Many countries try to excuse their failings by blaming outsiders. For several decades after independence, people in the Irish Republic blamed its economic under-performance on centuries of British rule. Similarly, Israel uses anti-Semitism to excuse its expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, its discrimination against the Palestinians who managed to remain inside the Green Line, and its territorial expansionism after 1967.
All good excuses contain a germ of truth. The 19th-century Irish famine, which was exacerbated by British policies, greatly damaged the morale of the survivors and their descendants. Similarly, the Nazi Judeocide has left a huge scar on the survivors of that catastrophe. However, to escape dysfunctionality, every society must admit its own failings. Irish economic woes stemmed from a culture of risk-avoidance which, while derived from colonial history, had to be admitted and overcome by citizens of the independent state. Similarly, Israelis will never be secure until they admit their responsibility to make restitution for the crimes of their state against the Palestinians. Israelis should beware of false friends who tempt them to avoid this responsibility by misrepresenting the critics of Israeli policies as anti-Semites.
A salient example of this phenomenon appeared in Haaretz last week, in an article ("One hundred years of hostility," Sept. 8), which alleged that Sinn Fein was and is anti-Semitic, and tried to smear the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) by association. Belonging to no party, I will leave it to Sinn Fein to defend itself. However, those Zionist Irish Jews who were prominent supporters of Sinn Fein would be surprised at last week's characterization.
In his autobiography ("Living History"), Chaim Herzog wrote "My father [Yitzhak Herzog, later first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel] was an open partisan of the Irish cause. The outstanding Jewish leader in the revolution was Robert Briscoe."
Eamon de Valera, president of Sinn Fein from 1917 to 1926, was hidden in Rabbi Herzog's home on several occasions during the revolution. Briscoe, who made several trips to Germany to buy arms, was one of the hard-line Sinn Feiners, who followed de Valera in rejecting the 1921 treaty with Britain - an event which triggered civil war in the new state. Briscoe was also a Zionist who, while spending 38 years in the Irish parliament, found time to visit Poland in 1938 as an agent of Jabotinsky and to raise funds for the Irgun in New York in 1939, using his stature as a Jewish fighter for Irish independence. De Valera became a life-long friend of Herzog, meeting David Ben-Gurion in Herzog's Jerusalem home in 1950 and being honored by the Irish Jewish community in the mid-1960s by the planting of a forest in Israel.
In its early years, Israel received a great deal of sympathy in Ireland. While Briscoe's prominent place in Irish politics may have played a role, the two main reasons were a fellow-feeling for Jews as another people who had experienced religious persecution and ignorance about the dispossession of the Palestinians. As the truth about 1948 became known and the horrors of the post-1967 occupation became apparent, attitudes changed.
Coincidentally, the first English-language article to debunk the myth that the Palestinian refugees of 1948 had left on the orders of Arab radio broadcasts ("The Other Exodus," by Erskine Childers, The Spectator, May 1961) was written by the grandson and namesake of a prominent Sinn Feiner, who used his yacht to import arms from Germany in 1914 and who took the same side as Briscoe in the Irish Civil War.
The IPSC reflects the fact that Irish people, having experienced settler colonialism, understand the suffering of Palestinians who endure it today. However, IPSC membership also includes Israeli Jews and Palestinians living in Ireland. Moreover, far from being "a subset of the Republican movement," as was claimed, the Belfast branch has Unionist members and supporters.
Our shared goal is universal human rights. We want all who have the right to reside between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, including refugees, to enjoy that right in peace. Unfortunately, many Israelis think that Palestinians should have less entitlement in their homeland than Jews who migrated to Palestine since 1882. The IPSC thinks both ethnic groups should enjoy all rights stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We have no view on the future organization of the territory. That is a decision for all those who are Palestinian or Israeli or both, including refugees.
Many members of the IPSC are veterans of other anti-racist campaigns, such as those concerned with South Africa, East Timor and rights for Native Americans. IPSC members also support campaigns for West Papuans, Kurds, Tibetans and others. The Belfast branch is affiliated to a network which opposes attacks on immigrant workers in that city. With this wide perspective, we see that hafrada (separation) is the Zionist form of apartheid, so we argue that Israel should be treated like the old South Africa.
Our campaign is gaining momentum. Recently, several Irish cultural events rejected Israeli embassy sponsorship and Irish trade unionists prevented use of Dublin trams for training staff of the projected tram system between West Bank settlements. But this is only the beginning. This campaign, part of a world-wide effort to help Israelis overcome their dysfunctional denial of responsibility, will cease only when Israel conforms to International Law.
James Bowen, a professor in the National University of Ireland at Cork, is national chairperson of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign.