By Sean Savage, JNS
DUBLIN—The Irish and Jewish people share a common history of suffering cruel persecution and achieving national redemption against immeasurable odds. But today, modern Ireland is one of Europe’s fiercest critics of Israel. This tension was on display last week as the Irish Senate was considering legislation aimed at criminalizing trade with Israeli settlements.
The legislation, titled “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018,” calls to “prohibit the import and sale of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories,” according to Sen. Frances Black, the bill’s sponsor.
While the vote on the legislation was eventually postponed, many in Israel saw it as another example of the growing effort in Europe to single out and boycott the Jewish state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that the legislation’s “sole purpose is to support the BDS movement and harm the state of Israel.”
The Israeli Embassy in Ireland also denounced the bill, saying that it “only offers an incentive to those who wish to boycott Israel and stands in stark contrast to the guiding principles of free trade and justice.”
Orde Kittrie, a professor of law at Arizona State University and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that the proposed legislation was clearly aimed at delegitimizing the state of Israel.
“On its face, the bill is about pressuring Israel to evacuate the West Bank and turn it over to Palestinian rule. However, as in so many cases of BDS, it appears the goal was at least also a broader one: to contribute to delegitimizing the state of Israel,” he said.
A spokesman for the Irish pro-Israel group Irish4Israel, who preferred to remain anonymous due to threats from pro-Palestinian groups, said that the bill was also backed by several anti-Israel NGOs, including Christian Aid and Trocaire, in addition to trade unions in Ireland.
“The bill was endorsed by trade unions and others, and had the support or many smaller parties. The motivation is a naive hope to show solidarity with the Palestinians,” the spokesman said.
In the days leading up to the vote, a debate emerged in Ireland over impending economic consequences for the country if it went ahead with the legislation. Of particular concern was the possibility that the legislation could run afoul of both E.U. and U.S. law, potentially jeopardizing critical ties.
“This bill would make U.S. companies with subsidiaries in Ireland, Irish companies with subsidiaries in the U.S., and their employees who are Irish or resident in Ireland, choose between violating the Irish law or violating the U.S. Export Administration Regulations,” said Kittrie. “Violations of these U.S. antiboycott laws are punishable by fines and by imprisonment for up to 10 years.”
As such, in requesting the postponement of the vote on the bill, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney noted that the bill may violate an E.U. law that all members have a common commercial policy. Coveney also expressed concern that the bill would harm relations with Israel and thus Ireland’s ability to play a constructive role in the Middle East peace process.
Current E.U. law stipulates that Israeli products originating from beyond the pre-1967 lines cannot be labeled as “Made in Israel.” Israel considers the West Bank to be disputed territory, with borders to be determined in any peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, despite the delay and concerns, Kittrie believes that the bill will eventually pass, especially if the peace process continues to stall.
“Watching the debate in the Irish Senate, it appears that the majority of Irish Senators are far more sympathetic to the Palestinian perspective than the Israeli one,” he said.
“A version of the bill, presumably one revised to remove the conflict with E.U. law, seems likely to pass when it is voted upon in four or five months, unless there is significant progress on the peace process or the Irish Senate becomes more sympathetic to the Israeli perspective or the Irish Senate comes to better understand how the bill, if enacted, would gravely undermine Ireland’s economic links to the United States,” he said.
But how did the Irish, who like the Jewish people have also faced centuries of persecution, end up so sympathetic to the Palestinian cause?
Much of Ireland’s sympathies for the Palestinians appear to tie back into their own troubled history with the United Kingdom.
“The Irish see Israel as acting as the U.K. did when it occupied all of Ireland [until Irish independence in 1921]and Northern Ireland until the present day,” said Kittrie. “Specifically, they analogize Israel’s settlements in the West Bank to the Protestants from Great Britain who settled in Northern Ireland.”