Faux pas fails to derail Micheál Martin’s Israel visit but Dev’s Hitler condolences not forgotten

Tánaiste meets Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and raises Irish concerns over illegal Israeli settlements

Tánaiste Micheál Martin visits Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem. Photograph: Phil Behan/DFA

Micheál Martin will discuss “Ireland’s strong commitment to anti-Semitism,” during his meetings with senior Israeli politicians this week, read a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday night.

It was a typo of course. But it was an inauspicious start to Martin’s three days in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan which is aimed at reinvigorating the long-stalled peace process between Israel and Palestine.

Thankfully, the misprint seemed to go unnoticed by his hosts and the Tánaiste’s solemn visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, passed without controversy.

He also visited the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations which honours those who tried to save Jews, including Cork woman Mary Elmes who rescued many children from the Nazis in Vichy France. In the museum section, Martin took particular interest in a document showing that Hitler planned to kill all the Jews in Europe, including roughly 4,000 in neutral Ireland.


Yad Vashem is an almost mandatory stop for visiting dignitaries. As well as serving as a sombre and often moving memorial to the Holocaust, it is intended to remind visitors that the Jewish people continue to face threats of annihilation from some of its neighbours.

“If it can happen in the cradle of Europe in the 20th century, it can happen anywhere in the 21st century,” Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan told the Tánaiste.

Martin then embarked on a walk-about in the ancient city of Lod, which has both Arab and Jewish communities. Dr Thabet Abu Rass, of the Abraham Initiative cross community organisation, showed the Tánaiste how the infrastructure on Arab streets is much worse compared to areas dominated by Jewish residents.

This is all the more aggravating because some of the streets in Arab areas of the city are named after Israeli military organisations, Rass explained. The Tánaiste will no doubt hear worse complaints when he visits West Bank communities on Wednesday.

Tánaiste criticises Israeli settlement activity during Middle East peace visitOpens in new window ]

Tánaiste Micheál Martin on a walk-about in the ancient city of Lod, which has both Arab and Jewish communities. Photograph: Phil Behan/DFA

Later, Martin met prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel’s far-right government, and raised Irish concerns over illegal Israeli settlements and increasing violence in the area.

We don’t know exactly what Netanyahu’s reaction was but Martin’s protests likely fell on deaf ears. Israeli governments, and especially this Israeli government, view Ireland as completely biased towards the Palestinian cause and reluctant to criticise terror attacks on Israeli citizens.

One of the purposes of Martin’s visit is to counter those views and present Ireland as an honest broker, one which might even play a key role in any renewed peace process.

In that context, discussion again turned to the 1940s anti-Semitism on Tuesday evening. Was it wrong for the Éamon de Valera, the founder of Martin’s party, to pay condolences to the German legation on the death of Adolf Hitler, asked a reporter. It’s a matter frequently raised in the right-wing Israel press in its criticism of Ireland.

De Valera was no anti-Semite, Martin said. “In Jewish-Irish tradition, de Valera is pretty well respected because of his inclusion of the Jewish religion and faith in our Constitution.”

When pressed further on the morality of de Valera’s actions, he responded: “It’s a very false connection and a very shallow one in terms of substance.”

“But should he have done it?” Martin was asked. He demurred again. “There’s a lot of history written about World War Two. We’re not going to answer it in a soundbite.”

The reporters attempted a final approach: What if Vladimir Putin dies? Will the Tánaiste send his condolences? “No.”