The Irish have a misplaced sense of nostalgia when it comes to Palestine. As the heirs of an anti-colonial past we tend to view contemporary politics through a lens uncommon to most Europeans. From the Plantations to the northern conflict, Irish history lends itself to siding with the underdog, to Palestine. It is a perfectly legitimate and understandable sympathy, one that, considering the weight of our history, is pointless to argue against.
It is also perfectly justified for Irish people to view with disdain the peopling of the West Bank with Israeli settlers. The thoughts of being displaced in your homeland by a foreign power strikes a primal cord with the Irish. Even if this manifests itself through anti-colonialism, it represents a strand of Irish ethnic feeling towards another oppressed people. When ardent Zionists legitimise their actions by stating the Palestinians are not a real nation, it reminds us of the excuses forwarded by apologists for British actions in Ireland.
That being said, there is a point when this sympathy becomes a detriment. With Irish Republicanism we see such an overemphasis on Palestine, that Ireland herself is almost forgotten. One sees more of a fixation on Palestine in republican circles than the far more important task of reviving our own national tongue. Ideas around international solidarity with Palestine are ostensibly positive, but often expose themselves as little more than a veneer for Marxist influence.
Under this worldview nations are merely a means to an end, and are to be disposed of eventually in favour of global revolution. The proletariat of Ramallah or Derry are no more useful than to the extent they provide fodder for the revolution.
The BDS movement is perhaps the most confused manifestation of pro-Palestinian activism. Aiming to cut trading and cultural links with the state of Israel, the movement has gained traction on Irish campuses and even within the Oireachtas.
Ireland is happy to do business with a variety of abusive regimes, so I cannot imagine why Israel should be different. For example, the very screen you read this article on is likely the product of a sweatshop in China. If Ireland is willing to place trade and cultural embargos on Israel, surely we should do the same to an oligarchic regime actively ethnically cleansing its Islamic Uyghur minority.
Universal principles are useless unless rolled out equally. While the actions of Israel can be distasteful, BDS is hypocritical by singling out the Israeli state. Isolating Israel may only embolden its war hawks to be harsher when dealing with the issue of Palestine.
With 250 million euro in trade with Israel per annum, a boycott would also be financially damaging. That is not to say that foreign policy should be dictated by money alone, but there is no point dumping your silver to make an ineffective stand for Palestine. It should also be noted that the boycott model used against Israel today could easily be rolled out against Hungary or Poland tomorrow, for standing for national identity over liberal supranationalism.
As illustrated by George Galloway’s Respect party, pro-Palestinian activity can be potential fronts for Islamist political organisation. While this does not exist in Ireland, the decades hence could incubate something similar. There are strategic reasons for supporting Palestine from our perspective. Ireland benefits when small nations are not steamrolled by larger powers. Ireland has been clear in wanting to cement the status of small nations in a world of superpowers.
On the other side, the ugly cousin of pro-Palestinian activism is pro-Israel activism. The Irish can count themselves lucky not to have the same unquestionable steadfastness to Israel found within parts of American political life. This is partially on account of the legacy of Catholicism, which since the papacy of Pope Pius X has been more apprehensive of the Israeli state than its Protestant coreligionists.
As for pro-Israel advocates in Ireland, you must ask yourself this: When does Israel ever fight Ireland’s corner? Pro-Israel advocacy groups often operate under the banner of ‘Ireland for Israel,’ but does an equally popular ‘Israel for Ireland’ exist in Jerusalem? If anything, Israel has been a tacit adversary to Irish interests over the years – from its forging of Irish passports to its decades long alliance with northern loyalism.
If history is any guide Israel also has a habit for realpolitik, as does any politically adept nation. Despite the territory which formed the basis of the state being guaranteed by a British mandate, Zionists turned against Britain with the King David Bombings. The fact that Netanyahu is cultivating ties with the Orbán’s Hungary points to an insight into the rising illiberal current in Europe and rightly prioritising national self-interest over ideology.
If Israel’s Eurovision is to be boycotted it ought to be due to the veritable awfulness of the competition, as well of the fact that like Australia it is not a geographic part of Europe. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that our actions actually matter in the tug of war between Israel and Palestine. The true depravity of the Eurovision is that a continent so drenched in so much culture produces such an Americanised mess year after year.
As Irish people, our concerns should be between Malin to Mizen Head. Irish people fixating themselves on Israel and Palestine makes as much sense as Mexicans fixating on Thai politics. We have more than enough immediate concerns on our island. Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli activism are a match made in heaven, both aiming to conscript the Irish people to a case that should not interest us.
What is commendable about Israel is that it embodies an attempt by the Jewish people to resurrect itself and assert its culture in a communal home. What invokes the empathy of Irish people towards Palestine is the will of a downtrodden people to fight for their patch of land. We should aim to synthesise both these characteristics. Ireland should put itself first and rightly ignore desert turf wars that are not any of our business.