Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore 311.
(photo credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)
Eamon Gilmore, the foreign minister of Ireland – the country widely considered
Israel’s toughest critic inside the European Union – arrived in Israel Thursday
night for a three-day regional visit.
Diplomatic officials were careful
not to read too much significance into the visit, although they said there has
been a positive trend in Israeli-Irish ties since Irish elections in February.
According to some assessments, if until those elections Ireland scored a “zero”
on a scale of zero-to-10 regarding warmth toward Israel, with the new government
the needle has been pushed to 1.5.
Ireland is among the leaders within EU
bodies promoting policies critical of Israel, and can be counted to vote
consistently against Israel at the UN and other international
Gilmore’s visit comes fast on the heels of a trip to that country
last week by Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin. Though that visit did not go off
without incident – Rivlin was forced to use a backdoor entrance to the
parliament because of pro-Palestinian protesters – it was the highest level
visit by an Israeli dignitary there since 1985.
According to a report in
The Irish Times
, Rivlin said during his visit that while Israelis were enamored
of Irish culture, music and dancing, “we are very much disappointed, from our
point of view, because of the attitude of people in the Irish government against
Diplomatic officials said that the screening in Dublin last
month of an Israeli film week, even though it generated domestic protests and
controversy, was a positive sign of an improvement in ties. The Irish, the
officials said, made sure the festival would take place, despite the angry
backlash. Gilmore himself attended and even spoke at the festival.
first stop on Gilmore’s visit Friday will be the Gaza Strip, where he is
expected to visit projects funded by the international community and meet with
civil society representatives not affiliated with Hamas.
2009, Jerusalem’s decision not to allow a visit from Israel to Gaza by then
Irish foreign minister Michael Martin led to tension between the
Martin told a parliamentary committee at the time that
Israel was trying to hide the situation in Gaza.
Israel’s position on
visits to Gaza of visiting dignitaries has since changed, and it no longer has
any opposition as long as the visitors do not meet Hamas officials. The EU’s
official position is that it will not engage with Hamas until that organization
renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian
On Saturday Gilmore is expected to travel to Ramallah for
meetings with the top Palestinian leadership there. Saturday night he will host
a reception at the Herzliya home of the Irish ambassador and meet with MK Isaac
Herzog (Labor). Herzog’s father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president, was
born in Belfast, and his grandfather, Yitzhak Herzog, was Ireland’s chief rabbi
from 1919 to 1937.
On Sunday, after going to the Yad Vashem, Gilmore is
scheduled to meet separately with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman,
Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor and Prime Minister Binyamin
While Gilmore will be sleeping two nights during his stay at
the home of his country’s ambassador, a third night in Jerusalem will be spent
at the Legacy Hotel in the eastern part of the city. Gilmore is one of only a
handful of foreign ministers who have opted to stay in east Jerusalem during
their stay here.