irish rabbi who invented a camouflaged mezzuzah. With due respect to the inventor, any country in which owning a “Camozuzzah” is necessary is not one I would wish to live in as a Jew.
Irish Jews being scarce, for the Irish left, Irish Jews who are openly anti-Israel are something of a unicorn-like commodity. Jews of course are the ultimate collectors’ pieces to buttress oneself against allegations of anti-Semitism. Pointing to the presence of a Jew at your demonstration is a powerful way of saying “look, it’s not about them. It’s about Zionism!”
If they can’t be found in Ireland, they can be imported like prized delicacies from the UK and carefully hemmed into an ideological bubble of hate to ensure that their opinions don’t waver. Richard Boyd Barrett and the militantly anti-Semitic party over which he presides knows a thing or two about this.
Ultimately I found the idea of being Irish and Zionist mutually exclusive. I would suggest that this didn’t involve the application of elaborate logic but rather the use of simple common sense unfitting of a Nobel Prize. And thus in 2015 I left to move to Israel. It is my fervent hope that all Irish Jews should leave too.
Almost a decade later, I’m not surprised to notice that Irish online commenters still regard ‘Zionism’ as a good insult to level at Jews. Nothing new has emerged from under the sun.
If anything speaks to a profound ignorance of Jewish history and the centrality of Zionism to the Jewish people this is probably it.
To call me a “dirty Zionist” entails insulting my personal hygiene but also affirming my belief in the essential centrality of Israel to my people.
Should I be flattered or outraged? I still can’t decide.
So … Why Do The Irish Appear To Hate Us So Much?
For decades now, curious observers and those — like myself — with skin in the game have fallen over themselves attempting to explain Ireland’s historical antipathy to everything to do with Israel.
The only commonality between these repetitive acts of excuse-making — often proffered by non-Jewish Irish commentators writing in Irish media — is to ensure that anti-Semitism is never pointed to as an explanation.
Everything else is fair game. But to point out that some degree of anti-Israelism in Ireland seems to be rooted in anti-Semitism beliefs and conspiracy theories is an unspeakable claim that would instantly draw allegations that one were “playing the anti-Semitism card” or “playing victim.”
But why ask in the first place?
Ireland’s opposition to Israel isn’t unique. Far from it, of course.
But in terms of its near universality, vitriol and almost complete lack of opposition it’s a different beast than that which is encountered in most of the non-Arab world. A vicious echo-chamber of unchallenged hate. Or at least so I would contend.
It was this cozy climate of acceptance that must have empowered Ireland’s Richard Boyd Barrett to label Israel a “dirty” “psychopathic” country against which an “intifada” to be levelled to “bring it down.”
Boyd Barrett’s language describing Israelis as collective subhumans evoked chilling echoes from history — a comparison not helped by his manic mannerisms:
“You can only make peace with human beings. With people who have some humanity. You cannot make peace with a psychopath. With a mass murderer. With a savage. And that is what the State of Israel is!” – Richard Boyd Barrett, a member of Ireland’s parliament
Shocked by what I saw on the internet, I brought the remarks to public attention in a tweet that ended up being viewed more than one million times. The issue attracted the attention of Ireland’s newspaper of record, The Irish Times. Did Ireland have red lines when it came to Israel!? We were about to find out the disappointing answer.
An intrepid reporter put the statements to Ireland’s deputy FM who affirmed that they were “wrong.” Another journalist offered Boyd Barrett the opportunity to retract or apologise for the remarks. He refused to the deafening echo of no condemnation. A month later his party published a manifesto advocating that the State of Israel be replaced by a replacement state … called Palestine. No, really.
While many world governments are critical of Israel, at least at times, Ireland stands head and shoulders in the relentless of its persecution of Israel. If kind words have ever been offered in the Oireachtas about the Jewish State I’m not aware of them. Had they been uttered, I would have expected whoever uttered them to be shunned and dis-elected. In Ireland, only one opinion about Israel is a permissible one.
As we saw last year, in today’s Ireland, calls to join an ‘intifada’ against Israel can be uttered in the light of day in the capital city without consequence.
I operate a small YouTube channel that attempts to point out how tolerated anti-Israel hate speech is in the Irish discourse with the fantastical aspiration that perhaps doing so might at least highlight the problem.
Last week in Cork protesters chanted their support for the Houthis encouraging them to “turn another ship around.” An Irish musician has made a popular melody out of the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Despite continued highlighting of the fact that the slogan is viewed by many as a call to exterminate Israel of Jews, its bars ring out week after week. But it’s okay. People Before Profit wrote a pamphlet confirming that the slogan isn’t tainted with anti-Semitism.
The findings have been grim and have frankly made me — as a Jewish Israeli — terrified of the prospect of ever setting foot in Ireland again. It’s not that the words are uttered.
Ireland’s definition of what constitutes hate speech excludes Israelis from protection it seems.
Ireland Claims To Be Neutral. In Reality, It Pursues A Diplomatic War Against Israel On Several Fronts
The hostility of much of the Irish population towards Israel is reflected in the representatives they elect and how they comport themselves at international institutions.
When EU Commissioner Ursula Von Der Leyen affirmed that the EU “stands with Israel” in the wake of October 7th, Ireland’s president felt the need to distance Ireland from the remarks. You know. Ireland couldn’t possibly be perceived as being in any way supportive of Israel. Even for a split second.
At fora like the UN and EU, Ireland sides with any motion that condemns Israel. More cently it has decided that it wishes to take up the mantle of leading the charge. In the wake of October 7th it unsuccessfully attempted to force the EU to interject a perverse moral equivalency into its condemnation of the atrocities. Fortunately nations with straighter moral compasses rejected the attempt.
Hearing what it so badly wanted to hear, Irish media spun the ICJ interim judgement as a vindication of the fact that Israel must be committing a non-existence genocide. Ireland is now actively considering joining South Africa’s absurd persecution of Israel at the ICJ.
As among the largest contributors of troops to highly biased anti-Israel missions like UNIFIL, UNDOF, and UNTSO, Irish “peacekeepers” play valuable roles on Israel’s doorstep … in ensuring that the organisation they report to is supplied with a steady flow of information with which to further attack Israel.
Not content with stopping even there, Ireland works through the murky world of NGOs to fund highly politicised organisations which are almost universally anti-Israel in outlook. These include the official charity arm of the Catholic Church of Ireland, Trócaire.
The important work of NGO Monitor lays bare the shocking extent of this bias which flatly contradicts Ireland’s absurd claims of “neutrality” around this conflict. Not that anybody in Israel was buying that claim in the first place.
After revelations about UNRWA’s long-known associations with Hamas were revealed last week, Ireland again bucked the trend by proudly announcing that it would continue channelling money into the entity thereby ensuring that Hamas continue to enjoy some useful facilities in Gaza within which to hide weapons.
Ireland is one of UNRWA’s main funders. It could now be argued that Ireland is wilfully channelling aid into an organisation which has been proven to directly abet Hamas. Perhaps Israel should consider hauling Ireland before the ICJ as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Of course as friends of Ireland in Israel are wont to remind me, it isn’t all one narrative.
Organised activities to defend Israel in Ireland are well-intentioned but find themselves attempting to swim against a tsunami of hate.
Irish friends of Israel exist. But most are understandably reluctant to draw the vitriolic ire of the much larger pro-Palestine faction upon themselves.
For years, observers of Irish sentiment towards Israel have argued that a silent “majority” is either apathetic towards Israel or “quietly positive.” Frankly, I don’t buy it. But if I did, I would tell those mythical supporters to use their voices.
In the Ireland of 2024, even local governments have free reign to jump in on the Israel-hating bandwagon, the final checks and balances to contain the orgy of hatred having been seemingly removed.
Last week Cork County Council passed a motion officially endorsing BDS following on from the actions of many other local governments who have chosen to declare their territories Israelrein “Apartheid Free Zones.” It also declared the county — the largest in Ireland — a space of “proactive solidarity with the Palestinian people.”
So there’s no doubting what Cork County Council’s outlook on this political conflict is: if you dare to support Israel, you’re the legal target of a boycott campaign (interestingly no such measures have been instituted against Russians, etc). Toe the right line and cheerlead for Hamas? Enjoy this oasis of “proactive solidarity” and don’t worry about that pesky hate speech stuff. I guess they’ll have to go back to using abacuses to tot up rent owned.
Defenders of Israel in government are virtually non-existent or reduced to meek criticism of sometimes wildly anti-Israel discourse. Those who break the social contract that demands obsequious criticism of the Jewish State — like Alan Shatter, an Irish Jew — find themselves open to an avalanche of hatred.
And when Ireland’s pin-up anti-Semite Richard Boyd Barrett intones in its chamber that Israel has “no right to defend itself but Palestinians do” and that Israel has no right to exist the utterances are met with tepid rebuttals or studied silence.
The traditional explanations for Ireland’s virulent strain of anti-Israelism don’t tell the full picture
We’re told that Irish opposition to Israel stems from false parallels between Ireland’s experience of British colonialism and what they perceive to be happening in Israel.
This however entails providing an excuse for historical illiteracy. Why do that? Anybody with an internet connection can refute this claim in a few minutes. Almost everybody in Ireland is fortunate enough to have internet.
Since the horrors of October the 7th those of us who have long argued that anti-Semitism drives a substantial part of Ireland’s obsessional fixation with Israel have found ourselves finally vindicated, at least in part.
A newsletter circulated in Dublin — The Irish Light — now openly peddles in the kind of anti-Semitism that would have felt right at place during the height of Nazi Germany.
We’re told crazy tales of how Jews “conquered” Ireland. How they’re secretly controlling all aspects of Irish society and the media. How they bring the scourge of money-lending wherever they go. Its publisher brags that Ireland never evidenced significant persecution of Jews because it had the good wisdom to never let them in in the first place.
The fact that this publication’s visionary is transparently insane does not (in my view) excuse the fact that the material is allowed to circulate, apparently without impedance. Month after month blatant hook-nose-Jews style anti-Semitism is being pushed into letterboxes and foisted onto newsstands in Ireland.
Just today, Ireland’s majority government party Fianna Fáil tweeted that “All of us in this House are united in our view that what is happening in Gaza must stop.”
If a descriptive statement of what’s problematic about Ireland’s outlook on Israel could be offered, maybe this is it. If those words were true, every one of the 160 elected representatives in Ireland’s government denies Israel — and of course only Israel — the right to prosecute a war to ensure its security.
Much as being a good Jew in Ireland requires being reticent about Israel, being a respectful member of the Irish parliament appears to require repudiating Israel’s right to self-defence.
The Israeli Response Can And Must Be More Hawkish
So what can we do about this from this side of Europe?
We can take a few actions, I suggest.
For one, Israel should stop engaging with the Irish Government who seem to harbor the delusional vision that they can be of help in resolving the Middle Eastern conflict.
Governments of course change and so can foreign policies. But this is certainly the most appropriate posture to adopt towards Ireland’s current set of incumbents. Ireland’s current government has made the country an enemy of Israel. There. I said it.
Even if Ireland’s experience in Northern Ireland were illustrative and instructive — and I suggest that it’s neither — third parties offering to mediate between those at loggerheads are generally expected to be neutral. Ireland is among the last countries on earth qualified to provide good offices here (although that realisation will not spare us from the patronising lessons and moralising).
Last week, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Micheal Martin affirmed that Israel must be “taken to account” for its actions in Gaza before instructing lawyers to investigate whether it would be feasible for Ireland to join the legal case against Israel. Ireland’s justice minister has affirmed her support for Ireland’s “intervention” (of course, to support South Africa). You can almost hear the salivation at this prospect from here.
None of these things of course are congruous with neutral foreign policy. The fake neutrality Ireland tries to convince us of is essentially a form of diplomatic gaslighting. Ireland has made its bed supporting Islamic terrorism. Ireland’s foreign policy outlook is no longer European. Even if it means shifting a folder in a storage cabinet, Israel should recategorise Ireland as belonging to the Islamist-aligned bloc with sworn hatred of Israel as a basic criteria for admission.
Moreover, it’s time to stop falling for the lies and bluffs of certain Irish statesmen.
Several months ago Minister Martin was in Israel describing to Israeli government members that Ireland was a “friend” of Israel which harboured no enmity towards it. Sources in Ireland tell me that behind closed doors the FM can be even more adamant that his policy is “pro Israel.”
Ireland’s Next Government May Be Even More Anti-Israel Than Anything Which Has Come Before It
Why am I writing this now? Because I see these developments as important.
In recent months, we’ve witnessed how Ireland has thrown its chips in with the most virulently anti-Israel nations on the planet.
Ireland’s full-on embrace of anti-Israelism may portend the first fractures in the brittle glue holding EU states together.
It will also prove interesting to observe how a country espousing Western liberal values meshes with the Arab world.
Will shared disdain for Israel prove enough to stay friends?
To my amazement, many seem surprised to be witnessing this slight shift in the geopolitical tectonic plates. To witness how thoroughly Ireland is saturated in dislike for the Jewish state.
I suggest that it’s only a continuation of business as normal. Why expect different from a government that took more than a decade to acknowledge our State’s existence? Its repeated actions have shown that it will act against Israel however and wherever it can.
I suggest that when it comes to relations between Ireland and Israel that we haven’t yet hit the bottom of the barrel. We might only be half-way there.
The current crop of Israel-haters in Ireland’s parliament will seem meek if the nationalist Sinn Fein accedes to power as is planned. Led by Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein has fallen in love with the PA’s representative to Ireland (who has repeatedly refused to condemn Hamas’s actions on October 7th). Their combination with the explosively hateful representatives of People Before Profit could make for a firework display that we haven’t yet witnessed.
So I say act now before things get worse.
Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
And by the great physicists’s definition, Israel is worthy of being called insane.
As an Israeli taxpayer, I would very much like to see Israel’s embassy in Dublin shuttered. Consular affairs can be managed as they were previously from a non-resident embassy in the UK. On this the hordes in Ireland who habitually demand this and me are for once in entire agreement. They want the Ambassador to be expelled. I want to see her get a better posting.
If the annual budget saving were enough to offset the budgetary shortfall caused by the ongoing war I would say it was an opportunity cost well realised.
It’s not like our current trajectory is proving overly successful.
We’ve seen plenty of demonstrations of late of the folly of expecting this diplomatic relationship to be anything other than deeply acrimonious.
In the last few years, the Israeli software company Wix opened an office in Dublin creating 100 jobs in the process. Years later it found itself forced to defend itself for firing an employee who derided Israel as a “terror state” on social media.
In Ireland, where Israel is at stake, it’s quickly important enough to become a national issue. Ireland’s Prime Minister recommended that the employee pursue an unfair dismissal case citing protections around freedom of speech — which seems to always be ensured in Ireland whenever Israel is the unfavourable target of that discourse. The lesson for Wix, I suggest, is simple: pay more taxes but preserve your dignity. The jobs could probably have been kept in Israel anyway.
It’s not absurd either to suggest that Ireland should be added to the list of legally proscribed enemy states maintained by Israel and with which Israelis are banned from trading. The Israel-Ireland trade relationship is relatively small. Now is the time to rejig supply chains to eliminate any dependency on Ireland whatsoever.
Alternatively we can simply take the laissez faire approach. This is the more patient approach and perhaps one which Israel has already quietly committed itself to.
When Ireland attempted to pass a law which would discriminately fine companies in Judea and Samaria the US balked at the proposed legislation and the massive and far-reaching penalities which it sought to impose. Actions have consequences.
But I say disconnect anyway because the opportunity cost seems small relative to the ongoing pain caused by keeping any relationship alive. And after doing so, we can draw comfort for the fact that we’ve done more or less all we can.
The current war which Israel is pursuing against Hamas and other paramilitary factions in Gaza has clarified which governments we can count on and those with which we should minimise relationships. Ireland, South Africa, and Turkey are in the latter category. I no longer find any meaningful distinctions between their levels of antipathy.
Diplomacy and dialogue are valuable tools but perhaps we need to concede that they must also have proper limits. Talking to a wall is usually viewed as a sign of insanity even if we think the wall heard us out.
And so I come back to the metaphor of an earthquake.
The geopolitics of the world are currently shaking, both quickly and profusely.
And as scary and confusing as this time is for those of us in Israel, this moment also presents us with an opportunity for reflection.
On who are friends and who are our enemies. And what our foreign relations might look like once the dust has set on Gaza.
It’s an opportunity that I believe we’d be remiss to miss.
Do this now. Before it gets worse.
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Daniel Rosehill is a technology writer and marketing communications (MarCom) professional based in Jerusalem. Originally from Cork, in Ireland, Daniel’s diverse set of interests include Linux and open source technology; backups and disaster recovery (and naturally, digital prepping); and language-learning and travelling.