Alan Shatter: Ireland lags the rest of Europe in fighting anti-Semitism

Anti-Jewish tropes are commonplace in anti-Israeli protests and misleading speeches in the Dáil

Sinn Féin’s priority is to demonise and delegitimise the world’s only Jewish state. Photograph: iStock

Wednesday morning, June 1st. I am in the taxi queue at Brussels Airport. I am here for a European Commission conference on combating the spread of anti-Semitism across the EU. I am representing the Irish Jewish community. The conference will address the security needs of Jewish institutions, the increasing physical attacks on Jews in various EU states and the toxic anti-Semitism that is contaminating social media. The conference’s focus is also on fostering Jewish life within the EU and counteracting the spread of anti-Semitic narratives and disinformation, including Israel-related anti-Semitism. Each EU state is represented by a government official and a Jewish community member.

After a few minutes, Mary Lou McDonald joins the taxi queue. I have not met Sinn Féin’s leader in person for more than six years. We exchange greetings and pleasantries. A taxi pulls up, I get in and as it drives me to the conference venue, I do not anticipate our engagements that day will partly overlap.

“Challenging an apartheid regime in Israel” would be a top foreign policy priority under a potential future Sinn Féin-led government, according to an interview given by McDonald later that day in Brussels. A McDonald-led government “will be very firm around issues of self determination ... in particular the question of Palestine.”

“Honesty” she believes requires that the EU depict Israel as “an apartheid regime”, recognise that Israel " actively discriminates and oppresses Palestinian citizens daily” and requires that Ireland exert “maximum international pressure”.


In McDonald’s world view, such pressure is to be exerted on Israel alone and self-determination does not seem to apply to the Jewish people. The oppression of Palestinians by Hamas in Gaza and by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank does not feature, either, nor do this year’s terrorist atrocities that have resulted in 20 Israelis from diverse backgrounds being murdered.

European leadership

Background documentation for the conference includes the European Commission Handbook for the practical use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (the IHRA) Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. Since its adoption in 2016 dozens of countries, cities, government institutions, state agencies, universities, civil society organisations, law enforcement agencies and sports clubs have used the definition and its examples of anti-Semitism as a resource in projects focused on recognising and counteracting manifestations of anti-Semitism. It has also been adopted by various parliaments and political parties. It has been included in training programmes and guidance manuals for police officers, prosecutors and judges.

The European Commission began its use in January 2017. In June that year it was adopted by the European Parliament. In December 2018, EU member states unanimously adopted a Council Declaration on the Fight against Anti-Semitism and called on “the member states that have not done so yet to endorse the non-legally binding working definition” of the IHRA.

This is reiterated in later council declarations. Various EU member states intend to include it in their national action plan to combat anti-Semitism, which each state is obliged to finalise by the end of this year.

Although a member of the IHRA the Irish State has not yet publicly endorsed nor adopted the IHRA working definition nor has it been applied here. Despite agreeing a variety of elaborate EU declarations on combating anti-Semitism, the Irish Government, on this issue, is shamefully an EU outlier as are all the Leinster House political parties. By way of contrast, it has been adopted by the UK government and the UK’s Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties.

A visit to an art exhibition in Brussels’ Jewish Museum that Wednesday evening is a stark reminder of the murder there in 2014 by an anti-Semitic Muslim fundamentalist of two of the museum’s staff and a visiting Israeli couple, and of the many fatalities over the past decade in Europe resulting from attacks by anti-Semites.

Incitement to hatred

There should be no complacency just because no such attack has yet been perpetrated in Ireland. Social media commentary originating from Ireland is replete with anti-Semitic rhetoric. Anti-Semitic tropes are commonplace in anti-Israeli protests of Irish NGOs and university student groups. Unbalanced Opposition Dáil speeches and questions on the tragically long-enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict act as an incitement to hatred.

The IHRA examples of anti-Semitism include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”. Essentially that is the Sinn Féin narrative.

Sinn Féin appears intent on undermining the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in the land to which they are indigenous. The objective of the depiction of Israel as “an apartheid state” is to undermine its international legitimacy and the standing of the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution prescribing Israel’s re-emergence as an independent modern state.

A party that is truly “firm” around issues of self-determination with some knowledge of a peace process would, as I do, recognise the right of both the Jewish people and of Palestinians to self-determination, advocate for an end to conflict, terrorism and human rights violations, encourage constructive dialogue, positive engagement and advocate for two independent states — Israel and Palestine — living side by side in peace and security. Instead Sinn Féin’s priority is to demonise and delegitimise the world’s only Jewish state.

Our Government and the Dáil should adopt the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism in the action plan on anti-Semitism the State is obliged to publish this year. Doing so would result in an inclusive all-Ireland approach — the Northern Ireland Assembly having adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in May 2021, despite opposition from Sinn Féin. This is not an issue on which our parties in government should remain EU outliers aligned with Sinn Féin.

Alan Shatter is a former TD and minister for justice