Five years ago, the Israeli embassy in Ireland tried to hold a cultural event in Dublin city centre. They bought over the Israeli writer, AB Yehoshua to the Irish Writer’s Centre on Parnell Square. On a balmy June evening, we held a noisy, peaceful protest, reading from Yehoshua’s writings – the one where he looks forward to a ‘purifying war’ on Palestinians in Gaza and advocates collective punishment. We also read – loudly – from the works of two Palestinian poets – Ghassan Zaqtan and Zacharia Mohammad - who Israel had prevented from coming to Ireland when they were booked to read their works in the Irish Writers Centre. We were, as the police said, entitled to protest.
Last night, the Israeli embassy held another cultural event in Dublin City centre, a film festival in Filmbase, in Temple Bar. Naturally, we held a similar protest. It was a larger protest, but equally good-natured – although this time it was in the rain and cold. The only real difference was the attitude of the police. As our press release describes it:
A protest outside the Israeli Embassy sponsored “Israeli Film Days” in Temple Bar turned acrimonious this evening when Gardai broke up a peaceful demonstration by pro-Palestinian activists outside the venue. Citing Section 21 of the Public Order Act, Gardai forcibly removed around sixty activists from the area outside the venue, Filmbase, on Curved Street in Temple Bar, while others were removed from inside the venue.
Prior to the removal, the protestors had gathered to chant slogans and hand out leaflets explaining why they were opposed to the event. Between 5.30 and 6.40pm the activists held a loud, colourful, vibrant and entirely peaceful protest outside. By this time the majority of those attending the event had entered without incident – including the Tanaiste and Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, and Justice Minister Alan Shatter, and it was at this time – after everyone inside had gone downstairs into the cinema area - that Gardai began to forcibly remove the protest from the street. After being forced off Curved Street, the protest found itself split into two crowds, on Temple Lane Street and Eustace Street.”
More information about the police shutting down our peaceful protest can be found here: http://www.ipsc.ie/press-releases/gardai-break-up-peaceful-protest-outside-israeli-embassy-sponsored-film-festival
Why did the police take such radically different approaches to such similar Palestinian solidarity actions? The immediate answer isn’t hard to find – we have a new Justice Minister, Alan Shatter. He is an Irish Jew and a staunch Zionist, and has always considered that his remit involves representing Israel in Ireland.
I have seen police clear a street of protesters before, but never with such lack of enthusiasm. They knew that this was an operationally stupid decision which only prolonged and intensified the protest. They were aware that we had actually been on the point of leaving. But orders is orders is orders and clearly our presence had become embarrassing to our Justice Minister in the presence of his Israeli friends. After all, they wouldn’t stand for that type of nonsense in Israel. So the rabble was cleared from the street.
However, Alan Shatter was not the only Irish Minister inside the Israeli festival of propaganda. Shamefully, near-unbelievably, our Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour party (and formerly from the Workers Party) was also present. This was despite the fact that a scant fortnight before, 14 Irish citizens, including two elected representatives had been attacked in international waters by Israeli commandos and dragged to an Israeli prison. After the Filmbase protest, there was a public meeting where these flotilla participants talked of their abuse by the Israelis. They also told of how Irish embassy staff who tried to ensure their release were lied to and treated badly by the Israeli officials. Evidently Eamon Gilmore isn’t concerned about Palestinians, but one would have thought that national pride would have led to him staying away from this Israeli event.
It’s awkward to bring up issues like national pride and national sovereignty without endorsing some kind of bigoted and small-minded nationalism. But the erosion of Irish national sovereignty over the last year is important, whether it is the IMF control of our economy, or the kowtowing to European banks. It is akin to the erosion of Greek sovereignty, which led to them impounding the Freedom Flotilla.
Our government protests that Ireland is not like Greece, but only in that we are good subjects that will abide by whatever rules the German and French governments and banks set us, not like those feckless Greeks. These days in Ireland it feels like the old colonised attitudes never really went away. That our elites were just waiting for the time to doff their caps to new masters. This more-or-less willing handover of vestiges of national sovereignty has had the knock-on effect that the government is less willing to risk offending anyone perceived as powerful. When Israeli officials called Ireland the most anti-Israel place in Europe and blamed our docile little government for this shocking state of affairs, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4149059,00.htmlsmall wonder that our Minister for Foreign Affairs crawled to Temple Bar to placate them and to appear at this festival of Israeli hasbara.
So now we have a toadying Minister for Foreign Affairs, a Zionist Minster for Justice.
This augers a sea-change in our government’s attitude to Palestine and Palestinian solidarity. First there is change in the police’s attitude - from easy tolerance to degrees of repression. More importantly, it speaks of a change in our government’s practice of at least voicing concern about the repression of Palestinian (while admittedly doing nothing), to a position indistinguishable from other European governments.
This change is not all bad – it indicates that Palestinian solidarity in this country and internationally is seen as a force to be taken seriously and combated rather than humoured. It shows how our actions, the events like the flotilla and the ongoing international boycott campaign, are starting to disrupt the normal flows of state and economic power.
For the growing governmental drift to Israel is taking place at a time when solidarity with Palestine in this country has never been stronger. It is one more indication of the widening divide between people and politicians in this country.
In the meantime, we can be happy that this protest turned out to be such a success. Our aim was to politicise Israel’s use of culture to whitewash their crimes. For the price of a few small bruises, we succeeded beyond all our expectations. We are confident that there will be a good, determined turnout for our protest this evening and Saturday and Sunday. For this, the police, the Zionist and the Crawler are to be thanked.