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‘The vast majority of Ireland’s Jewish community does not support Netanyahu’

Is opinion shifting among Jewish people in Ireland on Israel’s actions in Gaza?

Criticism of Binyamin Netanyahu intensified last week both within Israel and among his international allies, with US president Joe Biden describing the Israeli prime minister’s approach to war in Gaza as a “mistake”. Is opinion also shifting within the Irish-Jewish community over Israel’s response to the October 7th Hamas terrorist attack?

“The [Irish-Jewish] community spans the whole spectrum of the political divide. However, I am positive that the vast majority do not support Netanyahu or his clinging to power by bringing into government the right-wing elements of Israeli society,” says Maurice Cohen, chair of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, when asked what Irish Jews think of the Israeli prime minister.

“Nor do they agree with his handling of the war in Gaza. However, whenever I ask any person, whether from the Jewish community or even Irish politicians, as to how as prime minister of a country that had been subjected to the most outrageous premeditated planned attack they would deal with the situation, they generally agree that it would be to eliminate the perpetrators even though they hide behind their own citizens, hide under and in schools and in and under hospitals,” Cohen adds.

Cohen has been a leading spokesman for Ireland’s Jewish community, along with Oliver Sears, founder of Holocaust Awareness Ireland. The latter is more blunt in his assessment of the Israeli prime minister.


“Netanyahu has a very poor approval rating among most Jews and has caused enormous issues for the diaspora during his almost 16 years of government. He is the worst thing to have happened to the state of Israel since its foundation,” says Sears.

At the 2022 census, there were 2,193 Jews in Ireland, a community whose highest number in the state was 3,907 (in 1946) and which is noted for its involvement with Irish life, including politics, the law, medicine, and the arts.

Ireland, recognising a Palestinian state at the moment, is the ultimate in virtue signalling. Each political party outdoing the other, like lemmings

—  Maurice Cohen

In his 1998 book, Jews in 20th Century Ireland, the late UCC historian Dermot Keogh said it revealed “that the community has contributed disproportionately to its numbers”. In 2016, President Michael D Higgins spoke of “the commitment and dynamism of Ireland’s small Jewish community, a community that has made, and continues to make, such a rich contribution to the life of this island – to Irish arts, professions and politics”.

However, since the war in Gaza began, Ireland’s Jewish community has been feeling pressure from wider public opinion. Cohen and Sears spoke to The Irish Times in recent days – prior to the weekend escalation of regional violence, with Iran’s attack on Israel – about the mix of emotions experienced by Ireland’s Jews over the past six months.

Cohen says the October 7th events “have had an enormous effect on the Irish-Jewish community, which is made up, not only those of us who perhaps go back five or six generations, but also many Israelis who have now become Irish citizens with Irish children.

“Many of us have close family and friends who were brutally murdered or kidnapped on that terrible day, which is the largest pogrom since the Holocaust 80 years ago.”

Sears says: “The hostility towards Jews since October 7th in Ireland is worse than anything I have experienced in the almost 40 years of living here… We were shocked to see the level of vitriol thrown at Israel even as it was fighting Hamas while they were still butchering Israelis. The mask slipped immediately.

“I am not an Israeli citizen and have no say in how that country is governed. However, whenever there is an act of aggression by Israel, whatever the circumstances, the incidence of anti-Semitic attacks rises.”

What of the Irish Government position?

“The community has no real issue with fair criticism of Israel,” says Sears. However, “leading politicians have jumped on the anti-Israel bandwagon without having the courage to publicly call out the shameful rise in anti-Semitism and to remind the public of the heinous attacks of October 7th, the ongoing fate of the hostages, the continuous and sustained fire coming from Hamas and the fact that Hamas have a genocidal charter to wipe Israel off the map. The rhetoric used by politicians in the Dáil is irresponsible and inflammatory and adds to the sense of isolation that the [Irish-Jewish] community currently feels.”

Regarding condemnation of the Israeli Defence Forces, which has been accused of killing more than 33,000 Gazans, Sears says: “The violence is Gaza has been horrific. I called for a ceasefire on day one and a swap of all the hostages for as many Palestinian prisoners as was required.”

While he says casualty figures released by Hamas should be treated with some caution, “the death of civilians is tragic and I wished the fight against Hamas had been prosecuted to minimise such deaths. That Hamas has total disregard for the safety of their own people and break every rule of military engagement does make the Israeli response impossibly hard where protecting the lives of bystanders is concerned.”

Last week, the Irish Government stepped up its diplomatic efforts on the conflict, announcing plans to formally recognise the state of Palestine. What is the view of Irish Jews on a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine crisis?

“Most Irish Jews, if not all, would believe that a two-state solution is the only way forward so that Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace,” says Cohen. “However, the timing must be correct, as laid out in the Oslo Accords. It must be negotiated by both sides and it just won’t work if it is imposed on either side.

Netanyahu is the worst thing to have happened to the state of Israel since its foundation

—  Oliver Sears

“Hamas’s charter calls for the elimination of the state of Israel and all Jews. The schooling in Gaza amounts to child abuse as they are taught to be martyrs. Until deradicalisation takes place, there will be no peace. Ireland, recognising a Palestinian state at the moment, is the ultimate in virtue signalling. Each political party outdoing the other, like lemmings following each other. It’s the height of stupidity and it is rewarding the terrible atrocities of October 7th.”

Sears says: “I believe in a two-state solution but one where Hamas has no power. It’s the only way Jews and Palestinians can live in peace, but it requires the Arab world plus, most importantly, Iran to accept Israeli sovereignty. It has to be part of a two-state solution.

“An international coalition needs to guarantee its security and billions in funds are required to rebuild. It needs to be governed by a non-Hamas Palestinian body. Israel should have no say in the governance but there must be a non-aggression pact signed with Israel.”

Israel paints Ireland as one of the least sympathetic western countries to its case. Would that be the opinion of Irish Jews?

“Yes, that would be the opinion of most Irish Jews and many Irish people, despite the noise of the activists,” Cohen replies. “The Israelis understand that the Irish have mistakenly taken up the Palestinian cause as they are deemed to be the underdog. The incorrect narrative is that as the Irish kicked out the British so did the Palestinians. In reality, it was mostly the Jews who were the ones that fought the British.”

On the question of Irish bias, Sears says: “It’s a matter of fact rather than opinion. Since 1967 – the Six-Day War, when Egypt, Syria and Jordan attacked Israel and lost the war, Israel captured East Jerusalem and other territory as a result – Ireland has viewed Israel as a ‘colonising’ entity and this word has been misappropriated ever since…

“Traditional elements of anti-Semitism are always below the surface and, since October 7th, anti-Semitism is expressed openly. The conflation of Jews and Israelis is now commonplace, with little or no distinction.”

As for media outlets, which are critiqued from all sides, he argues: “The media bias against Israel is especially strong in Ireland.”

Meanwhile, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has said he takes “serious issue” with claims by Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Dana Erlich, that the Government has scarcely condemned” Hamas.

Asked on Sunday about Erlich’s claim in an Irish Times opinion piece last week that unilateral recognition of the Palestine state sent “a dangerous signal to Hamas and its supporters, since it will be viewed as rewarding terrorism”, Martin told RTÉ radio: “No, I think that’s an absurd assertion, and I think Israel needs to respect the democratic views of other countries. And for a long, long time, everybody was on the one page in respect of a two-state solution. So how is it in any way rewarding terrorism to say that we recognise a Palestinian state?… The only way I think we have peace in the future is coexistence between Israelis and a Palestinian state.”