The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Israel

On 24th November 2011, not long after 14 Irish citizens were expelled from Israel having been kidnapped in international waters by the Israeli navy and imprisoned for a week, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore accepted an invitation to the Israeli Film Days Festival at Filmbase in Dublin.  (Film fight: how an Israeli festival in Dublin is causing controversy) This evcnt was sponsored by the Israeli Embassy and protestors outside were treated very roughly by Gardaí.

Prior to the event I emailed Eamonn Gilmore’s office, see below, asking him not to attend this event. Many other friends and opponents of apartheid did the same. As a passenger on the MV Saoirse, I witnessed the absolute lack of respect that the Irish Ambassador and Deputy Head of Mission were treated with by the Israelis, particularly on the last day of our illegal detention when we were twice prevented from flying home. During our imprisonment it was abundantly clear that Mr. Gilmore’s concern for us was minimal as he didn’t immediately call for our  release, however I expected that he might have had some concern for how the embassy officials were treated.  Freedom Waves to Gaza – Tales of a kidnapping from the MV Saoirse  

The response I got from the minister’s office is the exact stock response that everyone who wrote to him received and neither addresses the specific issues I  raised nor makes any reference to our kidnapping at sea,  I find this insulting. The email also cites the Tánaiste’s respect for the right of Irish citizens to protest the festival, something belied by the heavy handed treatment of those doing so by the Gardaí.  Gardai break up peaceful protest outside Israeli Embassy sponsored film festival

Palestinian civil society has called for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel and events sponsored by the state very definitely fall within this remit. As governments fail to support the Palestinian people, fail to ensure international law is upheld, it is up to civil society to act.

Dear Tánaiste,

I’m writing to ask you to reconsider your attendance at the “Israeli Film Days” event hosted by the Israeli Embassy at filmbase tomorrow evening. Given this statement made in numerous email replies during the time of incarceration of the MV Saoirse crew, myself among them: “The Tánaiste has consistently stated his condemnation of and opposition to the overall blockade on Gaza, as it is implemented in practice by Israel.”; it is astonishing that you would attend an event such as this, hosted by the very state implementing this illegal, immoral siege.

The Israeli state is practising apartheid against its Palestinian citizens;  occupation and imprisonment of the West Bank and Gaza – no government should be enabling any normalisation events hosted by such a state.

Having witnessed first hand the contempt with which the excellent Irish Embassy officials Breifni O’Reilly and Conor Long, as well as ourselves as Irish citizens, were treated with by the Israeli officials while in prison and the day we were due to fly home, I find your attendance at this event unbelievable.

Please reconsider attending, please stand with the oppressed, not with the oppressors.

Best regards,


13th December 2011

Dear Ms. Lawlor,

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore T.D, has asked me to thank you for your correspondence concerning his attendance at the Israeli film festival held in Dublin in November.

The Government does not support academic, cultural or other boycotts against Israel. This has been the position of every Irish Government. Attempts to impose a cultural boycott only play into the hands of those in Israel who claim that Ireland’s consistent criticisms of Israeli policies are based on antipathy rather than on our genuine and valid concerns about the human rights abuses arising from the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories. The Tánaiste is of the view that these actions only undermine Ireland’s voice on these critical issues in the quarters where it most needs to be heard.

The Tánaiste fully respects the rights of those who wished to protest about the festival, but believed strongly that efforts to prevent the festival being held at all amounted to an attack on free speech in Ireland, which he did not hesitate to oppose. He attended the opening of the festival to make this clear. As he stated in his remarks on the occasion, filmmakers in Israel, as elsewhere, are often to the fore in challenging political or social orthodoxies. Indeed, no suggestion appears to have been made that these films were themselves defending, or even concerned with, the Israeli policies of which the Tánaiste and others have rightly been critical. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade likewise sponsors the showing of Irish films at festivals around the world, to make more widely known the diversity of voices in contemporary Ireland. We would likewise expect the authorities in other countries to protect our right to do so.

Clearly, the Tánaiste’s attendance can not in any way be construed as supporting or condoning specific Israeli policies, but as supporting the principle of free speech and the right of these voices – in this case from Israel – to be heard. The remarks of Israeli Ambassador Modai at the opening made clear that he too did not put any wider construction on the Tánaiste’s presence.

Yours sincerely,

_______________

On January 18th 2012 Israeli MKs Reuven Rivlin (speaker of the Israeli parliament and rightwing Likud member) and MK Yitzhak Herzog (Labour) and their entourage had a private meeting in Leinster House with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore.  Knesset speaker commences official visit to Ireland

MK Rivlin, contrary to international law, has called Jerusalem the capital of Israel and has attended a JNF tree planting ceremony – the same JNF that has been involved in ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land. Herzog is a supporter of illegal settlements on Palestinian land. Just what is it about Israeli officials and official events that Minister Gilmore finds so appealing,  more than international law or conscience?

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