Government 'opposed' to boycott of Israel


THE GOVERNMENT does not agree with or support any form of boycott of Israel as such an approach would be counterproductive to efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin will tell an Ictu conference on the Middle East today.

The Ictu gathering will focus on its policy, passed in several delegate conference motions since 2007, to support calls from Palestinian civil society groups urging a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Organisers hope the event, which will be attended by Israeli and Palestinian civil society actors as well as union leaders, will help build support for the strategy and allow members to learn from union movements that have adopted similar campaigns elsewhere.

The Israeli embassy has criticised Ictu’s involvement with the BDS initiative, calling the latter a “discredited and extremist” campaign.

Mr Martin, who circumvented Israel’s ban on high-profile visitors to Gaza earlier this year by entering the territory via Egypt, is due to give the opening address at today’s conference.

He will reiterate the Government’s support for a two-state solution in the Middle East, and draw on the experience of the Northern Ireland peace process to argue in favour of dialogue and a commitment to “the political path” as the most effective means of resolving conflict.

“I passionately believe that we need to continue to work actively with the Israeli government and people, as Ireland has always done, to persuade them of the benefits to be gained from active engagement in pursuit of a two-state solution,” Mr Martin will say, according to a draft copy of his address. “The Government does not agree with or support any form of boycott which would be completely inimical to the frank and honest dialogue we have always pursued with the Israeli government.”

Mr Martin will also speak of the need to be “creative and constructive” in finding solutions to the conflict. “We all know that ultimately, it is the politics of persuasion which is best placed to win the day and which must be the path that we pursue,” he will argue.

Earlier this week, Mr Martin received a letter from Ronald S Lauder, president of the US-based World Jewish Congress, in which Mr Lauder expressed concern that the Ictu conference would “convey a one-sided and simplistic” picture of the situation in the Middle East.

The letter, which has been seen by The Irish Times, urges the Minister to reject any BDS calls. “We believe that these kinds of measures only serve to exacerbate the tensions and . . . play into the hands of radical and fundamentalist forces that seek to undermine a peaceful solution to the conflict,” Mr Lauder wrote.

“We believe a principled stance on your part against what is becoming a growing boycott movement . . . would be important, constructive, and would help increase understanding.”

About 150 people are expected to attend today’s conference which will be held at Dublin Castle.