Book review: Ex-Irish minister says he was framed

Book blames antisemitism for derailing Alan Shatter’s career

PLO leader Yasser Arafat shakes hands with Irish foreign minister Dick Spring in 1996 (photo credit: REUTERS)
PLO leader Yasser Arafat shakes hands with Irish foreign minister Dick Spring in 1996
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Irish Journalist Paul Williams writes about Ireland’s Jewish former minister for justice, equality and defense Alan Shatter that “no other politician in living memory endured such a frenzied onslaught by the baying mob of populist politicians... intent on deliberately targeting his career and reputation in order to destroy him.”
In Frenzy and Betrayal: The Anatomy of a Political Assassination, Shatter explores how and why he was treated so maliciously by the Irish establishment – politicians, the judiciary and the media – before and after he resigned in May 2014. His resignation came in the wake of two reports that wrongly condemned his conduct.
Shatter’s book comprehensively deals with the how, charting the five years between the period prior to his resignation and his final and total vindication. I was tempted to write “vindication and exoneration,” except Shatter has not been exonerated. Official Ireland has yet to acknowledge that the frenzied onslaught that destroyed his reputation was based on falsehoods.
What the book does not and cannot do is answer the why. Why did former Irish prime minister Enda Kenny, to whom Shatter had shown extraordinary loyalty when other members of the Fine Gael hierarchy tried to depose Kenny, demand his resignation? Why did Kenny never contact Shatter, even after the courts declared that the grounds for Shatter’s resignation had been false?
Why did Shatter’s cabinet colleague, then-minister of transport and current Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, use Shatter’s absence from the country on official government business to publicly question his judgment? Why did current Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney send a congratulatory private text to Shatter after he won one of his legal victories to clear his name, but refuse to publicly state that Shatter was owed an apology from the government?
In a word, why was Shatter betrayed by cabinet colleagues, party colleagues and civil servants? Shatter seems as unsure of the answer today as he was at the time.
The other theme that Shatter chronicles in great detail is the frenzy with which the media and opposition parliamentarians joyfully joined in his political assassination. One of my observations after more than two decades living in Ireland is that intellectual curiosity is not highly rated here. Yes, literary giants like James Joyce, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett were Irish, but they had to live abroad in order to express their genius. Whether or not we should blame the Catholic Church for the dearth of intellectual curiosity, it remains a fact that most politicians and journalists in Ireland are lazy thinkers.
WHAT HAPPENED to Shatter is a clear case of the follow-the-herd thinking that characterizes public discourse in Ireland. There was only one narrative – that Shatter had mishandled a series of issues. Journalists like Paul Williams and Stephen Collins were vilified precisely because they believed that objective appraisal should precede knee-jerk group-think. One only has to look at the near-blanket demonization of the Jewish state in the Irish media to grasp how unwilling the herd is to grapple with facts that contradict the cozy anti-Israel consensus.
In a chapter titled “The Arrogant and Perfidious Jew,” Shatter describes the antisemitic innuendo he encountered from opposition parliamentarian Willie O’Dea, who accused Shatter of seeing “everybody at a distance from the towering heights of his own regard. The minister’s name has become a watchword for hubris, arrogance, intellectual superiority and the inability to admit even the slightest mistake.”
As Shatter writes, “The ‘arrogant Jew’ is a centuries-old antisemitic depiction of Jewish people who stand up for themselves, have the courage of their convictions, and who are neither servile nor compliant.” While it would be a stretch to accuse everyone who participated in the vendetta against Shatter of antisemitism, it would be foolish to deny there was a whiff of it in the mix. The antisemitism went beyond innuendo. Emails to the Justice Ministry accused Shatter of being “a perfidious Jew” and a “Yiddish whore.” Packages containing ashes were sent to his home, a clear reference to the Holocaust.
The behavior of the opposition toward Shatter was clearly reprehensible, but in a sense the parliamentarians were only doing their job. However much Shatter may have resented the tunnel vision of opposition leader Michael Martin, one gets the impression that the betrayal by former friends was much more hurtful.
Throughout the book, we can almost see the ghosts of Alfred Dreyfus and Franz Kafka perching on Shatter’s shoulders. Dreyfus was the French Jewish captain falsely accused of treason in 1894. He was summarily convicted in a secret court martial, and publicly stripped of his army rank, while a large crowd of onlookers yelled antisemitic abuse at him. It was this scene which finally convinced Theodor Herzl that the Jews needed a home of their own. Sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in French Guiana, Dreyfus served only three years before he was finally exonerated and restored to the army.
Shatter may not have been sent to Devil’s Island, but he and his wife suffered their own private hell in Dublin. It took 100 years before the French Army officially apologized to Dreyfus. No one should hold their breath waiting for official Ireland to ever apologize to Shatter, even in 100 years’ time.
The similarities between Shatter and Josef K. in Kafka’s The Trial are all too evident. The nature of Joseph K.’s unspecified crime is never revealed to him, his guilt is assumed, and the rules of the court keep changing. There must have been many moments when Shatter found himself in a similar Kafkaesque nightmare.
Shatter has written an important book that is destined to be studiously ignored by the very people who claim to be the guardians of Ireland’s moral compass, the very people who were and are embarrassed by Shatter’s inconvenient truths.
The opinions expressed in this book review solely reflect the opinions of the author and have no bearing on the views of The Jerusalem Post.