David McWilliams 88.
(photo credit: )
Amid the mounting clamor across the planet to make this state an international pariah, it's a mild relief to find anyone citing Israel as a source of inspiration. Yet, strange as it might seem, that's what's starting to happen in a little European country which has quite a lot in common with this one.
When Ireland staged its own Davos-style summit recently aimed at rescuing its crisis-ridden economy, prominent members of the Irish diaspora were told that the Irish should make maximum use of the "great Irish tribe" just as Israelis have "used Jews around the world."
THE GLOBAL Irish Economic Forum was the brainchild David McWilliams, a dynamic economist and media commentator who worked for a time with a Swiss investment bank in Tel Aviv. He was greatly influenced by one of his Israeli colleagues telling him how "Israel would be nothing without international Jewish support" and wondering how the Irish in Ireland might use their own global tribe.
Consequently, when the world economy crashed and Ireland suddenly ceased to be the Celtic Tiger, he had no trouble persuading the Dublin government to back his idea of tapping into business and cultural figures with a Celtic connection. Those who gathered to brainstorm in a mansion on the edge of Dublin's vast Phoenix Park included former pop star, Band Aid-founder and broadcast executive, Sir Bob Geldof.
Being an economist, McWilliams is especially impressed by how Israel "has built the world's finest hi-tech industry by using its diaspora," but he also likes the way in which state funds and philanthropic donations have been combined to enable Jewish teenagers to experience Israel at an impressionable stage of their lives. He enthused: "The Israelis are smart because they realize they are dealing in those most precious of commodities - memory, emotion and growing up."
In an interview before the aforementioned summit, this young Irishman proudly pointed out that his beloved homeland has one great advantage over Israel: "Ireland doesn't have an enemy."
He's right on that score. The Irish can relax on their little emerald isle, secure in the knowledge that no one is seeking to drive them into the sea. With the Troubles in the north well and truly over, the only checkpoints on that now-peaceful island are to prevent unemployed people from British-controlled Northern Ireland sneaking over the border to claim the Republic's more generous welfare benefits.
BUT THERE are other crucial differences between the Irish and Israeli diasporas which might work to David McWilliams's disadvantage. Firstly, for all its sorrows and suffering through the ages, Ireland's holocaust - the Great Potato Famine - occurred in the 1840s not the 1940s. And it was caused essentially by a natural disaster compounded by callous economics, rather than systematic genocide. As a result, the Catholic Irish experience of persecution is less raw and their perceived need for ethnic solidarity and a protective state is much weaker - especially now that southern Ireland has traded much of the sovereignty it fought for to the European Union.
Since the foundation of the Free State in 1922, there has been no great ingathering of the sons and daughters of Erin - not even after Ireland got rich in recent decades and could no longer plead poverty as an excuse. A recent head of state, Mary Robinson, kept a light burning for emigrants in a window of the presidential palace in Phoenix Park, but that was a purely symbolic gesture. There have been no dramatic airlifts of frightened Irish emigrants out of Africa or anywhere else, and generations of Irishmen have never prayed: "Next year in Dublin!"
Sure, if they've downed a few too many whiskeys, they might refer fondly to the "oul' sod." But they don't regard Ireland as the center, the spring, the source from whence they came. The Republic of Ireland isn't their Promised Land.
For all the above reasons, Ireland isn't of paramount importance to most of the 70 million people of Irish extraction scattered around the planet, as Israel is to the global Jewish community.
That's not to say the Global Irish Economic Forum isn't a good idea. Harnessing the ideas and energies of the Hibernian diaspora to assist Ireland's recovery does seem a smart business move. But there's a whole lot more to the Israeli relationship with Jews around the globe than just that.
The Jewish state is every Jew's guaranteed place of refuge, and seeks to serve as the center of a revived Jewish civilization. This state doesn't yell at Jews, as Bob Geldof famously yelled at the whole world during the first Band Aid telethon: "Just give us your f***ing money!"
The Jewish state doesn't simply get from, but gives to, Jews around the world. If the Irish don't get that, even they don't really get Israel.
The writer is a former media editor of The Independent in London and now a senior lecturer at that paper's new journalism school in Dublin. Robert.Brown@independentcolleges.ie