Ireland’s Senate approved legislation on Wednesday to boycott products made in Israeli settlements. The move to ban such products — the first by a country in the European Union — has been strongly condemned in Israel and is opposed by the ruling party in Ireland.
The legislation, titled “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018,” was approved 25-20 in the Senate, calls to “trade with and economic support for illegal settlements in territories deemed occupied under international law.”
The same bill was considered earlier this year. But after outrage by the Israeli government, as well as opposition from the ruling government in Ireland, the measure was postponed.
Nonetheless, Irish Sen. Frances Black, who sponsored the legislation, called on colleagues to support the bill “to state firmly that Irish foreign policy will always stand on the side of international law, human rights and justice.”
Black said that despite Israeli settlements being condemned as illegal by the European Union, the United Nations and Irish government, “they continue to extract valuable natural resources and agricultural produce.”
“These goods are exported and sold on shelves around the world, including in Ireland, to keep the show on the road. There is a clear hypocrisy here: How can we condemn the settlements as ‘unambiguously illegal,’ as theft of land and resources, but happily buy the proceeds of this crime?”
The Israeli government, which had summoned the Irish ambassador last January over the issue, condemned the proposed bill last week in a statement.
“Legislation, which promotes a boycott of any kind, should be rejected as it does nothing to achieve peace but rather empowers the Hamas terrorists as well as those Palestinians who refuse to come to the negotiating table,” the Israeli Embassy in Ireland said.
Following the legislation’s passage, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the absurdity in the Irish Senate’s initiative is “that it will harm the livelihoods of many Palestinians who work in the Israeli industrial zones affected by the boycott.”
Despite the legislation’s passage in the Irish Senate, it faces an uphill battle in the Dail, or Ireland’s lower house, which is controlled by the center-right Fine Gael Party that opposes the legislation.
Speaking in the Senate on Wednesday, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney of the Fine Gael Party, said that such a boycott is logistically impossible due to Ireland’s trade being tied up within the larger European Union, and that Ireland should not push ahead of the international community on the issue, “however strongly it might appeal to our sense of right.”
He also noted that the legislation may also violate E.U. law that all members have a common commercial policy.
The possible economic ramifications
Orde Kittrie, a professor of law at Arizona State University and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that the legislation, if enacted, could pose both legal and economic consequences for Ireland.
“During the Irish Senate’s debate on the bill today, the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, spoke against the bill. He asserted that the bill would violate E.U. law and noted that it could cause problems for Ireland with U.S. law,” said Kittrie.
Current E.U. law stipulates that Israeli products originating from beyond the pre-1967 lines cannot be labeled as “Made in Israel,” but does not ban products from there. Israel considers the West Bank to be disputed territory, with borders to be determined in any future peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Similarly, the legislation may also pose a dilemma for many U.S.-based companies in Ireland.
According to Kittrie, if the bill is signed into law, it could force some of Ireland’s largest companies, such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, which are all U.S.-based, to make a costly choice between violating either Irish or U.S. law, which prohibits U.S. companies from participating in foreign boycotts that the American government does not endorse.
Kittrie pointed to the example of Apple, which has its second-largest research-and-development office located in Israel, and also produces some parts of its iPhone in Israel.
“If an engineer in Apple’s Herzliya office lives in Jerusalem and telecommutes from home for a day, will Apple be at risk of providing a settlement service in violation of Irish law? While Ireland considers Jerusalem an Israeli settlement, the U.S. government recognizes it as Israel’s capital,” stated Kittrie.
Contemporary history of Irish-Israel relations
But how did the Irish, who like the Jewish people have also faced centuries of persecution, end up so sympathetic to the Palestinian cause?
Much of Ireland’s sympathies for the Palestinians appear to tie back into their own troubled history with the United Kingdom.
“The Irish see Israel as acting as the U.K. did when it occupied all of Ireland until Irish independence in 1921 and Northern Ireland until the present day,” explained Kittrie. “Specifically, they analogize Israel’s settlements in the West Bank to the Protestants from Great Britain who settled in Northern Ireland.”
Irish-Jewish relations haven’t always been this sour. In the early 20th century, many Irish leaders were sympathetic to the Jewish people, with the Irish drawing heavily on historical parallels with Jews, including their suffering, the large-scale migration of Irish in the 19th century and their upward struggle for national self-determination against the British.
But following Israel’s independence in 1948, Irish sympathies inexplicably shifted. The Irish no longer viewed Israel as the underdog struggling for national rights, but instead as a foreign occupier on someone else’s land (the Palestinians), similar to the Irish experience with British control over Northern Ireland.
Ireland did not extend recognition to Israel until 1963 and did not establish an embassy in Tel Aviv until 1996. Furthermore, Ireland was one of the first European countries to call for a Palestinian state in 1980 and has insistently focused on the Palestinian refugee issue.
Today, despite its subordinate position within the European Union behind such larger powers as France and Germany, Ireland has played an outsized role as a voice on matters concerning Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Last year, the Irish Parliament passed a symbolic resolution calling on the government to recognize Palestinian statehood. Ireland was also the first European country to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization as well.
At the same time, the BDS movement in Ireland is viewed by many as some of the most powerful groups in Europe.
The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has been at the forefront of anti-Israel sentiment in Ireland, led to Israel banning some 20 activists associated with the Dublin-based group from entering the Jewish state as part of a “blacklist” by the Israeli government targeting anti-Israel BDS groups.
As such, Kittrie believes that Israel needs to do a better job in improving the country’s image in Ireland.
“Israel has a good story to tell. It needs to do a far better job of telling it to the Irish people,” he said.
“Watching the debate in the Irish Senate, one would think that the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is entirely the fault of Israel. That is just not correct. I think education has a big role to play in improving relations between Ireland and Israel.”