Normalising Apartheid: The Israeli Parliamentary Visit to Ireland

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On the evening of Wednesday 18th January, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) held a protest against an official Israeli parliamentary visit to the Oireachtas. This visit of two Israeli Knesset [Parliament] members and their entourage was kept secret by the Irish state until the evening before the two MKs arrived. With less than 12 hours notice, the IPSC organised a protest of over 40 pro-Palestine activists outside the gates of the Dail to coincide with the MKs’ official meeting with the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore TD. The MKs were ushered in via a back entrance due to unspecified “security concerns”.

According to a report in the Irish Times (written by resident Israeli Zionist journalist Mark Weiss), MK Rueven Rivlin, the Speaker of the Knesset, was present “at the invitation of his Irish counterpart, Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil Sean Barrett, who was hosted by Mr Rivlin last July”. Incidentally, this visit too was kept under the radar, though a report in Friday’sIrish Times quotes MK Rivlin as saying “[as the Ceann Comhairle was leaving Israel] he hugged me and said it was a really great experience”.

The other members of the Israeli delegation included MK Yitzhak Herzog, Mira Ratzabi, Director of the Knesset Foreign Affairs Department, two advisors to MK Rivilin, his spouse, and two Israeli “security officers”. While initially billed as a “parliamentary exchange”, the fact that Mrs. Ratzabi was present, along with high level meetings with Irish President Michael D. Higgins, Minister Gilmore, and an audience with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade suggests that this was far more than a mere parliamentary exchange. It appears the Israeli regime, which has long had its sights trained upon Ireland as a ‘dissenting state’,  is making a conscious effort to ply hasbara [propaganda] to the current political leadership of Ireland.

If one is to judge by Minister Gilmore’s relative inaction over the kidnapping of 14 Irish citizens from the MV Saoirse in international waters off Gaza last November, Ministers Gilmore and Shatters’ attendance at the Israeli Embassy sponsored film festival less than a month later (a “cultural hasbara” event at which peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrators were manhandled and pushed off the street by Irish police, while the Ministers were inside listening to a speech by the Israeli Ambassador), and Minister Gilmore’s upcoming state visit to Israel this week, it unfortunately appears that there are receptive ears for this propaganda within the leadership of the Irish government, and the upper echelons of the Labour Party.

Israel detains Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker and MPLCs

Ironically, this visit came in a week when the Israeli military arrested the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Dr Aziz Duwaik. Eyewitnesses reported that he was detained at a West Bank checkpoint near Ramallah on Thursday 19th January, where “Israeli soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded Dr Dweik before taking him to an unknown destination”. Dr. Dweik was subsequently issued an administrative detention sentence (aka, interment without trail), with no charges officially filed against him.

Meanwhile, on Monday 16th January the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union released a report stating that it had “examined the cases of Palestinian parliamentarians held in Israeli jails.  They include a group of 20 members of the Change and Reform Party who were elected in 2006 to the Palestinian Legislative Council.  They are all held inadministrative detention for periods of six months, which are renewed by the Israeli authorities.  [This] denies the members of parliament the opportunity to represent the people who have elected them.  It essentially means that the Palestinian Parliament is unable to carry out its legislative and oversight functions.  The Committee called upon the Israeli authorities to abandon this practice”.

Since the publication of the IPU report, Israel has detained a further four Palestinian PLC members; Dr. Dweik whose case is outlined above; Tafesh Dweib, taken from his Bethlehem home on the same day as Dr. Dweik; Khaled Abu Arafeh and Mohammed Totah, abducted by Israeli police from inside the East Jerusalem offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, where they had taken refuge in July 2010 to avoid deportation after their Jerusalem ID cards were revoked by Israel. According to the ADDAMEER prisoners’ rights group, this brings the total number of MPLCs detained by Israel to 27 (out of some 4,450 political prisoners).

An exercise in normalisation

This visit, the highest profile Israeli state visit in over 25 years, was part of an ongoing attempt to normalise the abnormal, i.e., the apartheid policies of the Israeli state directed against the Palestinian people. Such visits – including the official welcomes by both the Dail and Seanad, along with high profile political meetings – serve only to legitimise Israel’s apartheid regime and associated breaches of international law. They portray serious and grave breaches of international law not as clear-cut issues where there are perpetrators and victims, but as disputed issues that are open for “debate between democratic countries”.

The IPSC, taking its cue from Palestinian civil society organisations, trade unions and churches, advocates a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it ends it occupation of Palestinian lands and complies fully with its obligations under international law. It was for this reason the IPSC organised this demonstration outside the Oireachtas.

One has to ask how, if instead of punishing Israel for its crimes, it is essentially rewarded, can anyone be expected believe that its illegal actions will ever cease? There is no reason to compel it to do so, and thus it carries on knowing that aside from the occasional rhetorical reprimand from the international community, it can act with impunity. This is a situation that is both unacceptable and untenable, and it is well past time that the Irish government took a serious stand, backed up with meaningful action, to aid the Palestinian people in their struggle for their human, national and democratic rights.

Indeed, it is worth pointing out that this week, Minister Gilmore announced that Ireland would be supporting an EU oil embargo and sanctions on Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program. Minister Gilmore said that “the purpose of the embargo is to bring Iran to the negotiating table and sanctions and embargoes are the way that adds weight and gives clout to the diplomatic effort.” If the Minister sees BDS as a legitimate means to apply pressure to Iran, why not Israel? After all, Israel is a state in constant breach of international law and tens of UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, has a nuclear arsenal and is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Ironically, the Minister also said that the sanctions were have to prevent “something very dramatic happening like an Israeli intervention, that would be hugely serious and would be very destabilising”. This bizarre logic suggests that the Irish government believes that instead of taking action against Israel to prevent an act of aggression against a foreign country, it should punish the threatened country using the very measures human rights activists have been calling for them to implement against Israel.

Finally, in regard to the MKs visit, one assumes that this visit, which included stays in Farmleigh House, was funded by the Irish state. If this is indeed the case, it is ridiculous that in this time of economic crisis, when taxpayers are being told to tighten their belts, that these same taxpayers are paying for a hasbara junket by representatives of Israeli apartheid.

President Higgins to visit Israel?

According to the Irish Times, a spokesman said “President [Higgins] told Mr Rivlin that if an invitation were received to visit Israel, it would be considered”. The IPSC will be encouraging the President, who has a long record of supporting Palestinian rights, not to accept such an invitation if it is issued, for it will undoubtedly be used as propaganda by Israel and its apologists as further evidence of the alleged “liberal democratic” nature of the apartheid state.

Indeed, Pat Breen TD, the convenor of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade – which has also been invited to send a delegation to Israel – said that MK Rivlin “is widely admired for the strong stance which he has taken to protect democratic principles in Israel in the face of diverse challenges, including the rights of minorities”, while Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett is reported to have stated that “Israel is, first of all, a democracy, and for that we commend you”.

Such demonstrably false statements would be comical had they not come from important members of Irish polity. Israel is a democracy in name only. Without even commenting on the occupied Palestinian territories, many respected scholars and commentators have instead classified it as an ethnocracy, which favours Jewish citizens above other minorities living within the state. For example, Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy has called it an “ethnocratic, theocratic, nationalistic and racist country”, while scholar Yitzhak Laor says Israel is “a state that has never held [Palestinians Citizens of Israel] to be equal before the law”.

A look at the Supreme Court, much vaunted by Israel’s apologists as proof of the state’s “liberal democratic” nature, is instructive. In the past month alone, two important rulings have been upheld by the court. Last week, it voted to uphold a ban on Palestinians living in Israel with spouses who are Israeli citizens. The court ruled that “even if the law did harm constitutional rights such as the right to equality, the infringement was proportional”. Commenting on this, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said this is“a law the likes of which does not exist in any democratic state in the world, depriving citizens from maintaining a family life in Israel only on the basis of the ethnic affiliation of the male or female spouse. The ruling proves how much the situation regarding the civil rights of the Arab minority in Israel is declining into a highly dangerous and unprecedented situation”. Physicians for Human Rights – Israel called it a “declaration of war on Israeli Arabs” and also stated that, “apart from the fundamental violation of Arab Israeli rights, the law will create a reality in which thousands of people who are married to Israeli citizens will continue to live without any civil status or social rights”.

Earlier in January, the Supreme Court also ruled that Israeli companies were free to exploit natural resources in the occupied Palestinian territories, and that “a situation of prolonged occupation requires an interpretive adjustment of the provisions of international law” in order to reflect “reality on the ground”. In effect, this means that Israel highest court of law considers itself above international law, that international law must change to suit Israeli colonialism and not vice versa.

Furthermore, leaving aside the raft of anti-democratic legislation being passed by the Israeli Knesset in recent times, there is a very basic discrimination underpinning the entirety of the Israeli state. Israel’s Law of Return states that any Jewish person in the world is entitled to Israeli citizenship, while it refuses to obey international law regarding the Palestinian refugees’ and their descendants’ Right of Return guaranteed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194. There are over five million such Palestinians scattered across the globe, victims of the Israeli ethnic cleansings of historic Palestine in 1947/8 and 1967.

The Israeli state views all Palestinians, those in the occupied territories, within Israel and in the diaspora, as “demographic time bomb”. When here, MK Rivlin urged Minister Gilmore to ignore international law, arguing that “Ireland should not support the Palestinian right of return” enshrined in UNGA Resolution 194. Israel’s current Minister for Housing, Ariel Atias of the right wing Religious Zionist Shas party, has described it as a “national duty” to “prevent the spread” of Israel’s Palestinian population and argued for the segregation of Jews and Arabs. Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is on record as believing “there is a demographic problem … with the Israeli Arabs”, and just this month Yaron Ben Ezra, director-general of the Jewish Agency’s settlement division let it slip that the “The goal of the [Negev ‘development’] plan is to grab the last remaining piece of land and thereby prevent further Bedouin incursion into any more state land and the development of an Arab belt”.

This is the “liberal and democratic” state that the Irish government seems intent on moving closer towards, a state that doesn’t even consider all of its own citizens equal, never mind those that it occupies.

A note on the visiting Israeli MKs

Despite the praise for his “democratic credentials” heaped upon MK Reuben Rivlin, his record does not speak of one who is in any way liberal democrat:

In a September 2010 address to members of a US Christian Zionist organisation visiting Israel, MK Rivlin stated that “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel”. This statement is at odds with international law, which does not recognise the illegal Israeli annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem, and considers it occupied Palestinian territory.

In an October 2010 funeral oration for Hanan Porat, one of the founders of the Gush Emunim movement (responsible for the building of over 100 illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories, considered War Crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention), MK Rivlin said the following:

“There are few men of vision and action … You knew how to do this … You went everywhere that your love required you to go … Within your soul there was a great love, a conquering love, for the nation of Israel, for the ground of this good land, for Israel’s Torah. Your voice, Hanan, has been silenced, but the sound of your song will accompany your intense love of the nation and this land for years to come.”

In January 2011 MK Rivlin attended a tree planting ceremony in Northern Israel sponsored by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF is accused of engaging in ethnic cleansing in the Negev (southern Israel), East Jerusalem, and the occupied Palestinian territories. It manages 93% of the public land in Israel for the sole benefit of Jewish Israelis, thus helping the government circumvent Israel’s (already paltry) legal civic protections of equal rights and facilitating Israel’s ongoing colonisation, discrimination against Palestinians, and theft of Palestinian land. In his speech to the gathering, the MK stated the following without, it seems, any trace of irony: “May we no longer know suffering that is caused by either man or nature”.

MK Rivlin is an opponent of the two-state solution, who views all of historic Palestine as ‘Greater Israel’. In April 2010 he argued against Israel signing any peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, saying “I would rather Palestinians as citizens of this country over dividing the land up.” While to those who believe in a one-state solution based on equality and democracy, this might seem progressive – Rivlin is clear that this Greater Israel would remain an enthnocracy. As he told the Irish Times last week: ” Only when the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state will we have peace”.

Finally, it should be noted that the other visiting MK, Yitzhak (Isaac) Herzog, who is head of the Israeli Labor Party, served a stint as Israeli Minister for Housing in 2005. During this time, illegal Israeli settlements continued to be built in the occupied West Bank. For example, as Minister he gave the green light for the expansion of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement, at a time when construction was supposed to be frozen under the Quartet’s so-called ‘Road Map for Peace’. As has already been pointed out, Israeli settlements are not only illegal, they are considered war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Post-Script

Just as the final words of this piece were being committed to screen, what should land in my inbox only the news that vocal Zionist and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has been busy exploiting Holocaust Remembrance Week to tell us that “we should not be in denial nor should we ignore that the conduct of [Ireland during the Holocaust], in the eyes of some, delimits Ireland’s moral authority and credibility when today we seek to lecture later generations of those whose families survived the Holocaust on the conduct of their affairs in Israel”. Whatever Ireland’s conduct during the Nazi Holocaust, it does not mean that the Israeli state can use 20th Century atrocities to justify committing 21st Century crimes – which appears to be what the Minister is implying. Disgusting.

Kevin Squires is National Coordinator of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a journalist who writes for LookLeft magazine, amongst others. He blogs infrequently about music, comedy, comics and politics at Citizen Partridge. He is writing in a personal capacity. Photo credits: Fatin Al Tamimi. Video Credits: Greg Manahan

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