The Israel-Palestine issue is highly complex and will not be resolved by the fairytales and vague daydreaming of public representatives.
On the evening of Thursday, October 27th, the Eblana Club in Dún Laoghaire hosted a debate between the Ireland Israel Alliance (IIA) and Richard Boyd-Barrett TD on the topic “Is Israel an apartheid state?”.
The debate was chaired by retired Irish Times journalist Deaglán de Bréadún. Dr Mark Humphrys of Dublin City University (a long time member of the IIA) represented the Ireland Israel Alliance and argued against the notion of Israel being an apartheid state in any way. Of course, Deputy Boyd-Barrett argued in favour.
Memories and imaginings
The Deputy’s views of Israel seem to be mainly based on his experience of working in a kibbutz in the Negev region of southern Israel in 1987 and his opening remarks were almost entirely based on his impressions of the country from 35 years ago. However, the main thrust of his talk seemed to revolve around the need for the descendants of Palestinian refugees to be allowed to move to Israel. He repeatedly referred to this point and presented it as some kind of silver bullet that pro-Israel people are unable to respond to and that – for him – would represent a proper resolution of the issue.
Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that it would also represent an end of the State of Israel in its current form. Let’s also leave aside the fact that Palestinian leaders are frequently explicit about their desire to wipe out all Jews from the land of Israel. The nearly 1,000 Israelis murdered by suicide bombers before the erection of the Security Barrier are still missed and mourned across the country.
The happy-clappy, unitary nation of Deputy Boyd-Barrett’s imagination would – in reality – be a recipe for chaos and violence. It would almost certainly end up as just another dirt-poor, failed Middle Eastern state whose main export to Europe would be its people in rickety boats and dinghies.
Two sides to the refugee story
The elephant in the Israel-Palestine room when it comes to discussion about refugees is the Mizrachim. Roughly 900,000 members of the Mizrachi community (Jews from Arab and Islamic countries) were forced to leave in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s despite having had a presence in those countries for up to 2,500 years. The vast majority of them ended up in Israel where they and their descendants now comprise the majority of Israeli Jews. All discussions about refugees should include them but they hardly ever do.
Deputy Boyd-Barrett was challenged from the floor about his views on this very point. In fairness to him, he did say that Jewish refugees from Arab and Islamic countries need to have their cause recognised in the same way as that of Palestinian refugees and that they too have a right of return. However, as with his theories on a unitary state, his idea that Mizrachi refugees and their descendants could just move to – for example – Egypt, Syria or Iraq to claim back the property seized from their ancestors doesn’t stand up to the most cursory scrutiny.
In Islamic countries across north Africa and the Middle East, hatred of Jews is at eye-watering levels. The percentage of people who express deeply antisemitic views ranges from the high seventies right up to and over 90%. Let’s summarise Deputy Boyd-Barrett’s proposed “right of return” solution in a few bullet points.
- The regimes controlling the vast majority of countries in North Africa and the Middle East agree to allow the return of millions of Mizrachim
- The same regimes also agree to return the land and properties confiscated from the Jewish refugees.
- Meanwhile, millions of people of Palestinian origin move to Israel where they will comprise a small majority of the population.
- And they’ll all live happily ever after.
Daydreaming in Dún Laoghaire
To describe this as a fairytale does a grave injustice to fairytales. In reality, no Arab regime would countenance an influx of Jews from Israel and even if they did, they would absolutely not hand back land or property to them. The most likely outcome would be that the Jewish refugees would end up as a persecuted minority – just as they were before 1948 and just as other religious minorities are across the Middle East today. Meanwhile, the one state in the world that could always be relied upon to speak out about the persecution of Jews would no longer be a majority Jewish state and would most likely be descending into civil war.
Of course, this is never going to happen. Perhaps, this is the main reason why the Deputy continues to push these notions, knowing that he’ll never see them proved as utterly absurd. However, I don’t think it’s too much to expect that if a public representative is to devote so much time to an issue (as Richard Boyd-Barrett certainly does to Israel), that their opinions should be judicious, practical and well-informed. The Israel-Palestine issue is highly complex and will never be resolved by what can be most kindly described as fairytales and vague daydreaming.
By Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh
- Eblana Club website: https://eblanaforum.com/
- Statistics on antisemitism in Middle East and North Africa: https://global100.adl.org/map/meast
- Statistics on levels of antisemitism in countries bordering Israel: https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2010/02/04/chapter-3-views-of-religious-groups/