Ireland’s misguided ‘settler bill’ ignores Israel’s security concerns

The bill was originated and first sponsored by an independent senator and well-known Irish singer, Frances Black.

THE IRISH flag atop the historic post office in Dublin.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE IRISH flag atop the historic post office in Dublin.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A letter to the editor from 15 prominent “concerned citizens of Israel” was published by The Irish Times on Wednesday. The Irish Times is Ireland’s self-declared paper of record, and the letter urged support for the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill before the Irish parliament.
The express objective of the bill is to criminalize the importation into Ireland of “settlement goods produced” or “services provided in whole or in part by an illegal settler.” An “illegal settler” is said to be a person whose presence in an occupied territory “is being or has been facilitated directly or indirectly by the occupying power.”
In theory, the bill could apply to goods or services originating from Russia-occupied Crimea, Turkey-occupied Northern Cyprus, China-occupied Tibet, or from a variety of other “occupied territories.” However, the exclusive publicized focus of the bill’s sponsors and supporters, both inside and outside the Irish parliament, has been to criminalize the importation into and sale in Ireland of goods and services originating from Israeli settlers in the West Bank and also Gaza. Some of its advocates appear ignorant of the fact that Gaza has had no Israeli settlers since the 2005 Israeli withdrawal.
Although not much emphasized, it is also clear from the bill’s terminology that it applies to any goods or services originating from any Israeli presence in east Jerusalem and on the Golan Heights. While the bill has throughout been presented as supporting the Palestinians’ fight against Israeli occupation and opposing Israeli settlements, none of its supporters have to date given express public voice to its other hidden agenda, the return of the Golan to Syria. Publicly advocating in favor of Assad’s bloody barbaric form of governance was likely deemed a possible public relations disaster and a step too far!
The bill was originated and first sponsored by an independent senator and well-known Irish singer, Frances Black, whose successful election to the Senate of Ireland in 2016 was heavily dependent on the Sinn Féin Party’s support.
The bill completed its passage through the Senate on 5 December 2018. The day of publication of the “concerned” Israeli citizens’ letter, 23 January, coincided with the scheduled debate on the bill in the Dáil, Ireland’s version of the UK’s House of Commons. The next day, Thursday, the bill successfully passed its second stage by 78 votes to 45.
However, the bill is not yet law. There remain the committee and report stages of the legislative process to be completed. There is a possibility the bill’s passage may grind to a halt if it is designated as “a money bill” that could impose a charge on the exchequer contrary to the wishes of the Irish government. Moreover, if enacted, it may have no immediate effect if Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, declines to make a ministerial order to implement its sponsors’ objectives. Of course, in the latter circumstances, such order could be made by his successor.
In the Dáil the bill was adopted and sponsored by Fianna Fáil, the largest opposition party. Fianna Fáil is engaged in a bitter contest with Sinn Féin to maintain its political position whilst also facilitating the Fine Gael Party’s minority government being in office with a confidence and supply agreement. Although engaged in a sometimes vitriolic battle with Fianna Fáil for popular support, it tactically suited Sinn Féin that Fianna Fáil carry the baton, as without Fianna Fáil voting for it, the bill had no chance of progressing. Fine Gael’s dependency on Fianna Fáil’s support in crucial budgetary votes led Sinn Féin and, perhaps, also Frances Black to calculate that any Fine Gael resistance to the bill would ultimately collapse. However, Fianna Fáil did not insist on the bill’s enactment when, on 12 December last, renewing its agreement to support Fine Gael’s continuance in government.
All but one of the 45 votes cast against the bill came from the government side, with three government ministers from the populist minority Independent Alliance group abstaining.
COVENEY OPPOSED the bill on the basis that its enactment violated an exclusive European Union competence, as Ireland is part of the single European market and, if enacted, the bill could result in the Irish state being fined by the European Commission. He also acknowledged that its enactment would exclude Ireland from making a constructive contribution to a peace process, due to the manner in which the legislation would be perceived in Israel, and could present difficulties for US multinationals located in Ireland.
His arguments failed to deter the bill’s supporters, many of whom labeled Israel as an “apartheid state,” referenced Israelis as colonizers, accused Israel of war crimes and various atrocities, and dishonestly portrayed “settlements” and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory as the sole obstacles to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Few had anything to say about Israel’s legitimate security concerns, and nothing was said about the complex background to the current impasse.
During debates on the bill in both the Senate and the Dáil, none of its proponents referenced the divisions between Hamas and Fatah; Hamas’s decade-long flawed governance of Gaza; rockets fired from Gaza into Israel and eco terrorism; Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s rejection of the Oslo Accords and a two-state solution; their role and that of Islamic Jihad as Iranian surrogates and Iran’s publicized genocidal objective of destroying the Israeli state. Also carefully ignored was the martyrdom culture cultivated by all of those groups and the Palestinian Authority; murderous attacks on Israeli men, woman and children, which are planned, encouraged and acclaimed; PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA’s rejectionism and obsessive international campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Israeli state, and his recent initiative to reinstate the discredited UN motion labeling Zionism as racism.
Outside the Irish parliament the leading advocate and online warrior for the bill is the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The objective of this strident group is the replacement of Israel by a Palestinian state.
The rhetoric and online posts of its supporters are more aligned with the narrative of Hamas than with the sometimes more nuanced comments of Abbas, when he addresses an international audience or meets European politicians.
They are enthusiastic advocates of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and are happy to target, pressurize and denigrate any academic, actor, artist or singer scheduled to visit and/or perform in Israel and any company that does business in Israel.
Their most recent focus is a campaign to raise funds to prosecute “Israel Gen. Benny Gantz for war crimes” and to force Ireland’s public broadcaster, RTE, and all Irish artists to “boycott Eurovision in Apartheid Tel Aviv.” Frances Black’s support for the latter campaign irrefutably exposed that her bill is merely a Trojan horse to further advance the broader BDS agenda, as did Roger Waters’s enthusiastic tweet last week acclaiming her bill’s progress.
Competing with Sinn Féin for populist applause, derived from growing anti-Israeli sentiment in Ireland, Fianna Fáil has chosen to ignore the true agenda behind the bill it is now sponsoring. It has also ignored the fact that Sinn Féin’s enthusiastic support for the bill is payback for the training given by the PLO in terrorism and bomb making in the 1970s and ’80s to members of Sinn Féin’s former military wing, the Provisional IRA, which resulted in horrific atrocities being perpetrated in Ireland.
In exclusively targeting the only truly democratic state that exists in a troubled region for opprobrium and the only Jewish state on the planet for discrimination, Fianna Fáil’s action is consistent with its history. It was the Fianna Fáil party in government in “neutral” Ireland in the 1930s that denied residential visas to many German Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany and, postwar, to Holocaust survivors. It was its leader Eamon de Valera, when Taoiseach (prime minister), who in 1945, upon learning of Hitler’s death, visited the German Embassy in Dublin to express his condolences.
THE 15 “concerned” Israeli citizens whose letter was published by The Irish Times included Dr. Alan Liel, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to South Africa and Turkey; Ilan Baruch, former ambassador to South Africa; Michael Ben-Yair, former attorney-general and former acting Supreme Court justice; Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset; Naomi Chazan, former Meretz MK and former president of the New Israel Fund; Itzhak Galnoor, former head of the Civil Service Commission; various professors, artists, Israel Prize recipients and two other former ambassadors.
I do not know what knowledge, if any, they have of the complex Irish domestic political background to Black’s bill.
Describing its passage as being “urgent” due to recent announced plans to build new homes in “illegal settlements,” they referenced “the occupation and the expansion of illegal settlements as having been identified by successive Irish governments as a major obstacle to peace.” In referencing no other existing obstacles to peace that exist, they fed the populist Irish anti-Israeli myth that Israel is entirely to blame for the moribund peace process and continuing conflict, and that “settlements” are the only “obstacle to peace.”
Asserting “Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories” to be “detrimental to peace” and as posing “a threat to Israel’s security,” they failed to explain how any unilateral Israeli withdrawal would ensure peace and enhance Israeli security, and failed to address the impact of Black’s bill on east Jerusalem and the Golan.
Possibly, they regard east Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, simply as Palestinian territory, from which Israel should unilaterally withdraw. Certainly, this will be presented as their view by the bill’s supporters.
Justifying their stance on the basis that the bill “does not call for a boycott of the State of Israel,” they willfully ignored a fact that Fianna Fáil also chose to ignore – that the bill is a Trojan horse for a wider boycott, and many of its most vocal supporters are actively campaigning to boycott this year’s Tel Aviv Eurovision Song Contest.
Why Israel deserves to be singled out, targeted by the Irish state and treated differently from every other state in the world is also something they failed to explain.
The 15 write “as people who care deeply about Israel’s future” and of longing for Israel “to live in peace with its neighbors.” As a Jewish former Irish politician and former Irish government minister, these are sentiments I share.
What is astounding is why they believe their ill-considered letter – interfering in domestic Irish politics, validating a simplistic anti-Israeli narrative used to demonize the Israeli state and relied upon by some who are not merely critical of Israel but are also antisemites – is of benefit to realize their longing. If they have a case to make, they should make it to the Israeli electorate. Their Irish démarche has merely provided propaganda ammunition to the Israel haters.
It has also undermined those in Ireland who wish positive, realistic initiatives taken which reopen Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, rebuild trust, end conflict and, ultimately, result in Israel, as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people, living in peace and security beside a democratic, independent, stable Palestinian state, and want an end to Iranian and Hezbollah threats to wipe Israel off the map.
The writer is a former Irish minister for justice and defense, former member of Dáil Éireann and former chairman of the Irish parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.