EXACTLY ONE year ago, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “Russia’s attacks against [Ukrainian] civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes. Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with winter coming – these are acts of pure terror. And we have to call it as such.” Depending, of course, on who are the perps and who are the victims. But while the former German defence minister might be expected to have scant regard for Palestinians, the behaviour of senior Irish politicians and successive foreign ministers, while dressed up in sympathetic rhetoric, is hardly better. RTÉ reported the reaction of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to news of the Hamas massacre of civilians. He said: “We condemn attacks on civilians unequivocally.” But he added that “the fighting should stop immediately” – a significant comment given that Israel was at that stage already bombarding civilian areas of Gaza in retaliation.
Tánaiste and foreign minister Micheál Martin, however, condemned the “appalling” violence by Hamas but, while he also urged all involved to “de-escalate the situation”, he paradoxically added that Israel had the “right to self-defence”.
Two days later Martin again issued a “horrified”, condemnatory statement regarding Hamas’s “deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians” but he failed to mention the Israeli defence forces, which by then had bombed and killed many hundreds of civilians.
The view among ministers and Government TDs is that Vlad – once a member of the Oireachtas Friends of Israel – is the moderate compared to Martin when it comes to supporting Israel and her ‘right to defence’.
An interesting stat to throw into the deafening noise from many western politicians ‘appalled’ at the deaths of (Israeli) civilians comes from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It shows that between 2008 and last month the number of Palestinians killed in the occupied territories and Israel is 6,407, while the number of Israelis killed, mostly by Hamas, was 308.
Von der Leyen has been called out in recent days for her aggressive, unsubtle attitude to the Palestinians but she is only replicating her war-mongering attitude towards Russia in the last year or so. And Martin is thought to admire her more than he does other members of the commission.
The Fianna Fáil leader has simultaneously issued a stream of the most aggressive statements about squaring up to the Russian bear in what looks like an effort to ingratiate himself with the more belligerent EU leaders and also the US.
Israeli media and politicians like to cast Ireland as the most hostile EU country towards their state but while this compliment is true of most Irish people – they abhor Israel’s colonial mistreatment of the Palestinians – it is fast turning into a myth when it comes to Irish governments of recent years. That turnaround was manoeuvred largely by Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney during his five-year stint as foreign minister to 2022.
Despite his supportive rhetoric, Coveney sold out the Palestinians more than once. The last time was at the end of the lengthy coalition negotiations in 2020, when the Occupied Territories Bill (OTB) – passed by both the Dáil and Seanad – had been included in repeated, draft versions of the programme for government under discussion. All except the final draft.
Coveney battled harder and more effectively in this particular part of the negotiations than in any of his fine speeches defending the Palestinians and he made sure that the OTB was not included in the programme.
Of course, it would not have been possible for Coveney to do so if the Greens and FF had stuck to their position in support of the OTB and out-voted FG. Those involved in the negotiations concluded that such was Martin’s desperation to form a government that FG ministers knew he would not insist on a row with them over Palestine.
However, it was Coveney’s posturing as the Palestinians’ best friend on the planet during Ireland’s campaign to become members of the UN Security Council that left a really bad taste. Some of Coveney’s own statements and speeches as well as those from other Iveagh House representatives in this period were terrific, as when he lambasted the repetitive, disingenuous western argument about the purported ‘equivalence’ between Israeli and Palestinian wrong-doing.
“The burden of being under occupation is the heavier one,” cried the Cork freedom fighter at the UN general assembly in October 2018.
When Ireland was eventually voted on to the Security Council in June 2020 it was in no small measure down to Coveney’s faux campaign on behalf of Palestinians. In the same week as the Security Council vote, Coveney scuttled back to Dublin to put the boot in to the demand for implementation of the OTB.
With friends like these, the Palestinians must feel even more beleaguered than usual in this particular crisis.