Concerns raised ‘at global level’ over comments about Israel in Dáil, says Minister

TDs warned that ‘mixing anti-Semitism with day-to-day politics is dangerous’

Israeli and German  fighter jets flying over the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, during a display of cooperation between the two countries and their armies, in Jerusalem on Sunday. Photograph:  Emmanuel Dunand / AFP via Getty Images

Israeli and German fighter jets flying over the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, during a display of cooperation between the two countries and their armies, in Jerusalem on Sunday. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand / AFP via Getty Images

 

A Government Minister has appealed to TDs not to link anti-Semitism to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he warned that commentary in the Dáil about Israel has been raised “at a global level”.

Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne urged opposition colleagues to keep anti-Semitism separate. “Do not even bring Israel-Palestine into the discussion,” he said.

Urging colleagues not to conflate the two he said “issues are being raised at a global level about comments made in this House about Israel. Mixing the issue of anti-Semitism with day-to-day politics is dangerous”.

He warned TDs that “this is something that we must be clear and have a full stop on. We have a proud record in this country of our dealings as an honest broker in the Israel-Palestine situation in support of a peaceful solution that protects all of the people of that region.”

Mr Byrne was speaking after People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett questioned Israel’s right to exist over its “racist apartheid” treatment of Palestinians and suggested the possibility of a single state rather than a two-state strategy to the conflict.

Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews, meanwhile, hit out at Germany’s Air Force, “the German Luftwaffe”, for participating four days ago in an Israeli military air show and overflying Jerusalem, Ramallah and the Palestinian territories. “Germany is effectively rubber-stamping Israeli terror,” he claimed, in “violating Palestinian airspace”.

The issue arose during a debate on this week’s European Council leaders’ meeting in Brussels.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week attended the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating anti-Semitism in Sweden, a major international conference which aimed to strengthen Holocaust Remembrance and combat racism.

Mr Byrne said that “we must constantly be on guard so that nothing like that (the Holocaust) can ever happen again” but he stressed it could not be mixed in discussion with the political situation.

‘An evil’

“Anti-Semitism, full stop, is an evil which needs to be tackled,” he said. “We cannot mix that in a discussion about the situation on the ground in Israel and Palestine.”

Urging TDs not to conflate the Holocaust with the Middle Eastern conflict he also said that Ireland had been a supporter for decades of the two-state strategy, and that was the “mainstream of global opinion”.

It was also “the mainstream of European left-wing opinion too. Some left-wing politicians in this House are completely out of the mainstream”, he added.

Mr Boyd Barrett agreed that “we must absolutely commemorate the Holocaust and insist that it never ever happens again”.

But he said Ireland should not sign up to a definition of anti-Semitism that is not allowed to question Israel’s right to exist when it is a “racist apartheid state”.

The Dun Laoghaire TD said that at the Malmo conference Israeli President Isaac Herzog said “when criticism of particular Israeli policy mutates into questioning Israel’s right to exist this is not diplomacy, this is demonisation and anti-Semitism because Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people”.

Mr Boyd Barrett said “you can question this or that policy of Israel but if you question the right of what some of us happen to believe is an apartheid state to exist, you’re an anti-Semite”, and this was “unacceptable”.

He claimed Israel was an apartheid racist state based on its own constitution and the “law of return” which “prioritises the rights of Jewish people to gain entry to the historic land of Israel or Palestine, whatever you call it, and deny that right to Palestinians”, a right contained in UN resolution 194.

Speaking about the military air show, Mr Andrews said other EU states including Italy, Greece and France, were also participating with the Israeli Air Force, and he said they “need to respect Palestinian airspace and not violate it like the German Luftwaffe has done”.