The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign's (IPSC) recent success in persuading Ireland's official arts association, Aosd'na, to pass a resolution urging Irish artists to "reflect deeply" before engaging in any cooperation with state-sponsored Israeli cultural events and institutions is, without doubt, a regrettable development. Aosd'na is Ireland's most prestigious cultural body and its decision to issue what the IPSC chairman described in Haaretz (April 13) as "a boycott call in all but name" will carry weight in the Irish arts world.
In fact, this is not the first time that the IPSC has successfully targeted Israeli culture. Last summer it launched campaigns against Israeli government sponsorship for a series of Dublin-based events, which it argued would "align the Irish cultural sector with the oppression and racism" of an "ethnocratic rogue state." While official funding remained in place for events featuring poet Amir Or and A.B. Yehoshua, despite vociferous IPSC protests, sponsorship for both a screening of Eytan Fox's "Walk on Water" and a performance by the Toy Vivo Duo was canceled by the organizers.
However, the media coverage of these IPSC successes risks investing them with a significance they scarcely deserve. For in reality, the great majority of its boycott campaigns have resoundingly failed. For instance, its ongoing efforts to persuade Irish companies such as CRH to divest from Israel and its "National Boycott Days" of Israeli produce have failed to make any impression; Irish-Israeli trade has increased exponentially in recent years and is now worth about $700 million a year. The IPSC's attempt to orchestrate boycotts of the Ireland-Israel World Cup qualifying games in 2005 proved another toe-curling shambles: 3,000 Irish fans traveled to Ramat Gan to watch Ireland's away game, while 34,000 attended the rematch in Dublin. And last September's well-publicized academic boycott campaign quickly crashed and burned after being denounced by both the Irish government and the European Commission.
The IPSC's general lack of success may appear unusual in a country where the great majority energetically sympathizes with the Palestinians, perceiving them as a dispossessed nation, denied their right to self-determination by Zionism's neocolonial adventure. Consequently, there has been overwhelming public support for Dublin's staunchly pro-Palestinian positions on issues from the legitimacy of Yasser Arafat to the illegality of the security fence, while its trenchant attacks on Israel's use of "reckless and disproportionate force" in Lebanon last summer were also widely applauded. Yet the IPSC remains a marginal force where one might almost expect to find a mass movement.
Why? Because the Irish mainstream is deterred by the IPSC's extremist approach to the issues. Its recent dismissal of Meretz-Yahad as a "phony" peace party "eager to preserve a mildly adjusted version of the status quo" has raised questions about the shape of the settlement the IPSC itself advocates, while its perceived ambivalence on Palestinian terrorism is another problematical factor. Suicide bombings have been condemned, but other attacks have been categorized as "lawful resistance" or "forceful defense," while the characterization as terrorists of the killers of 13 Israeli reservists in Jenin in April 2002 was described as "robbing the word 'terrorist' of all meaning" (unsurprising, perhaps, given that the IPSC's Belfast branch was until recently chaired by a convicted IRA bomber).
The Irish mainstream has been further alienated by the stridency of the IPSC's anti-Israel rhetoric, which often verges on demonization. While the still-commonplace equation of Zionism and Nazism is now being discouraged, the drawing of analogies between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa is present IPSC policy and its chairman is currently promoting the Hebrew term hafrada (separation) as an Israel-specific alternative to the original Afrikaans term. Meanwhile, the IPSC's most prominent national spokesman implicitly compared "people who genuinely support Israel" with "people who genuinely support pedophilia" in a recent online debate on the Aosd?na issue.
The IPSC's tendency, despite its frequent denunciations of anti-Semitism, to inadvertently stray close to the line has been an additional cause of disquiet. For instance, while it deplored the post-Qana pinning of children's shoes to an Irish synagogue gate, it previously accused Israel of "implementing barbaric racist policies in the name of Judaism," and its official charity Christmas cards have, by juxtaposing images of Israel's security detail with traditional nativity iconography, evoked religious anti-Semitic themes.
An IPSC Web site's campaign to expose the "Zionist propaganda machine" by effectively highlighting the Jewishness of writers and journalists also caused controversy; Gil Troy, writing in The Forward, described it as "the internet version of the Nazi yellow star." And just last month, prominent IPSC members themselves began quarrelling over the extent of anti-Semitism in the organization with one internationally renowned activist arguing that they could "no longer claim naivete" on the issue, given that their current Israeli Blood Diamond campaign "uses a Jewish stereotype [i.e. 'diamond-dealing Jews'] to promote its agenda."
While Irish anti-Israel agitation remains in the hands of such extremists, the Aosdna resolution will prove the exception rather than the rule.
Sean Gannon is a freelance writer and researcher on Irish-Israeli issues and is chairman of the Irish Friends of Israel. He is currently writing a book on relations between the two countries.