Flag of Ireland.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
There is something magical about Ireland. With its endless fields of green, countless white sheep and breathtaking cliffs; the people, who are warm and cheerful no matter how much it rains, even in mid summer; and its picturesque villages and castles – one is left with the feeling of living in a fairy tale.
You quickly realize that Israel can learn a lot from Ireland on how to brand itself.
I learned this firsthand, having been fortunate enough to serve as a representative of the State of Israel to the country and experience it all. Despite the years of conflict and suffering, pain and loss, not to mention the inclement weather, ask anyone around the world and they will tell you that they see Ireland as a land of beauty, beer and leprechauns. Ask people about Israel and they will most likely describe it is a place of war and conflict.
Few will say Israel is one of the most developed and beautiful countries in the region, if not the world, and which in addition has really great weather.
I see so many similarities between the two countries. Both thriving democracies with small populations, a large and involved diaspora, a family-orientated people who enjoy life. Both nations are high-tech minded and both are marred by conflict. While I do not think that conflict defines a people, and that one cannot draw a comparison between the Irish conflict with the British and the Arab-Israeli conflict, I do believe that our respective conflicts have shaped both our nations’ self-perceptions as a people.
Despite these similarities, it is no secret that Ireland does not identify closely with Israel. I was aware of this before my appointment to the country, but only when you are there do you fully understand the depth of the hostility.
Irish politicians and Irish media choose to clearly support our Palestinian neighbors.
In the EU, Ireland is not satisfied with just being one of the most critical countries of Israel but actively leads in the promotion and implementation of measures against Israel. The Irish government provides financial assistance through Irish Aid and Trocaire to Palestinian NGOs that are connected to terrorist activities. As if that is not enough, the main opposition party in Ireland, Fianna Fail, is leading a motion for the Irish government to recognize a Palestinian state this fall.
It is easy therefore, to be discouraged when trying to bring Israel before the Irish people. Yet despite the above, while serving as deputy to the Israeli ambassador in Ireland, I actually saw a positive and encouraging picture. Though I do not believe Ireland will ever be pro-Israel, I have no doubt it will adopt a more balanced approach toward Israel in the years to come. For two reasons: first, the growth of Islamic extremism in Europe and the Middle East, which is pushing our conflict to the sidelines and into proper context. Europe, as troubled as it may be, is fighting a fight that Israel has been fighting since the end of the 19th century. Second, the hard work of the pro-Israel groups and the Israeli Embassy. During the past six years since its inception, Irish4Israel (I4I), which is led by non-Jewish Irish citizens, has amassed an ever-growing group of followers and supporters. They are by far one of the best Israel advocacy groups out there.
The boycott lobby in Ireland is extremely vocal and active, and yet I4I manages, with some creative ideas, to give them a run for their money. The activities of I4I concentrate on the human factor by bringing to Ireland leading speakers from the Israeli advocacy realm, such as the journalist Lital Shemesh, Itai Reuveni of NGO Monitor, and many more.
I4I have established a connection with the Irish media and have made sure it adheres to media principles and is more balanced in its presentation of the events in Israel. Likewise, they have arranged delegations of Irish decision makers and students to Israel, and are involved daily in social media activities.
As I learned first hand, nothing is easy in Ireland for the representatives of the Israeli Embassy. No one is waiting for you with flowers or a kind word. You have to insist and fight your way through the protests, the shaming and the abuse. Yet the Israeli Embassy, while encountering major protest (not to mention limited financial resources), has just this past year helped with the introduction to the Irish people of jazz player Avishai Cohen and author Savyon Librecht – responding to the interest people have in cultural activities free from political context. Unsurprisingly, the tickets to these events were all sold out.
From what I saw, the Irish people are intrigued and curious about Israel and are starting to speak out, demanding to being giving an honest presentation of Israel, each in their own way. I believe that with the correct input, the younger generation will have a changed attitude towards us. Israel has to invest in them.
Show them the different facets of the country. Following Brexit, Ireland is now the leading English-speaking country in the EU. Though small, Ireland is important.
Investing time, effort and money on Ireland is crucial. With dreams and facts we can and will have better relations with Ireland. They are not afraid of difficult truths. It was, after all, the legendary Irish author George Bernard Shaw who wrote: “Live in contact with dreams and you will get something of their charm: live in contact with facts and you will get something of their brutality. I wish I could find a country to live in, where the facts were not brutal and the dreams not unreal.” It was if he were describing the State of Israel.
The author has just completed a term as Israel’s deputy ambassador to Ireland.