Anti-Semitism – time for an all-island view

Sir, – On April 27th last the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism and its representative examples. It received cross-community support, being opposed in the debate on the motion only by Sinn Féin and People Before Profit.

In their recent opinion piece on the issue ("Anti-Semitism must not be elevated over other racism", Opinion & Analysis, December 16th), Sue Pentel and Jacob Woolf made no reference to the Assembly's supportive motion nor to how best combat the increase in anti-Semitism on the island of Ireland. Neither was there any reference to Sue Pentel's long-standing public condemnation of what she deprecatingly depicts as "the Israeli project" and of her membership of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) which advocates Israel's boycott and opposes its continued existence as the world's only Jewish state.

Sue Pentel together with six others unsuccessfully lobbied members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to oppose the motion it adopted as members of Jewish Voice for Just Peace-Ireland, the organisation she and Jacob Woolf cite as members to attach status to their opinion piece. This “organisation” was repetitively referenced in the Assembly debate by Sinn Féin speakers. Pat Sheehan MLA asserted it to be representative of “a diverse group of Jewish people in Ireland”. As a long-time member of Ireland’s Jewish community, I know of no meeting to which this organisation has invited all members of the community nor of any communal discussion or engagement in which it has participated on the issue of escalating anti-Semitism. From public pronouncements made on its behalf it is clear that neither it nor its small group of members represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Jewish people in Ireland nor is its membership diverse. Most, if not all, are members of the IPSC.

A statement from Michael Black, the chairperson of Belfast's Jewish community, ignored by Ms Pentel and Mr Woolf in their article and by Ms Pentel in her subsequent letter from Belfast (December 21st) was quoted during the Assembly's debate. It asserted that "the Belfast Jewish Community together with the representative bodies of the Jewish communities in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and internationally regard the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and its examples as a vital tool to help identify anti-Semitism and combat it at a time when anti-Semitic incidents and attitudes are increasing" and urged the Assembly to adopt "this internationally recognised definition".


In doing so, the Northern Ireland Assembly proved itself on this issue to be more progressive and committed to combating anti-Semitism on our island than the Irish Government or the Houses of the Oireachtas.

At a time when thoughtful engagement is taking place under the Taoiseach’s Shared Island initiative, the Irish Government needs to urgently determine whether its approach to combatting anti-Semitism should be harmonised with that of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the views expressed by all elected strands of unionism, the Alliance Party and the SDLP or whether it should reflect the minority regressive views and agenda of Sinn Féin and People Before Profit. – Yours, etc,


(Former Minister

for Justice,

Equality and Defence),

Dublin 16.