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Israel gets no love from Ireland

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Irish Presidential candidate David Norris can count himself lucky that letters he wrote seeking clemency for his lover, who was convicted of statutory rape, were to an Israeli court and members of the Israeli government. If he'd written such letters to just about any other country the Irish media would be full of worry about electing a President who had attempted to meddle in the legal system of a 'friendly nation.'

Fortunately for Norris, very few people in Ireland consider Israel a 'friendly nation.' In fact, Israel may well be the least loved nation among people here, and that includes the "auld enemy." It's a perspective I have trouble understanding.

Okay, sure, yes, I understand: the Irish love 'the underdog' and to many Irish people observing the Middle East the Palestinians are 'the underdog.' Israel is the nasty bully. Even if you buy that argument, and I don't, it's not the only conflict situation like it.

The Kurds? The Chechens? Barely a whisper here. Dagestan? Nagorno-Karabakh? What? Where? Who? Exactly.

Yet each of those situations is similar in terms of cultural conflict and distance from Ireland. What is it about Israel that Irish people find so repellent?
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Last week the Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore declared Ireland's support for the Palestinians' bid for statehood. That statement put Ireland out in front of the European Union, which was supposed to be forging a common EU policy on the matter. Being out in front of the European Union was not new for Ireland however, as Ireland first officially declared support for a Palestinian state 30 years ago ahead of all the other members of what was then the EEC.

Irish support for the Palestinians is matched by the Irish state's willingness to irk Israel and the people's lack of sympathy for the Israeli people. So complete is that lack of sympathy that other nations' backing for Israel is generally perceived to be the result of actions by sinister forces.

People here love to talk about the Israeli lobby's power in America. The Irish media refers to this often and to the "importance of the Jewish vote." I'm not naive, I know the score, but no matter how you slice it the Jewish population is still less than 2% of the total population of America. I'm sure most Irish people assume that figure is closer to 20%, given how often they hear about the strength and importance of "the Jewish vote."

Last month, during a debate on Palestinian statehood, a member of the Seanad (Senate - upper house of Ireland's parliament) said that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, the only Jewish member of Ireland's parliament, exercised "undue influence" over government policy. He then went on to declare, "The massive Jewish vote in the United States of America influences government policy and Obama is now a tool of the Israeli State."

Almost in the next breath Leyden said he hoped "the 40 million Irish Americans" would not forget President Obama's speech at the United Nations. So in one breath Leyden denigrates Jewish-Americans for influencing American policy and practically in the next breath calls on Irish-Americans to do exactly that, while demonstrating an incredible ignorance of Irish-America, Jewish-America, and ... America.

In most western countries Leyden's remarks would have gotten him into a whole lot of hot water, but there was barely a peep here. He was mildly rebuked later in the same debate, but others essentially supported him, with one talking about "power politics and domestic elections" to explain the Obama administration's actions.

Four days after that debate Senator Leyden got his wish when Eamon Gilmore stood at the dais in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly and - again - announced that Ireland wanted to see a Palestinian state. The Irish Times couldn't find a single Irish politician to dissent from the government's position, including Alan Shatter. His "undue influence" finally overcome, the last glimmer of official sympathy for Israel extinguished.

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