Current Affairs / Irish History / Peace Process / United States / World

Why Israel lobby is wrong to demonize Mary Robinson

The shots fired at Mary Robinson by Jewish groups are probably really aimed at President Obama and his efforts to broker a peace deal with Israel starting with an end to the building of illegal Jewish settlements.

The President is right to work for peace. The blame which America’s apparent willingness to support Israel in whatever it does has occasioned in the Arab street is both harmful to America’s national interest, and a source of support for Al Qaeda.

But the attempt to target one of the greatest living Irish women, internationally recognized as a human rights campaigner, in a smear campaign orchestrated by lobbyists for the State of Israel has implications for Irish policy towards Israel and contains potential repercussions for the lobbyists’ cause that do not appear well thought out.

It comes just after an Irish parliamentary delegation had returned to Ireland from a fact finding mission to Gaza and the other Arab territories. It also comes at a time when the recent fighting and its aftermath has increased the swing in Irish public opinion from an uncomprehending, but generally admiring, attitude towards the foundation of the State of Israel, and the State’s early fight to defend itself, to one of ever growing distaste for its increasingly brutal and ineffective military approach to the Palestinian problem.

A few days before the Robinson controversy blew up, I spoke with a highly respected Irish political figure (incredibly there are still such) who had been on the all-party Irish parliamentary delegation and found him to be horrified as much by the illegal settlement building as by the devastation caused to the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip and the effects of the state of siege which the Israel military are enforcing on the population of Gaza.

To judge from the initial statement the delegation subsequently released, everyone else in the party shared his concerns and the full Report of the delegation , scheduled for next month is expected to be particularly damning. Israeli embassy spokespersons are already mounting a campaign to discredit the delegations findings. Even in the midst of chronic economic problems, this controversy seems certain to grow, not diminish.

The TD I spoke to represents a border constituency and was an informed participant in the behind the scenes diplomacy that led to the Good Friday Agreement. His father was a member of Michael Collins’ elite hit team The Squad and by birth and up-bringing he would have regarded the Unionists with distaste and wished for a United Ireland.

But, as a practicing politician, he recognised that times had changed and it was time to move on. The gun had to be put away, the Six County State recognised, the British presence accepted, and both sides, Republican and Unionists, had to co-operate in the interests of peace, allowing the ultimate solution of deeply embedded problems to be resolved in the future by their grandchildren if necessary.

Translated to Palestine this viewpoint would mean that Hamas would cease rocket attacks, recognise the State of Israel and the Israelis would engage in-all party talks, brokered by the US, which would give the Palestinians their State, end the blockade of Gaza and the building of illegal settlements.

The Irish political class, more than most Europeans, have an empathy with problems left over from the days of the British empire. Arthur Balfour, the British politician probably most responsible for the introduction to Ireland, was also the statesman who set today’s events in train with his Declaration, issued during the same era, (1917) which favored “ the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”.

The Declaration also stated that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

However the reality which confronted the Dáil delegation in Gaza, during its recent visit, was, in Irish terms, as though a million and a half Nationalists, unwillingly and without compensation, had been forcibly driven across the Border and penned into an area one-third the size of Louth where they could look across the border at the land they once owned.

The creation of such ghettos would have not just produced murderous and irresponsible reactions such as the creation of Hamas and its criminally irresponsible rocket firings, but IRA atrocity on a scale not even possible to guess at, As it was, the hatred that Unionist discrimination spawned in Ireland did gave rise to a plethora of IRAs.

But the British did not drop white phosphorus on densely populated civilian areas, as was done during the recent destruction of Gaza. Nor did they automatically blow up the homes of known IRA men as standard operating procedure. Nor (in recent centuries at least) did they deliberately use massacre as a counter-insurgency tool as was done in Deir Yassim in 1948 and at Sabra and Shatilla in 1982.

The fact that the Israeli propaganda machine dubs such activities “operations” does not sanitise them, lessen their impact, nor make them more morally acceptable. The policy which the Unionists once espoused, that error has no rights, opponent, no justification, or legal protections did not eradicate terrorism. It encouraged it.

Directing the blame for “operations” at those who may have thrown, a bomb, a rock, or fired a rocket neither makes “operations” justifiable nor proportionate.

The analogies between the Irish and the Palestinian situations however do have a contemporary relevance which contains important seeds of hope. The name Clinton shines by its own light where the Irish peace process is concerned. But not alone is Hilary Clinton the American leader most charged with finding a Middle East solution, the man who did most to smooth the Good Friday negotiations, George Mitchell, is on the ground trying to repeat what was done in Belfast.

It is in America’s and the world’s interest that they succeed. But above all it is in the interest of Israel and the Palestinians. Peace is what should be striven for by the Israeli spin doctors, not the demonization of Mary Robinson.

– First published 10th August 2009 at