Alan McEneaney | Contributing Writer
There is no shortage of humanitarian causes across the world to keep the modern bleeding-heart liberal occupied. Oppression in Tibet has been an issue for over six decades now with no compromise in sight. I’ve never seen a Tamil Tiger solidarity march down O’Connell Street and West Papua’s struggle for independence from Indonesia barely gets a mention in Western mainstream media. The average Joe on the street could even be forgiven for being unaware that such a campaign exists.
However, there is one volatile region of the world that hasn’t left the Irish political consciousness since the 1970s. I am of course talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – an issue so divisive that it can send an ordinarily placid, peace-loving hippy into an apoplectic fit of rage. Ireland has an internal and external image of being very pro-Palestinian whilst also being very anti-Israeli. We were deemed the most “hostile country in Europe” in 2011 by the Israeli foreign ministry after an over-the-top pantomime performance on Grafton Street where activists portrayed IDF soldiers as Nazis – a particularly insensitive and hard-hitting insult to the majority Jewish state.
Why are we as a nation so obsessed with a land over 4000 km away, with which we have no historical ties? Surely we should be more concerned with getting our own back yard in order?
This begs the question: why are we as a nation so obsessed with a land over 4000 km away, with which we have no historical ties? Surely we should be more concerned with getting our own back yard in order? Let’s examine several theories often put forward to explain this peculiarity.
The perceived parallel with Northern Ireland is perhaps the most oft-cited reason, with Republicans seeing their anti-imperialist struggle against occupation mirrored in the events in the Palestinian territories. When Nationalists started flying the Palestinian flag in the early 2000s as an act of solidarity, Unionists reacted by immediately adopting the Israeli flag. It’s almost a case of fighting by proxy amongst the Northern Irish communities. But their new found empathy with Israel made the local Jewish community feel uneasy, given the long history of connections between Loyalist paramilitaries and neo-Nazi groups such as Combat 18, prompting calls for the passive-aggressive flag waving to cease.
College is a time when most young people form their political views and so are especially vulnerable to swallowing what may be propaganda being shoved at them from questionable quarters.
At first glance, the comparisons of the Ulster plantation and the foundation of Israel seem obvious. The history behind each is not so straightforward of course, but the simple analogy suffices for the lazy barstool commentator not willing to delve deeper into the details, especially if it can be twisted to suit one’s personal political slant. In both cases, religion is used as motive for aggression even though it’s all about land. There are further complexities when you consider that the Provisional IRA received training and arms from the PLO from the 1970s to mid-80s.
The continuous presence of Irish peacekeepers in Lebanon on behalf of the UN since the late 70s has also ensured Israel remains in the spotlight. However, the other peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Chad or Liberia don’t seem to have warranted the media attention that the Lebanon deployment did, maybe because of the deployment size, the length of the deployment or even because there were very few incidents on them.
The keffiyeh-clad Palestinian teenager throwing rocks is seen as the underdog fighting the all-powerful US/Israeli military machine – a replica of the David and Goliath scenario.
It’s seen as a “fashionable” cause, particularly amongst left-leaning university students. A cliché, I know, but the heavy presence of various Palestinian solidarity groups on university campuses cannot be ignored. College is a time when most young people form their political views and so are especially vulnerable to swallowing what may be propaganda being shoved at them from questionable quarters. The keffiyeh-clad Palestinian teenager throwing rocks is seen as the underdog fighting the all-powerful US/Israeli military machine – a replica of the David and Goliath scenario. The Western media latch onto these emotive images and broadcast them on our nightly news, thereby recruiting more middle-class Western supporters of the Palestinian cause. This stark contrast in power is not so conspicuous in other conflicts.
Which leads nicely onto my next point: The Palestinians have a bloody impressive propaganda machine, derogatorily dubbed “Pallywood” by critics. In the past, they’ve been exposed for staging photos of IDF soldiers apparently harassing women and being overly-aggressive with children. The trained eye, however, can quickly spot the fakes, with the actors caught out holding the wrong issue gun or subtle giveaways with an incorrect piece of uniform. The Internet has been convenient for spreading propaganda, but conversely it is also a great tool for debunking it.
Finally, it wouldn’t be thorough to conclude the article without examining anti-Semitism as a possible explanation for the Irish fixation with Israel. A highly contentious one, but one that must be addressed nonetheless in the interests of leaving no stone unturned. It would be highly naïve to think there isn’t a cohort of people out there using the cloak of Palestinian rights to attack the Jews. Brief instances of anti-Semitism dot our recent past, mainly stemming from the omnipresent, domineering influence of the Catholic Church, which propagated the usual myths of the Jews being Christ killers and the like. Limerick priest Fr. John Creagh led a pogrom against the tiny population of Jewish merchants in the city at the turn of the last century. Then there was Fine Gael TD Oliver J. Flanagan, infamous for his anti-Semitic rants in the Dáil right up to the 1980s. His re-election fourteen times would suggest he had his supporters. Is the current bizarre obsession with Israel the latest manifestation of Irish anti-Semitism?
The eyes of the world were drawn to the Middle-East and have never really left it. The Tamil Tigers never brought their war to Europe like the Palestinians did. It could be argued that we were never interested in the conflict until we were dragged into it.
Equally we could ask does Israel gain Western supporters from some wrongheaded notion of guilt for having set up the Jews after the Holocaust? British colonial interference in the Middle East is responsible for many of the current borders there, which lump different warring ethnic groups and communities together while dividing others.
Palestinian terrorists (or freedom fighters, depending on your slant) have really grabbed the attention of the West in the past few decades, with high profile plane hijackings and the Munich Olympics disaster. The eyes of the world were drawn to the Middle-East and have never really left it. The Tamil Tigers never brought their war to Europe like the Palestinians did. It could be argued that we were never interested in the conflict until we were dragged into it.