THE HAND-WRINGING about divisions within EU states over the Israeli massacre of civilians in Gaza is one thing. But there has also been a clear division of perspective between the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, as well as between their respective parties, with contrasting statements about Israel’s behaviour.
Shortly after the huge bomb blast that devastated the al Ahli Hospital in Gaza City and which Israel cynically blamed on a Hamas rocket, Leo Varadkar said it was not clear what happened at the hospital. He also said: “But I’ve huge sympathy for the Palestinian people. They’ve been horribly treated now for 75 years and denied self-determination and denied their own state. I think Irish people, given our own history, have a particular sympathy towards Palestinians.”
Vlad also refused to distance himself from President Michael D Higgins’s criticism of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s one-sided remarks in support of Israel. But while the Taoiseach did say that von der Leyen’s German background had to be borne in mind, he also said that he generally welcomed the views of the President any time he spoke out in public.
A day later Micheál Martin made no mention of Irish people’s empathy with Palestinians – nor his own – but, referring to von der Leyen’s statement, he said “the balance initially was not right”. The Tánaiste added that she had later emphasised the importance of international law before changing the subject mid-sentence to say what a great humanitarian aid contribution the EU had made.
Days later Varadkar made his “revenge” comment about Israeli carnage in Gaza, following which Martin talked about the need for Israeli “proportionality” and “international humanitarian law”. Irish Times political editor Pat Leahy explained that the Tánaiste’s “less pungent” line was par for the course.
If any comment by an Irish person can be singled out as the reason for Palestinian marchers applauding as they passed the Irish embassy in London last weekend, it was Varadkar’s revenge comment.
Meanwhile, the dissident wing of the IT, as expressed by Una Mullally, said that Vlad was correct when he said that “the initial response from quite a number of European leaders in the days after the Hamas attack on Israel almost appeared to give Israel carte blanche”.
Still with the paper of record and its influential columnists, Diarmaid Ferriter (usually one of the best judges of public opinion in such matters) compared Martin’s anodyne response when asked about Israel bombing refugee camps – “not proportionate” – to Varadkar’s ‘revenge’ remark. The historian was not impressed with either statement but clearly had something approaching contempt for Martin’s.
Foreign minister Martin appears to have been politically seduced by the foreign and security culture of the European Commission and the prospect of being a player on the European stage if and when he departs the domestic scene. Varadkar, on the other hand, is responding to what most Irish people believe is behaviour verging on genocide by Israel.
If FF politicians can see what is happening here, they seem not to care. However, there does appear to be some difference between the party’s TDs and its senators, whose response to the blitz on Gaza has been that of defenders of the Israeli position.
The Dáil debate on Gaza was relatively calm compared to the raucous comments of FF senators when it came to the Seanad. There, Ned O’Sullivan stated, alongside other aggressive comments, that “the anti-Israel narrative besmirches the image of this country internationally, creating the image, as it does, that we are outliers in Europe on the Middle East question… How ridiculous it is to see banners from LGBT groups at the anti-Israel demonstrations. If they attempted to raise such banners where Hamas and its like hold sway, they would be instantly beheaded.”
A flavour of senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee’s speech can be summarised by the following statement on the Hamas attack on Israel: “This was the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and the methods employed by Hamas are the same as the methods of the Nazis.”
Clifford made no reference whatever to the Israeli blitz on Gaza that caused massive civilian fatalities and her speech dwelled only on the depredations of Hamas.
Senator Aidan Davitt seemed to believe that fundamental Islamic ideology had seized the minds of Irish people, saying: “I cannot see why quite a lot of people have a leaning to the Islamic State and fundamentalist jihadism. I cannot see what we would have in common with that particular ideology, particularly in view of some of the recent actions. Personally, I find it hard to understand.”
Most interesting of all was the behaviour of senator Timmy Dooley, author of a ludicrous motion supported by all FF senators and containing 16 points.
Twelve of these denounced Hamas (“murderous… vicious… cruel” etc), saying that it “will happily sacrifice thousands of Palestinian lives”; one offered “deep condolences to the people of Israel”; one said Israel had the right to defend itself while also saying it should protect civilian life (the civilian death count at this stage was soaring in Gaza); one said that Palestinians had the right to humanitarian aid; and one said it was horrified at events in the past few days. Dooley’s motion contained not a single word of criticism of the Israel Defence Forces.
The FF motion was so unbalanced that it derailed efforts by senator Frances Black and others to draft a cross-party motion. Labour senator Rebecca Moynihan expressed her frustration with FF’s one-sidedness on X. Dooley’s motion was passed around the Dáil bar, including to some horrified FF TDs. What followed was a hasty intervention from Government members (and even a handful of the FF senators), who replaced Dooley’s motion with a more judicious Government version, wiping it from the order paper, and which was duly passed.
Presumably it is Martin’s recently revised foreign policy outlook that has so inflamed his party senators rather than the efforts of Israeli diplomats in the “worst country in Europe towards Israel”, according to Israeli media and politicians.