Why I can no longer support anti-Semitic state of Israel

Sunday Independent

An open letter to Dr Zion Evrony, Israeli ambassador to Ireland, from Tim Pat Coogan

You were kind enough to invite me to the recent reception you gave to celebrate Israel’s 62nd Independence Day, but I did not attend out of a growing sense of outrage at the treatment of the Palestinians which I have hitherto only expressed privately.

The recent acts of piracy on the high seas have, however, prompted me to write you this public letter stating why I did not attend and asking that, unless policies change, that I not be invited again. It’s a small, even you might say, trivial gesture, but, I am buoyed by the fact that boycotting played a useful role in Ireland’s history.

To dispose of any allegations of anti-Semitism, may I give a brief outline of the development of my own feelings towards Israel. Like many Irishmen who grew to maturity in the aftermath of the Second World War, I was both appalled at the Holocaust and regretful that Ireland had not done more to aid the Jews.

One of the few people who did publicly support them and condemned Nazism was the late Fr Michael O’Carroll, my history teacher at Blackrock College who had some influence on my formation. I became a strong supporter of the state of Israel.

My naive enthusiasm was tempered somewhat by my friend Moshe Menuhin, father of the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who had been to school with David Ben Gurion, but had become critical of Zionism and wrote a book entitled The Decadence of Judaism in Our Time. He warned me not to publicise it lest this put me on the Zionists’ hit list. It was an introduction to the reality of how the Israel lobby seeks to influence the media.

But Moshe taught me much about Jewish history and sufferings. He and his wife had been lucky to escape with their lives from Russia.

My admiration for the achievement of the Jews in the arts took tangible form in my collaboration with the late David Marcus in creating and maintaining the New Irish Writing project in the Irish Press which made a real contribution to Irish letters.

I have toured Israel as a guest of the Israeli government, visited the state on holiday and arranged for one of my daughters to work on a kibbutz.

But I have to tell you, Dr Evrony, that my earlier enthusiasm has been sadly dampened by having to acknowledge that Israel has become the most actively anti-Semitic government in the world — the Palestinians are a Semitic people.

History has created few greater ironies.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917, the foundation text, on which the state of Israel is based, pledged the British to furthering the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done that may prejudice the existing civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

In 1948, when Israel declared the independence which the Israeli embassy celebrated recently, more than 90 per cent of the land of present day Israel was in Palestinian hands. Today Palestinians barely hold 10 per cent and illegal Jewish settlements proliferate almost hourly. Israel has, in fact, implemented an unacknowledged policy of ethnic cleansing.

Gaza is one of the small slivers of land still held by the Palestinians. It is one third the size of Ireland’s smallest county — Louth. It now contains a million and a half men, women and children. Many of these people were either driven off the land adjoining Gaza or are related to people who were. In Irish terms, it is as though a million and a half dispossessed Irish nationalists were clustered on the border looking back at land they once owned. I shudder to think what sort of an IRA this would create.

As it is, the people of Gaza have elected Hamas. The firing of rockets into Israeli settlements, under the tutelage of Hamas, is wrong and very wrong. It brings terror to Jewish families and bloody, totally disproportionate retribution on Palestinian women and children.

Your government took advantage of the window of opportunity provided by the recent American presidential election to drop white phosphorous on apartment blocks containing women and children during your recent onslaught on Gaza which claimed over 1,000 Palestinian lives.

Gaza’s inhabitants have been under siege ever since. Their “civil and religious rights” made a mockery of in the hope that if sufficient misery is created they will move, leaving still more land in the possession of Israel.

Dr Evrony, this can not go on. You may validly point to Arab encirclement, the ever present threat of terrorism, etc, but neither side has clean hands. Your government’s policy of frightfulness has led not merely to white phosphorous but to slaughters which include the massacres at Dar Yassin, Sabra and Shatila.

Probably your strategists imagine that the stranglehold you now exert on the White House renders you eternally immune to sanctions.

Not so. US involvement with Israeli policies has become contrary to America’s national interests and her requirement to develop better relationships with the Muslim world. In the long term, no lobby, however powerful, can stand in the way of a superpower’s interests.

Israel’s best course is to make a genuine peace with the Palestinians, based on the Two-State formula. Sure, Hamas doesn’t recognise the state of Israel. The IRA did not recognise the British either, but we got the Good Friday Agreement.

One of its principal architects is currently in the Middle East trying to bring you peace also — Senator George Mitchell. He is a great and a good man. You should help him make the proximity talks meaningful for the sake, not alone of the Middle East, but world stability.

Dr Evrony, if that were to happen, I would be delighted to be invited to toast the achievement with you at the Israeli embassy but for the moment I remain,

Yours regretfully,

Tim Pat Coogan