One last vessel of the Gaza flotilla remains at sea, a ship organized by an Irish charity. The Irish government and Israel are said to have negotiated a deal for the ship to land at the Israeli port of Ashdod and submit to a security inspection. The question that may puzzle Americans is: Why is the government of Ireland – a country that has suffered grievously from terrorism itself – acted so helpfully to those who wish to help Hamas rule in Gaza?
In 2006, Irish academic Rory Miller said that if one “were to throw a sack of flour over the Irish parliament, it is unlikely that anybody pro-Israeli would become white.”
In an interview with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Miller continued: “Among the 166 members of the Dáil – the Irish parliament’s lower house – and the sixty members of the Senate, not one name springs to mind as a regular defender of Israel. There are either those who do not care or are pro-Palestinians.”
Actually, since the 2007 election, there is now one consistent defender of Israel, Fine Gael’s Alan Shatter. Apart from that, Dr Miller’s comment remains apposite.
This is the political context in which Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen warned of “most serious consequences” if any of the five Irish citizens aboard the ship came to harm.
Given the puny state of the Irish Defence Forces, this can only refer to serious diplomatic consequences, such as the cessation of diplomatic relations with Israel. There is a long history of Irish politicians calling for such action.
Last January, during the Israeli attack on Hamas rocket positions in Gaza, a Government TD, Chris Andrews, from Mr Cowen’s Fianna Fáil party (historically the largest Irish party) told the Israeli ambassador, Mr Zion Evrony, to his face that he should be sent home.
At a meeting of the Irish parliament’s foreign affairs committee, he said that: “Israel has descended to such levels of brutality that it can only now be classified as a terror state.” He added: “Israel appears to be uncontrollable. Israel is acting as a rogue state.” He went on to call for an economic, diplomatic and political boycott of Israel, “until they realize that their actions do have consequences”.
Addressing Dr Evrony, Labour Party TD Joe Costello said: “Is there any reason why we in Ireland shouldn’t call in our government to have you withdrawn and sent home?”
Mr Andrews is no left-wing radical, nor a frothing anti-Semite. He is a fairly drab, conventional politician. Mr Costello, although somewhat farther left, is also a fairly drab and conventional politician.
Their views on Israel, while objectively unreasonable and overheated, are, in an Irish context, also quite drab and conventional. This is despite a fairly healthy trading relationship between the two countries, amounting to some €700 million annually.
Why is this? It boils down to the fact that Irish nationalists seem to identify instinctively with the “oppressed” Palestinians against the “colonial” Israelis. This desire to identify with the “little guy”, the “victim” is also what fuels Irish anti-Americanism in foreign policy terms.
Despite the resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland, anti-colonial sensibility still remains a significant part of the Irish self-image. (Notwithstanding the fact that we cheer English football teams, watch their TV shows and read their papers.) They have bought that image of the Middle East conflict hook, line and sinker, aided and abetted by strongly pro-Palestinian media.
This impression has arguably been strengthened by the fact that the small number of voices in the Irish media, such as Kevin Myers and Eoghan Harris and in the past Conor Cruise O’Brien, who have been sympathetic have all been noted arch critics of Irish Republicanism.
Irish opinion is solidly behind the MV Rachel Corrie, absolutely incensed by Israel’s actions and for an extremely unpopular government, that’s all the reason they need to talk tough.