Comment: Enough posturing – it’s time for Ireland to take material action against Israel

“Prime minister Netanyahu, let me say this to you this evening, the Irish people couldn’t be clearer: we are repulsed by your actions – ceasefire now and let the aid flow safely,” said taoiseach Simon Harris at Fine Gael’s Ard Fheis. “And tonight, from Galway, I reiterate that Ireland stands ready to recognise the state of Palestine.”

Big talk from our new strongman taoiseach. Over the past month Harris has been highly critical of Israel, appearing on foreign media outlets to call for an end to the murderous assault on Gaza that has killed approximately 34,000 people – the vast majority of whom were civilians. He wants you to know he’s very – deeply, even – serious about this issue. “We're seeing children being maimed and killed, innocent children,” he told Sky News. “It is disgusting.Iit is despicable and it must stop.”    

Sounds good, you might say.

And you’d be right. Irish politicians are among a minority of European elected officials prepared to criticise Israel. They’re prepared to say that Israel is committing war crimes. They’re even prepared to make speeches in front of Joe Biden, invoking his beloved dead son, in a bid to convince him to stop selling arms to the Israeli regime, which at the time of writing has just attacked Iran in response to it having the temerity to react when the IDF bombed its embassy.

Sounds great, you might say.

And again, you’d be right; I won’t argue with you. Since last October however this kind of appealing rhetoric has not been coupled with action. Though it may seem, particularly to international observers, like Ireland is opposing Israeli atrocities with all its power, Harris’s pronouncements are emblematic of both Fine Gael and government, which criticise Israel while simultaneously refusing to implement policies that would penalise the country for breaking international law.   

At his party’s Ard Fheis, in which Harris sent a message to Benjamin Netanyahu informing him Ireland is repulsed by his actions, Fine Gael members had a vote.  

They were deciding whether to support the Occupied Territories Bill, which if enacted would ban the import of goods, services or natural resources from illegal settlements in the occupied territories – a straightforward measure to back up our verbal condemnations of Israel’s refusal to obey international law. The party voted down the motion, with members expressing surprise it was even tabled, The Journal reported.

Fine Gael: outraged by Israeli crimes – just not enough to stop trading with those committing them.  

Boycott, Divest, Sanction

Supporting Palestine isn’t just about making speeches or sending aid that will be blocked by the IDF – Ireland must punish Israel for its criminal actions. 

The first thing we can do isn’t complicated: support the BDS movement. Since 2005 Palestinians have asked for Israel to be isolated from the international community until it obeys international law. That means no trade, no cultural interactions, no diplomatic relations – Ireland should expel Dana Erlich, the Israeli ambassador, who has spent much of the past seven months contorting herself to justify a war on women and children. 

The least we can do is stop giving money to the IDF and Israeli weapons manufacturers. Over the past decade, Ireland has bought €14.7 million worth of arms and military equipment from Israel, according to the Ireland Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. A significant portion of this sum went to Aeronautics Defence Industries, whose drones have been a part of the onslaught in Gaza.  Elsewhere, Irish firms shipped €70 million worth of so-called “dual use” hardware to Israel in the last year alone. How can Ireland credibly condemn Israeli crimes if our Irish industry profits from them?

In recent years Israel has lobbied governments around the world to criminalise BDS – because the same tactics worked against South Africa in the 1980s, another (now formerly) apartheid state. Human rights organisations are clear in their assessment of Israel: Palestinians live under apartheid, subject to different laws than Israelis. Two former prime ministers of Israel, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmer, agree with them.

The Irish government refuses to use the word apartheid in reference to Israel. They too have their reasons. Acknowledging Israeli apartheid would be a tacit admission that the state has no legitimacy and needs to be dismantled. The political establishment won’t do this. 

In upholding this apartheid the IDF has in the past six months committed a multitude of documented atrocities. This includes – but is by no means restricted to – a massacre of starving civilians trying to collect flour from trucks carrying humanitarian aid, widespread attacks on hospitals and medical staff resulting in the near total collapse of Gaza’s health system, the use of starvation as a weapon of war and the ethnic cleansing of communities.

That’s why Ireland shouldn’t just halt its arms trade with Israel; Ireland should do its best to obstruct their access to weaponry in line with our obligations under the Genocide Convention. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have refused to monitor US military flights passing through Shannon Airport, which may be carrying weapons that will be used to commit genocide. If these arms are ending up in the hands of IDF soldiers, we are complicit in their crimes.

Elections are imminent

Simon Harris says Ireland won’t wait for Europe to support Palestinian statehood.

This sense of urgency, though welcome, is difficult to take seriously. Had Ireland’s ruling parties really believed in empowering the people of Gaza and the West Bank by granting them statehood, it would have acted on legislation it passed nearly 10 years ago calling on government to recognise the state of Palestine. It didn’t do this because Ireland’s current leadership is too afraid to act by itself. It was only until Malta, Slovenia and Spain joined us that we committed to doing something at some point, in the future. 

There is one action – not a speech, not a statement – for which the government deserves praise. Our intervention in South Africa’s case against Israel in the International Court of Justice is highly important – but the investigation will take years, long after the lifetime of the 34th Dáil. In the meantime, the public – overwhelmingly supportive of Palestine – looks on at a government that habitually regurgitates IDF talking points about Israel’s right to defend itself and its right to exist while neglecting to address an obvious fact: Palestinians have a right to resist occupation by violent means – even if the international community mostly finds their existence an inconvenience. 

Elections are imminent. Harris et al are making efforts to let voters know they care about Palestinians. Without material action, such claims aren’t credible.

Paulie Doyle

Paulie Doyle