Ireland considers an ‘Occupied Territories’ bill

The government of Ireland is debating whether to adopt a law that would prohibit business relations with Israelis because of the “occupation” of the West Bank.

Ronit Lentin (photo credit: TRINITY COLLEG)
Ronit Lentin
(photo credit: TRINITY COLLEG)
The government of Ireland is debating whether to adopt a law that would prohibit business relations with Israelis because of the “occupation” of the West Bank.
The proposal, named the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill, was first introduced in 2018: “An Act to give effect to the State’s obligations arising under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and under customary international humanitarian law; and for that purpose to make it an offence 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.”
The penalties proposed in this Act, upon conviction on indictment, could lead to a maximum fine of 250,000 euros or imprisonment for a maximum term of five years, or both.
Israel rejects presenting the Jewish settlement in the West Bank as illegal. It states that Jewish presence has existed for thousands of years in ancient Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). It was recognized as legitimate in the Mandate for Palestine, adopted by the League of Nations in 1922, as “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”
The Mandate specifically stipulated that “The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use.”
In fact, some Jewish settlements, such as in Hebron, existed for many centuries, among other settlements. According to Israel, it is questionable whether the Fourth Geneva Convention applies de jure to territory such as the West Bank, where no previous legitimate sovereign ever existed. Also, the case of Jews voluntarily living in their ancient homeland and alongside Palestinian communities does not match the kind of forced population transfers contemplated in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Equally important, the Additional Protocols describing as a “grave breach” or “war crimes” of Jews living in Judea and Samaria were introduced only in 1977, as a result of political pressure by the Arab States, to which leading states, including Israel, are not party. Israel argues that in legal terms, the West Bank is best regarded as territories that have competing claims which should be resolved in peace process negotiations.
One of the leading proponents of the Irish bill is the Israeli-born Prof. Ronit Lentin, a retired sociologist from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and a veteran pro-Palestinian activist.
In an article published by The Irish Times earlier this year, Lentin posited that the “Deep empathy of Irish for Palestinians is in no way antisemitic.” According to her, “Occupied Territories Bill and criticism of Israel’s colonization are not attacks on Jews.” Lentin postulates that “the settlements, from which products would be banned if the Bill becomes law, are considered illegal under international law.”
A lengthy exchange in the Letters to the Editor column of The Irish Times took place recently between Lentin and Alan Shatter, Ireland’s former Justice, Equality and Defense minister, who opposes the bill.
Lentin, chairperson of Academics for Palestine, describes herself as “a Palestine-born Israeli Jew, indoctrinated with the dual message of Jewish victimhood and Jewish supremacy throughout my youth, and a citizen of Ireland for the past 50 years.”
She explains the reasons for solidarity between Ireland and the Palestinians, saying “solidarity exists because of the human empathy between those who have been victims of colonial brutality. It continues the long line of Irish solidarity with oppressed peoples.” Lentin belongs to a group of radical leftists. “Like increasing numbers of American and European Jews, I am an active supporter of Palestinian rights.”
Lentin’s expertise on race has led her to also accuse Western states, including Ireland, of racism, as they refuse to take in illegal immigrants. Her 2009 book co-edited with her daughter Alana, also an expert on race, examines the democratic and “civilized” modern states, as “state racism appears to be here to stay [and] is more acceptable than ever before.” She argues that “immigration detention centers, the deportation of ‘failed’ asylum seekers and ‘illegal’ immigrants, racial profiling and the rolling back of liberties won by the civil rights movement are all examples of how state racism impacts on our daily lives.”
Their book moves on to investigate “the racialization of ‘terror’,” where “the business of the war on terror at home echoes longer running practices of state racism.”
Ronit and Alana’s accusations of racism have prompted a barrage of antisemitic expressions against them, as Ronit admitted in a New York Times interview in 2004: “My daughter has articulated it well in a paper she wrote for a lecturer at her university... It is very uncomfortable to live in Ireland as a member of an ethnic minority.”
One antisemitic letter said: “If you don’t like our treatment of refugees, why don’t you [expletive] to a more congenial location, like [Bergen-] Belsen.’’ But Lentin holds the state itself as responsible. “I’m increasingly looking at the state as racial,” she said, and compared it to the current restrictions on immigration from non-EU countries.
In the summer of 2004, she published an article “From racial state to racist state” on the Irish referendum amending the citizenship law that would deny Irish citizenship to people born in Ireland unless one of their parents was an Irish citizen. Lentin opposed the referendum, and urged an inclusion type of citizenship. She proposed a debate on “how the Irish nation can become other than white [Christian and settled],” and suggested “privileging the voices of the racialized and subverting state immigration.” She ended with an appeal “to do all we can to defeat the citizenship referendum.”
Through the years Irish nationalists reacted with anger toward her. In 2014, a group of nationalists painted graffiti in protest of an art exhibition criticizing European folklore at TCD, because it is “the base of operations for Israeli-born Jewess Ronit Lentin, Ireland’s leading architect of spreading multiculturalism and mass immigration.” They also called TCD a “Jewniversity” because it is the “base of Israeli-born Jewess Ronit Lentin, who is agitating for the destruction of Irish ethnicity.”
Another blog, run by the Celtic Party, suggested that “the nice Jewish Lady” is guilty of a felony, as her call for “subverting state immigration” is understood as breaking the law under “Offenses Against the State Act, 1939.” Most certainly, Lentin’s accusations against Ireland contribute to the increasing levels of antisemitism there.
Lentin is also a leading BDS activist. In 2017, as a retired professor, she was behind a conference “Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: the Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel” at TCD. Interestingly, the call for papers is published only on the blog of “Academics for Palestine,” a group which has been set up to build the academic boycott of Israel. Although the call for papers stated: “The conference does not propose to debate the pros and cons of the academic boycott of Israel but rather to make links and draw lessons about the role of the public university in fostering academic freedom, and the freedom to express critical, even if controversial, views.”
This façade of neutrality, however, is misleading. Lentin published a letter in support of the academic boycott of Israel in The Irish Times earlier that year. The topics of the conference were: “Academics as political actors and advocates,” “Challenges to academic freedom and the freedom to dissent,” “The practice of academic boycott and academic freedom,” “The effects of ‘lawfare’ and disciplinary measures on support for the academic boycott of Israel,” and “Comparisons with previous academic boycotts, such as the boycott of Apartheid South Africa.”
The keynote speakers included Steven Salaita speaking on “Freedom to boycott: BDS and the modern university.” Salaita was denied an appointment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign because of his egregious Facebook posts and tweets against Israel. After an introduction by Lentin, he spoke about the circumstances under which he lost his offer of a position. While the university argued that his tweets were egregiously antisemitic, Salaita chose to present a different narrative. In his speech, also posted on YouTube, he claimed that many people have lost their jobs for being anti-Zionists. He added that when it comes to Palestine, there is no freedom of speech because of threats, and that “Zionists tell bullshit lies about this world” and that “Israel commits ethnic cleansing.”
A number of proposals for alternative views for the conference were turned down, although the university issued a statement that “there will be speakers who have opinions both for and against the academic boycott of Israel in attendance and speaking during the event.”
Lentin and her cohorts have used such events as a propaganda platform against Israel. Contrary to the conference assertions about promoting freedom of speech, it was Ze’ev Boker, the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, who was prevented from speaking at the TCD earlier in 2017 by the group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). TCD provost Patrick Prendergast condemned the incident, and said it represented “the antithesis of what Trinity stands for.” SJP tried to argue that it was a peaceful protest, but the TCD administration argued that it represented an attempt to shut down the event and SJP was fined.
By boasting that the TCD “was an early and important supporter of the academic boycott of Apartheid South Africa,” Lentin and her conference co-organizers seemed to hope that the boycott of Israel would remain on the TCD agenda.
The conference attracted little public attention not least because the international environment is full of real and grave problems – huge natural disasters, threats of atomic weapons from North Korea and Iran, the violence of ISIS, the still active civil war in Syria and Iraq, the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, to name just a few. To the radical academics, the suffering of millions and millions of people means little because of their singular obsession with Israel.
While Ireland, in general, and Lentin, in particular, claim to be supportive of Palestinian rights, they decline to help the Palestinians on two issues. A delegation from the Irish Foreign Affairs Ministry was hosted in Ramallah, while on the same day, the Palestinian Authority blocked 51 online news sources. As reported by the international press, “In so doing, the Palestinian Authority confirms its refusal to accept media pluralism and its desire to eliminate all opposition by making it invisible to the public.” And not for the first time. But neither Lentin nor the Irish delegation have something to say against it.
Likewise, another issue needs their helping hand: the Arab Israeli community is shattered by internal Arab crime, and the Arab leadership is crying for help. Esawi Frej, a former member of parliament, complained in a recent interview, “Only now, millions of shekels have been invested in voting campaigns in the Israeli Arab society. Campaigns through left-wing organizations, Jews who came to the Arab communities and persuaded residents to come out and vote. I want to see these left-wing organizations join and stand alongside the Arab society in its war against crime. I need them now. Give me a hand and help me restore security for the children and women in our community. Where are the left-wing organizations gone?” But neither the Irish delegation nor Lentin and her fellow activists hear this cry.
The reason is simple: the purpose of the ‘Occupied Territories Bill’ is to attack Israel. However, as much as it would harm Israeli companies and the Palestinian employees, it could also harm Ireland, as several American officials warned that commercial relations with Ireland could be affected adversely, a price that Lentin and her pro-Palestinian camaraderie don’t mind paying.