From top: Pro-Israel protesters outside the gates of Áras an Uachtaráin during a visit by Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas to President Higgins last September; Bryan Wall
Documents [available to read here] released under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation show emails and letters regularly received by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFA) from a pro-Israel lobby group and its supporters.
The correspondence, which spans a number of years, shows a consistent attempt at pushing a one-sided narrative on behalf of Israeli government interests. It also shows a level of contempt towards the Irish government for their perceived slights of Israeli politicians and various Israeli political decisions and tactics.
Much of the communications originated from a now defunct group called Irish4Israel, an Irish pro-Israel lobby group whose stated aims, amongst others, were to “challenge the consistent political and media bias against the state of Israel” and to “Speak out for Israel when no one else will.”
Other correspondence was received at the DFA from individuals who it is believed were members of Irish4Israel or the Ireland Israel Alliance (IIA).
In one email sent by Irish4Israel in June 2014, its President, Barry Williams, declares that Ireland is “one of the last nations that have to be dragged kicking and screaming to condemn public acts of terror.”
What provoked this comment was the kidnapping of three Israeli teens by a Hamas splinter group. Irish4Israel, he wrote, “strongly condemns this kidnapping and equally condemn your [the DFA’s] silence.”
In another communication sent by Irish4Israel in February 2017, they declare that any motion by the Dáil to recognise the Palestinian state “would constitute a direct intervention by a third party in a conflict.”
In the letter the group also states that all of the peace proposals offered over the years “have been rejected by the Palestinian leaderships” — itself an outright and egregious lie — and imply that raising the issue of Israeli colonisation of Palestinian lands is merely a trick used by Palestinians and their supporters to forestall any peace negotiations. Therefore, any negotiations that take place must do so “without preconditions”.
Also sent in February of 2017 was a vituperative letter condemning the Gardaí, along with the security at Trinity College Dublin. The reason for this was their apparent inability to secure the safety of the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, Ze’Ev Boker, after his appearance at a student event was cancelled because of a pro-Palestine demonstration held in response to his proposed talk.
As The Irish Times reported, around forty protestors chanted slogans and held placards outside the venue which seemingly resulted in the talk being cancelled. In the correspondence I received, Irish4Israel accused the DFA of being in violation of various aspects of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Optional Protocols. Ireland was, the group said, in “grave violation” of its “obligations under international law governing diplomatic relations.”
Authored by the Irish4Israel President, the letter referred to the demonstrators as “pseudo-Palestinian activists”, accusing them of “an attack” on the Ambassador’s freedom of speech. Such an “attack” was unacceptable given the fact that “anti-Semitism is on the rise globally lest we forget.”
In a more recent communication, sent in May of this year, Williams and his group draw attention to Sadaka, The Ireland Palestine Alliance and their support of the bill introduced by Senator Frances Black to ban trade with illegal Israeli colonies.
Irish4Israel took issue with the fact that Sadaka were lobbying on behalf of Senator Black and her bill amongst local authorities. The group argued that the bill “is incompatible with EU, WTO law and puts American companies in Ireland at risk.”
What’s more, they argued that by approaching local authorities Sadaka were attempting to “isolate” councillors who are also “caught unaware” regarding the bill.
In further communications in relation to the bill, Irish4Israel wrote “a lot of buzz words and slogans [are] used which lack sound historical knowledge.”
The group also attached a long document laying out what they perceived to be the main legal and moral issues with the bill, one of which was that it “undermines Ireland’s position in the Brexit negotiations”.
When I spoke to her Senator Black told me that although “EU trade policy is common… member states are entitled to seek proportional restrictions when they can be justified.”
Here such a course of action can be justified on the basis of “upholding and respecting international humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions” given that “the settlements are an unambiguous violation of international law, as has been stated repeatedly by the EU, UN & Irish Government”.
When I contacted Sadaka a representative of theirs told me they “undertook this campaign on the basis of our view that banning settlement goods is as much an issue of local democracy as it is of national democracy, as these goods may be on sale locally all around the country.”
This campaign was, they told me, “very successful”, with “motions in support of the Bill being passed in 13 local councils with a further 3 passing motions in support of the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement”.
Various other emails were received from individuals presumed to be members of Irish4Israel or the IIA. In one such email the author writes that “Ireland needs to stop this anti Israel bias”. One way of achieving this would “be to stop funding NGO’s [sic] that are anti Israel.” These NGOs, the author declares, “frame themselves are pro human rights” but “are mostly just NGO’s [sic] that wish to attack Israel.”
In another similar email, the author writes that “there seems to be a concerted effort to increase violence in the hope of provoking an Israeli response.” People “never do hear about Palestinian violence” unless the mentioned Israeli response takes place, argues the writer.
In yet another email, sent in January of 2014, the author declared it was “an outrage” that the Irish government had not sent its Ambassador to the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. The DFA duly corrected the mistaken author in its response, noting that a letter of condolence was sent and that the Irish Ambassador to Israel had in actuality attended the funeral.
In addition, the DFA also replied that “it is disappointing in a letter concerned with extending courtesy to a deceased leader in another country, you were unable to do the same in relation to the President of Ireland.”
In a statement issued by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) in response to the documents I received, they told me that it shows “a lack of basic knowledge of what our government is actually doing (and not doing) with regard to the Palestine-Israel issue” on the part of the authors.
The correspondence also shows a “skewed historical perspective that all but erases Palestinians from their own history” and a “basic lack of understanding of international law” according to the IPSC representative I spoke to. Palestinians are portrayed “merely as hate-filled antagonists obsessed with violence”.
Furthermore, the arguments used in the letters are “the same type of arguments consistently trotted out by the apartheid State of Israel itself, and its lobbying groups all over the world”.
As for the documents I obtained, a substantial part of them originated from the Irish4Israel lobby group. The activity of the group has been recently discontinued, however.
Now the pro-Israel movement in Ireland will be “coming under new management” in the form of the IIA according to the resignation letter circulated by Irish4Israel President, Barry Williams, this past summer.
In his letter, Williams bemoaned the “level of anti Israel [sic] activity here, the media and political bias and the general delegitimisation and hostility.” Having decided to “step down from coordinating pro Israel [sic] activism” in Ireland, that honour would now go to the IIA and its leader, Jackie Goodall.
Any donations, equipment, and literature that Irish4Israel still possessed would now be sent to the IIA “to use in the future and to continue its work” according to Williams.
Although the tone of Irish4Israel over the years ran a simplistic gamut from anger to hysteria, the subsuming of them by the IIA appears to be an escalation in terms of pro-Israel lobbying efforts here.
Ms Goodall, who heads the IIA, is a Christian Fundamentalist who describes herself as a “Christian Zionist” according to an article published by The Phoenix earlier this year. Ms Goodall has written elsewhere that Israel is “a beacon of light surrounded by darkness, chaos and confusion.”
She also believes that “our valued Judea-Christian heritage is being fast eroded” by a confluence of humanism, political correctness — “which aims to silence the mouths of Christians for fear of being stigmatised” — and “the aggressive growth of Islam.”
As The Phoenix noted, this represents an evangelical turn in pro-Israel activism in Ireland. This development is in line with the continuing lurch of Israel further to the Evangelical Right, especially over the last few years.
Although the correspondence obtained via FOI legislation reads as arrogant, dismissive, rude, bitter, and downright incorrect at times, the majority of the tone used represents that of a non-religiously orientated lobby group, grating as that may be.
With the absorption of Irish4Israel by the IIA, it is not hard to imagine that we can look forward to pro-Israel lobbying efforts in which the use of language has become even more belligerent, ignorant, and religious in its contents.
Given these facts, and that the head of the IIA considers humanists and Muslims to be the enemy, close attention must be paid to the group and its activities. This is for the simple reason that what is at stake is more than simple propaganda victories.
Any viable future for the Palestinians must not be allowed to be influenced by the Evangelical Right, whose dogma, in their own eyes, outweighs basic human rights and dignity.