Reaction in synagogue 'justified'


The unwelcome reception given to Prof Yakov Rabkin of the University of Montreal's history department, when he visited the synagogue in Terenure, Dublin, last Saturday, has been justified by a spokesman for members of Ireland's Jewish community.

Carl Nelkin, vice-chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, said Prof Rabkin's account, in a letter to The Irish Times yesterday, of what took place at Dublin's main Orthodox synagogue last Saturday was "broadly accurate".

He said, however, that the professor "was not, in fact, blocked by 'synagogue officials' but by members of the congregation who reacted spontaneously to the situation.

"Nevertheless, the broad feeling within the congregation seems to be that the actions of these individuals were justified."

Explaining his reception at the synagogue, Prof Rabkin wrote in his letter that "apparently, they deem hostile and illegitimate even writing about the history of Jewish opposition to Zionism" and that "Zionism seems to have eclipsed their Judaism . . ."

He contrasted this with openness to debate on the legitimacy of religious anti-Zionism in Israel, which he said should inspire those who seek to support that country from beyond its borders, "otherwise they risk appearing hopelessly irrelevant by becoming 'more Catholic than the Pope'."

In a letter in The Irish Times today, Carl Nelkin says "as will be appreciated, there is a world of difference between debating the policies of the Israeli government (which is perfectly acceptable) and a denial of Israel's right to exist. Prof Rabkin states that 'Dublin Zionists also prefer honest debate to remain stifled'.

"Irish Jews, like Irish people generally, are only too happy to engage in debating politics and current affairs generally and do so on a regular basis. Most would not, however, wish to share a platform with a person associated with viewpoints which are unacceptable and insulting to most of the worldwide Jewish community."

Prof James Bowen, chairman of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said he had invited Prof Rabkin to Ireland so the Irish public would be aware of the distinction between Zionism and Judaism and that "many Jews regarded Zionism as heresy."

Prof Rabkin was en route to Canada last night and it was not possible to contact him.