Dublin’s newspapers declare open season on Palestine solidarity campaign

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Yesterday Ireland handed over 2.25 billion euros ($2.8 billion) to a bunch of wealthy gamblers whose names have not been revealed. These “bondholders” – as they are politely called – lent money to Allied Irish Bank, when it was still in private hands, four years ago. Now, parents with disabled children will have to cope with reduced public services as the state pays off debts that ordinary people never incurred. It’s the kind of manifest injustice that should be setting pulses racing at editorial conferences in every Dublin newspaper.

The Irish Times, however, prefers to spend its time and resources attacking Palestine solidarity activists.

For the second time in as many weeks, that “journal of record” has published an opinion article against the cultural boycott of Israel in its weekend edition.

The latest missive is by the author Gerard Donovan, who complains about an appeal made by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) for him to pull out of the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem. Donovan implies that he was unfairly treated by the IPSC and that he had, in fact, already cancelled his plan to visit Jerusalem for this month’s literary event due to the “lingering effects of cancer.”

I read the IPSC’s letter – signed by Raymond Deane, a classical music composer and tireless defender of human rights – to Donovan a short while ago. It runs to three paragraphs, all of which are courteous. After drawing Donovan’s attention to a Palestinian-led initiative urging artists to shun Israeli institutions, Deane wrote: “There is nothing that I can add to this eloquent appeal, save to stress (this is often misunderstood, sometimes deliberately) that the call for a cultural boycott of apartheid Israel is not directed against individual artists but against the Israeli state, which is deemed to be whitewashed by the participation of international artists in events subsidized by that state.” (The literary festival certainly fits that bill as it is hosted by the Jerusalem Foundation, a Zionist body set up by the openly racist mayor Teddy Kollek, who oversaw the large-scale demolition of Palestinian homes in order to establish Jewish-only settlements).

Deane was unaware of Donovan’s illness and the fact he had already cancelled his plan to visit Israel. An apology to Donovan has been posted on Deane’s website.

Once again, this is respectful in tone. And yet Donovan claims he has been subject to “intimidation,” without producing any credible evidence to back up that assertion.

Muddled

One week earlier, The Irish Times published another article about whether Israel should be boycotted. It was written by Fintan O’Toole, a drama critic and columnist. O’Toole is usually a clear thinker, yet his contribution to the “debate” was muddled in an almost comical matter. First, he argued that Israel shouldn’t be boycotted as doing so will be interpreted as anti-Semitic. Then, he proposed a code of conduct for artists undertaking promotional tours. The final two points in his code were: “don’t perform to audiences forcibly segregated on lines of race, gender or ethnicity” and “don’t let yourself be used for propaganda purposes.”

Does O’Toole seriously think that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are free to go to the theater in Tel Aviv? And is he unaware that the State of Israel uses art and culture for propaganda purposes? Indeed, a campaign known as “Brand Israel” has been set up by the Israeli foreign ministry for that very purpose.

The IPSC has told me that it sought a right of reply to O’Toole’s piece. If The Irish Times was really as committed to balance and informed debate as it purports to be, it would have published a piece by the IPSC this weekend, giving the rebuttal equal prominence in the paper to O’Toole’s contradictory waffle. Rather than doing so, it published Donovan’s diatribe against the Palestine solidarity movement. So much for balance.

Relics?

Another Irish publication, The Sunday Independent, to its credit, did publish an article about the scandal of tomorrow’s scheduled payment to unnamed bondholders. That article was penned by Gene Kerrigan, the only left-leaning commentator on that reactionary paper’s payroll.

Yet its pages also contain a nasty rant by Nicky Larkin, a pro-Israel film-maker. Larkin contends that Deane and the IPSC holds Israel “to a moral standard they don’t apply to any other country.”

This indicates that Larkin is either badly informed or intellectually dishonest. Palestine solidarity activists routinely illustrate how Israel violates international law. By definition, then, they are seeking to apply the same moral – and legal – standards to Israel that apply to every other country.

Larkin wraps up by labelling Irish supporters of Palestinian rights as “relics. Outdated, irrelevant and well past their sell-by dates. In terms of contemporary Irish identity, they are the symbolic equivalents of going on a date in a nursing home – musty but romantic.”

His ageist put-down probably does not merit a detailed response. Suffice it to say that Palestine solidarity is one of the most vibrant political movements in the world today. Bigotry and apartheid should, on the other hand, be dumped in the cesspit of history.

A version of this article appeared on Electronic Intifada on Sunday May 27th.

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