Soccer Football - International Friendly - Northern Ireland v Israel - Windsor Park, Belfast, Britain - September 11, 2018 Free Palestine message displayed on a hill outside the stadium.
(photo credit: CLODAGH KILCOYNE/REUTERS)
Ireland’s lower parliament urged its government on Wednesday to be the first European Union nation to pass a law criminalizing commercial activity by Irish citizens with areas of Israel over the pre-1967 lines.
“Ireland needs to be a world leader in refusing to [accept] illegal settlements built on Palestinian land,” said Irish parliamentarian, Deputy Fiona O’Loughlin.
“This historic bill is an important message from us as a small nation, expressing our solidarity with the Palestinian people who are living in dreadful conditions in the occupied territories,” she said.
“Other [EU nations] may follow,” said Deputy Darragh O’Brien. “The time for waiting for a pan-European approach is over."
They spoke during a heated two-hour debate at the parliament concerning the bill, which the Irish government opposes. Ireland’s minority government, however, has not been able to halt the bill's slow passage through the legislative process, where it has passed through the senate and is now in the lower parliament.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told the chamber that the country had a long history of opposing Israeli settlement activity and had been at the forefront of government policy on the matter.
But Ireland cannot act alone on this matter because it is part of the EU’s single market, and as a result it has to abide by its policies, he explained.
“Trade is an exclusive competence of the European Union,” Coveney said.
The European Union has labeled but not banned Israeli products produced over the pre-1967 lines.
Passage of the bill would put Ireland in breach of EU law and would open it up to legal action from the EU, including monetary fines that could cost Ireland millions of Euros, Coveney said.
It would also make it difficult for American companies to operate in Ireland and vice versa, because of US legislation in support of Israel, Coveney said.
The bill would harm Ireland’s ability to advocate for the Palestinians on a global stage, the foreign minister said.
“We would be choosing to be a principled voice in the wilderness, satisfied in the righteousness of our course, but largely unable to influence the real action,” Coveney explained. “Despite being well and sincerely intentioned by its original authors, this bill will do serious damage to Ireland and bring only momentary consolation to Palestinians, and we owe them more than that."
Minister of State Ciaran Cannon warned the parliamentarians that other EU states would not follow Ireland in passing similar bills criminalizing settlement activity. Ireland has no partners on this issue, he said. Politicians who spoke insisted that they supported Israel and that the bill, was a statement against the settlements and was not a boycott of Israel or a statement of antisemitism.
Some mentioned their sympathy for the Jewish people, particularly in light of the Holocaust. Others were fairly harsh, accusing Israel for war crimes and charging that it was an apartheid state. One of the speakers wore a kaffiyeh. They insisted that the issue here was morality and that the technical details or possible penalties were the price of taking a principled stand.
“When discussing the settlements, we should be clear that they are a weapon of war,” said Deputy Paul Murphy.
The real reason for the government’s opposition to the bill is pressure from Israel, which has threatened to remove its ambassador from Ireland, Murphy said.
“The Palestinian people look to Ireland to lead and stand in solidarity with them," Deputy Mary Lou McDonald said. "They want this legislation. I did not meet one person who was opposed to it. As the Palestinian people believe this is the right move, let us make it and lead from the front. That is the honorable and Irish thing to do."
The bill is called the “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018.” It makes it a criminal “offense for a person to import or sell goods or services originating in an occupied territory or to extract resources from an occupied territory in certain circumstances; and to provide for related matters.”
If passed into law, the measure would imposes a fine of up to 250,000 euros or five years in jail for those found guilty of engaging in such activity in relation to the Golan Heights, east Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.
Ireland Israel Alliance (IIA) and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem held a small demonstration.
In letter to politicians, Paul Coulter of the ICEJ said, “As an Irish citizen who loves Israel and the Jewish people, I am both appalled and ashamed at this measure. Appalled at the bill’s thinly veiled antisemitism, and ashamed of my fellow countrymen who are promoting it. Criticism of Israel is not automatically antisemitic, but to uniquely single out Israel for criticism and boycott is."
“It is nonsense to contend that we are making a stand for international law with regards to the 'settlement' issue and at the same time break international laws ourselves in so doing!" Coulter wrote. "This shameful piece of legislation is both illegal under European Law and the anti-boycott provisions of the US Departments of Commerce and Treasury."
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