Frustration in Irish-Israeli relations remains in wake of Martin’s Middle East visit

There is a growing weariness among Israelis with Ireland’s position that a two-state solution is the only viable path towards peace

“Apparently Israelis are received more warmly in the Arab Gulf than they are on the Emerald Isle,” wrote Mark Regev, a former adviser to the Israeli prime minister in the Jerusalem Post last year.

In an article titled “Why does Ireland hate Israel?”, Regev, who also served as ambassador to the UK, said Ireland was probably one of the most hostile countries to Israel in the European Union.

Old-fashioned anti-Semitism is one reason for this, he said. Another is Ireland’s tendency to view the Arab-Israeli conflict “through a distorted lens” and equate Israel’s actions with that of colonial British.

Articles such as Regev’s appear in the Israel press on a semi-regular basis, often spurred by criticism in the Dáil of Israeli actions in Palestine. Former Fine Gael minister for justice Alan Shatter is regularly quoted on Ireland’s apparent anti-Israeli sentiment, including in an 2021 article memorably titled “Ireland’s delusional orgy of criticism of Israel.”


One of the key tasks of Ireland’s embassy in Tel Aviv is to counter this narrative. It was also part of the reason for Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin’s three-day visit to the region. The trip concluded on Thursday, following meetings with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

“Ireland’s long-standing principled position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be an ongoing source of friction in our political relationship,” Martin acknowledged in a speech to the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening.

But it is “simply incorrect” to say Ireland’s criticism of Israeli policy towards Palestine is evidence of hostility on the part of Irish people, he said.

At the end of his speech Martin received polite applause from most of the room but some audience members kept their hands firmly on their laps.

His audience was comprised of diplomats, academics and think tankers. It was a relatively liberal crowd but some of the questions reflected frustration at the part of Martin’s speech which criticised illegal Israeli settlements and the displacement of Palestinians, which the Tánaiste said have “no clear justification in terms of protecting the security of Israel”.


Signs of Israel’s attitude towards Ireland were evident from conversations with local officials.

The Irish Government and media is much quicker to condemn violence by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) or settlers than by Palestinians, said one official.

“When Hamas kills Israelis, why are they are not called terrorists in your newspapers?” one asked.

One official pointed to the ambush and murder of Irish peacekeeper Seán Rooney while he driving through Hizbullah controlled territory in south Lebanon last December. There was no strong condemnation of Hizbullah from the Irish Government but if the soldier was killed by the IDF, the outcry would be been deafening, they claimed. It’s an argument which ignores the fact that several Irish soldiers have been killed by the IDF or Israeli-backed forces in the region over the decades and Ireland has never severed diplomatic relations as a result.

Officials are able to point to public statements by Irish public officials over the years expressing anti-Semitic sentiments or spreading conspiracy theories about Israel. They are particularly familiar with previous statements from Sinn Féin TD Réada Cronin accusing Israel of being Nazis and comparing a picture of monkeys to the staff of the Israel embassy in Ireland. (Cronin later apologised for the “off the cuff” remarks.)

Diplomatic sources said there is also a growing weariness among Israelis with Ireland’s position that a two-state solution is the only viable path towards peace. The same position is also held by the EU but some of the bigger member states have become much less enthusiastic about it recently due to an almost complete lack of progress in the last two decades.

Under the two-state system, Israel and Palestine would exist as two distinct and equal states based on the pre-1967 borders. But the current Israeli government has shown no interest in such a path and some members believe the whole region should be a Jewish “nation state”.

Increasing Israeli encroachments into Palestinian lands, combined with the fact that the Palestinian Authority hasn’t held elections in 17 years, has led many observers, including a sizeable minority of Palestinians, to conclude the two-state solution is a pipe dream.

“When countries like Ireland come around and push it, people roll their eyes. They think these people are living in a dream and don’t understand,” said one Israeli official.

Pessimistic note

Martin concluded his visit to the region on a pessimistic note, although he suggested the plan to restore relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia may offer some hope for progress. In the meantime, Ireland will remain committed to the two-state solution, he said.

Under Martin’s leadership, Fianna Fáil put forward a Bill in 2018 in the Dáil aimed at banning the import of goods, services and natural resources from Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. The Israeli embassy in Dublin called the Bill “immoral”.

And it was a Fianna Fáil minister, Brian Lenihan snr, who first mooted the idea of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel in 1980.

On his visit this week, Martin said it was unhelpful to call Israel an apartheid state. He also told the Israelis he fully understands how their fear of violence from Hamas influences their “perspectives and reactions”.

Following his visit to Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, Martin was asked by Irish reporters if it was right for the founder of his party to pay a condolences visit to the German representative in Ireland on the death of Adolf Hitler. Martin steadfastly refused to condemn the visit, except to say de Valera was not an anti-Semite and that such issues would not be resolved through “soundbites”.

Relations between Ireland and Israel should in theory be much healthier. There are many connections between the two countries, not least that, in the words of former minister for external affairs Seán MacBride, both are “ancient nations and at the same time new states that have achieved freedom after a long and hard struggle.”

The current president Isaac Herzog is the son of former Israeli president Chaim Herzog, an Irish-born lawyer who emigrated to Palestine in 1935 and who was himself the son of Ireland’s chief rabbi, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog.

There is always hope relations might improve. A writer in the Jerusalem Post last month was effusive about his recent visit to Ireland.

“Lots of people have asked if we found Irish people to be anti-Semitic,” he wrote. “In the more than three weeks I spent in Ireland, I wore a kippa at all times and never once had a negative experience.”