Ambassador’s Message, Twitter Roundup 31 October

Rain clouds split open like rice-bags

(from A Robin in Autumn/Chatting at Dawn by Paul Durcan, in The Art of Life)* 

Nine Italian Banks failed the European Central Bank’s stress tests. What relevance to Ireland?  Irish banks were not mentioned in the extensive international coverage because they passed the tests, with the exception of one bank (weighed down by a large portfolio of tracker mortgages) that failed one of the tests; Permanent TSB has been making provision to rectify this.  That our main ‘pillar banks’ – the Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank – passed these tests demonstrates how far we have progressed from the banking and property crises that began to unfold in 2008.  Though singularly not responsible for these crises, the Irish taxpayer has shouldered the burden of bailing out the banks with a capital injection of €64bn.  It’s gratifying to see that investment enabling the banks to pass these critical tests. The Minister for Finance’s welcome response is reported here http://t.co/uxrPay7PKe

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan wrote an Op Ed in the Irish Times on the importance of the current talks in Northern Ireland http://t.co/77btCHuF6m   The talks have been joined by Secretary of State Kerry’s personal representative Senator Gary Hart.  The mood, noted Minister Flanagan in a statement, has been positive so far https://t.co/YgYtipVDF0

On the peace process here the Minister expressed his deep concern about the settlement announcements in East Jerusalem http://t.co/FgA5BqSCbU  Minister Flanagan urged “the Israeli Government to reverse this decision and to work with the international community in seeking to revive substantive negotiations aimed at achieving the two-State solution which offers the only realistic prospect for peace between Israeli and Palestinian people.” 

One of the great themes in the Middle East is the origin of the peoples that have come and gone over the ages. Developments in the study of ancient genetics has revolutionised our understanding of this field.  This link http://t.co/nOYnXf1huh is to a great story from the New York Times of the contribution that University College Dublin is making to our understanding of the origins of man, particularly the origins of Europeans.  The archaeologists and genetic specialists at UCD, led by Prof. Ron Pinhasi, are transecting a site in the Great Hungarian Plain going back over 7,000 years.  The story emerging is that of an original dark skinned, blue-eyed hunter-gather people,  augmented then by an ancient farming people from the Middle East and then, surprisingly, about 4,000 years ago (the Bronze Age) by a third genetic contribution from northern Eurasia.

Again on the technology front, a young Irish person we can take great pride in is nine year old Lauren Boyle, named as the EU’s Digital Girl of the Year:http://t.co/kcVR8N8EiO.  Her company www.coolkidsstudio.com   mentors young people on computer coding and, along the way, on life lessons too.

At the other end of life’s span, Fr PJ McGlinchey is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Awards by President Higgins.  I was honoured to meet Fr McGlinchey when I served in Korea.  He has made an incalculable contribution to the life of the people of Jeju Island since he arrived there in 1954.  The work of the Irish Columban Order, Fathers and Sisters, in Korea is really an untold story of quiet heroism and compassion  http://t.co/AYHKN7XA1z

In keeping with the decade of commemorations and the focus on the birth of the Irish state, I tweeted a photo from the National Library of Ireland of an admission card for the London funeral procession of Terence MacSwiney.  MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork at the time, died on hunger strike in October 1920 while interned in Brixton Prison.  A long time nationalist activist and writer, MacSwiney was protesting his internment at the hands of a military court though of course his protest was part of the struggle for independence.  The war of independence was at its height in 1920.  While his hunger strike garnered world-wide attention, the British Government would not budge and MacSwiney died on day 74 of his strike after several attempts at force feeding.  His legacy lives on in his contribution to Irish freedom and his writings as journalist and intellectual https://twitter.com/NLIreland/status/527044846561677312/photo/1

Finally, one of Ireland’s finest poets, and a personal favourite, Paul Durcan was recognised for his contribution with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented at this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.  His poetry combines acute observation, comedy and pathos about the encounters of everyday life.  This link also has embedded video of Durcan’s highly engaging readings  http://t.co/MatkMzne1k

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador Tel Aviv

*Quoted in honour of the rain currently blessing Israel

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Ambassador’s Message – Twitter Roundup September/October

The trees are in their autumn beauty,

The woodland paths are dry,

Under the October twilight the water

Mirrors a still sky;

                                                                   (WB Yeats)

You may not be following me on Twitter, so I’ve pulled together some recent items that you might find interesting about Ireland and Israel, now and in the past, being as we’re in the decade of commemorations.

As you’ll have seen from my recent message, the economic news is positive. This link is to the ESRI’s Autumn Economic Commentary;

http://esri.ie/news_events/latest_press_releases/latest-esri-forecast-pred/index.xml

The ESRI predicts “a growth in GNP of 4.9 percent in 2014 and of 5.2 percent in 2014. Declines in unemployment are also forecast, with the headline rate envisaged to fall to 9.6 per cent in 2015.”

Our tourism sector has been doing particularly well. We got an added boost from the Lonely Planet guide which has named Ireland as one of the top places to visit; http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/travel/lonely-planet-names-ireland-as-one-of-the-top-countries-to-visit-1.1971225#.VEZD7Y-tdrs.twitter

Another major story back home is Northern Ireland.  You are probably aware that a number of issues have been dogging the peace process, specifically parades, flags, dealing with the past and domestic policy issues like welfare reform.  Talks are now underway to try to resolve these issues. Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan is representing the Government. You can read the Taoiseach’s welcome for this development here; http://www.merrionstreet.ie/index.php/2014/10/statement-by-the-taoiseach-enda-kenny-t-d-on-the-commencement-of-political-talks-in-northern-ireland

The US is strongly supportive, as ever.  Secretary of State Kerry has appointed former US Senator Gary Harte as his personal representative on Northern Ireland. Minister Flanagan welcomes this development here; https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/october/minister-flanagan-appointment-of-former-us-senator

The decade of commemorations is truly underway with the centenary of the start of World War I.  Irish engagement in the Armistice Day ceremonies marks a new level of recognition of the many Irish who fought and died in the war under a British flag.  Reflecting this, and the new level of concord in Anglo-Irish relations, Minister Flanagan welcomed an invitation from the British Government to Ireland to lay a wreath at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in London in November.  His statement ion the invitation is here; https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/october/minister-flanagan-british-invitation-wreath-laying

We are also on the countdown to the centennial commemoration of the 1916 Rising.  This is a link to a great website to keep track of developments one hundred years ago in Ireland; http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland

A hundred years ago this September, the core group of rebels who would launch the Rising had their first meeting in Dublin.  As reported in Century Ireland, seven of the future signatories of the 1916 Proclamation met in the library of the Gaelic League on what is now Parnell Square, just a few hundred yards from the GPO which would become the iconic headquarters for the rebels;   the report is here

http://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/articles/coldly-and-deliberately-planned

The horrors of the Nazi regime continue to unfold as archivists and historians find new sources, notably since the fall of the Soviet Union.  This New York Times story from Poland has a particularly nightmarish quality because it concerns not just the period of the Holocaust but unremembered victims of the Soviet era whose remains are being regularly uncovered; http://t.co/Jz5PfA5uRS

This piece caught my eye from the Irish Times.  It is a commemoration of those Irish who “fought, spied and died” fighting the Nazis in France;

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/paris-honours-irish-who-fought-spied-and-died-for-france-1.1954055#.VDOJRHCbthw.twitter

Closer to home, Minister Flanagan attended the Cairo Conference on the Reconstruction of Gaza, pledging €2.5 million in support.  His statement is here; https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/october/gaza-reconstruction-conference-cairo

Juxtaposing Northern Ireland and Israel, you might be interested in this article from the Jerusalem Post about the impressions four Northern Irish visitors had of Israel and the contrasts and comparisons between the respective conflicts; http://www.jpost.com/landedpages/printarticle.aspx?id=376432

We should be very proud of this group of Irish school girls who made Time Magazine’s list of most influential teenagers in the world for their research on early crop germination; http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/cork-schoolgirls-make-time-list-of-most-influential-teenagers-1.1962294#.VD0Kk2y6JjY.twitter

So that should give you a flavour of my Twitter account; the odd bit of poetry and some spectacular photos of Ireland also crop up.  If you’re not planning to join Twitter, you’ll be able to catch up on our new Embassy website which we should be launching in the next week or so.

Best wishes and Shabbat Shalom,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

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Ambassador’s Message – Good Economic News from Ireland

I am happy to report that for the first in some years, the Government’s Budget announced earlier this month was important for what it was not. It was not an austerity budget. Consolidation is being implemented in the least growth-damaging way possible, with the majority of the adjustment on the spending side. The Budget targets a General Government Deficit of 4.8 per cent and a Primary Budget Surplus (i.e. not accounting for interest payments on national debt).

The economic backdrop to this is encouraging. According to the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland:

“In light of the recent trends observed in economic activity, we now revise upwards our growth forecasts for GNP to 4.9 and 5.2 per cent for 2014 and 2015 respectively. This improvement in the forecast is driven by a combination of better than expected performance in the net trade sector, a pick-up in investment levels and strong budgetary receipts.”

This positive economic and fiscal news is a signal achievement for Ireland and a measure of how far we have progressed since the onset of the financial crisis back in 2008. Since then, Ireland has made a budgetary adjustment of nearly €30 billion, equivalent to 18.9% of GDP.

This adjustment – heroic by any measure in peacetime – combined with resilient economic growth means that we are on target to bring the General Government Deficit down from over 30% of GDP in 2010 to 3.7% of GDP this year and 2.7% in 2015.

Export levels are at an all-time high, significantly higher than the pre-crisis peak in 2007. Our domestic economy is strengthening: Unemployment fell to 11.1% in September from a peak of 15.1% in 2012. 61,000 additional jobs were created in Ireland in 2013. In fact, 2013 saw the highest net job creation in Ireland from Foreign Direct Investment in more than a decade.

All of this has been achieved against a backdrop of global economic uncertainty and less than buoyant international trade.

This is not to say everything is rosy in the garden. Too many jobs have been lost, too much equity vanished, too much debt rests on the Irish taxpayer and too many young people have emigrated to say that. But from the low point of the bailout and concerns about our economic viability, we have climbed back to a position of real recovery.

Some milestones along the way:

• Ireland became the first Euro area country to exit an EU-IMF programme of assistance when the programme concluded on 15 December 2013.

• Full return to normal market funding, with bond yields at historic lows, our economy and exports growing, and unemployment falling.

• Balance of Payments surplus achieved for the fourth year in a row in 2013, after 10 years in deficit.

• Gross General Government Debt peaked at just over 120% of GDP in 2013 and is expected to decline to around 100% of GDP by 2018 (taking into account significant cash balances and other financial assets, net Government Debt in 2013 amounted to around 98% of GDP).

• With a recapitalisation of the banks of some €64 billion and a major consolidation, deleveraging and reduction in the banking sector, the Government and taxpayer have gone a long way in sorting out the mess the banks made of themselves and the economy (recall that during the boom, bank loan books grew from 60% (1997) to 200% of GNP (2008), catapulting average 2nd hand house price in Dublin from 4 times to 17 times average industrial wage).

Challenges of course still face us, including primarily unemployment, patent expiration, household debt and the international economic climate. But Ireland’s real economic assets remain in place to continue and develop the recovery:

An agile economy, ranked 1st in the world for the flexibility and adaptability of our people and 2nd most globalised country in the world.

We are in the global top 20 for quality of scientific research.

According to Forbes, Ireland is the best country in the world for business, 1st in the world for investment incentives and in the top 10 easiest countries in the world to start a business.

Ireland is in the top 10 most educated countries in world, 1st in the world for availability of skilled labour and we have the youngest population in Europe.

The 12.5% rate of Corporation Tax will remain as a key element supporting inward investment and export-led growth. At the same time, the Government is taking action to restrict certain complex international tax structures used by tax planners to exploit mismatches between the tax rules of different countries, which have impacted negatively on Ireland’s tax reputation internationally

In summary then, Ireland has done what the EU asked of it. For our people, it has been and remains a painful process of fiscal stabilisation and consolidation. Ireland has restored much of its lost competitiveness and secured record levels of inward investment. But Ireland is a small open economy with much of its trade focused on Europe. Attention now shifts to Europe and the Eurozone where sluggish growth and the threat of stagnation present real issues for European leaders to address at their summit in December. As the Irish Times editorialised recently, “Ireland’s diplomatic approach here is clear. The Government must support action on as many fronts as possible to try to get the euro zone economy growing again….The best option for Ireland is fiscal discipline at home, combined with as much as possible being done to support growth in the main euro zone economies.”

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee
Ambassador Tel Aviv

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Remembering 9/11

Twitter is a new medium, an immediate means of mass communication. It’s also highly personal in its subjective compression. The combination makes it the avatar of social media. Most of the time I retweet things that are interesting and relevant to Ireland and Irish Israeli relations – or just plain irresistible on occasion – but 9/11 prompted me to recall my posting to New York and my memories of that day. On the way to the Remembrance Day event in the Arazim Valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem yesterday, I tweeted a sequence of my most vivid memories and impressions of 9/11 (copied below); used like this, tweeting in its staccato brevity seemed to work like memory.

Talking about 9/11 last night, my son, who was seven years of age at the time, said he remembered the day. He was delighted that it was a half-day at school when his mother came to get him. He remembers his mother’s shocked incredulous reaction at the sight of a single tower where two had stood when she had entered the school only minutes earlier; a bystander’s laconic explanation to her that “it went down.” He guiltily wondered whether he caused 9/11 in some way because he had been hoping for something dramatic to happen to break the boredom of the return to school. It’s the kind of guilty conscience we all had as children on occasion, part of childhood innocence.

New York lost its innocence that day. This might seem a strange thing to say about a city that used to be known for its wealth, crime, ceaseless bacchanalia and iconoclastic art scene. However, there was in New York up to 9/11 a zest and love of life that made its residents proud of the city and drew so many to visit and live there. On the edge of the continental US landmass, sheltered by a vast ocean that separated it from the complications of Europe and the troubles of the Middle East, New York was a haven onto itself, Manhattan a crystalline island of success, glamour and good times. And then in a flash from some inexplicable malign force, two of those very highest crystals were shattered and some 3,000 innocents of the city lost their lives.

9/11 showed another side to New York and New Yorkers and what it made it great. If there is a broader sentiment in my memory, aside from the unreality of it all, it is the immediacy of how the city dealt with the attack. The city did not reel in shock but grappled with the immensity of the emergency head on. Firefighters did not think twice about rushing to the scene and entering the dizzy towers visibly being consumed by a ferocious living fire. Police officers and first responders did not flinch in courage or professionalism, even as bodies began to rain down from the heights above. Those leaving the area walked home with dignity, often through the night. Whoever could help did help; and more help came from all over the US.

Sometime after the event, my wife and I had dinner with a friend, Irish journalist and writer Conor O’Clery, whose apartment overlooked the site of 9/11. He had seen what had happened that day and photographed much of it. We saw his snaps of the billowing cloud of dust and debris but he reserved other photos, too dreadful to share and out of respect for those it showed in their last moments. By now, the rubble had been cleared away and we could look into the vast cavern of the excavation, arc lights creating a fog of glare around the workers in the deep and infernal pit. With undaunted energy and application, New Yorkers were clearing to build anew: Perhaps less innocent now but always resilient, always forging ahead, always New York, New York.

If you are minded to, taking a trip to the memorial in Jerusalem in the Arazim Valley is worth a visit and a pause for reflection. Beneath a sculpture of a monumental American flag a piece of one of the towers is entombed behind glass and the names of the victims inscribed around the elegant amphitheatre. Information here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9/11_Living_Memorial_Plaza

Shabbat Shalom

Eamonn

Remembering 9/11 on Twitter

Hard to believe 13 years since my family and I woke up on a beautiful New York morning and a day that would reshape our world.

After I dropped our young kids to the UN school, I recall glancing down Park Avenue and seeing a billowing grey cloud of dust.

As Press Officer, I had the only TV in the Consulate. Local staff were trying flickers to turn it on: something terrible had happened.

We stood around the TV images of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers, all of us wrapt and confused. A tower sank in a haze of thick dust.

We got a call through to HQ on a land line. We didn’t hang up for days. It was our lifeline to Dublin as comm systems crashed.

DFA cranked into gear as the SG created a crisis centre in the Grand Ballroom and assembled a consular team to fly to NY asap to support us.

My wife called. Should she get the kids out of the school? I said no, it was miles from the Twin Towers.

Rumors were flying: more planes were in the air about to strike DC: two were hijacked and flying from Heathrow heading straight for NY.

News reports came in about a plane hitting the Pentagon. I called Mary and said get the kids.

What followed was a blur of activity, piecing together what was happening, reporting to HQ, dealing with the press from Ireland.

We needed to figure out how many Irish were killed, injured or needing our help. The Irish media asked many ‘Irish were among the dead?’

But in NY how do you define Irish? Irish born? Child of Irish born? Passport holder? And what of Irish Americans going back generations?

Stairwell: Irish American firefighters going up meet Irish American financial traders going down. Story of the Irish. They died together.

As 9/11 unfolded, one of the biggest helps to the Consulate was the NYPD. Every other cop had an Irish name: the Irish pulling together.

During the crisis and its long aftermath, it felt surreal. Clichéd but true, at times it felt like a movie, not quite real.

The Consulate was manned 24/7: a great team running on adrenaline. Old friends arrived as part of the consular group from Dublin.

Our home was on East 37th St. My wife checked in when she could: kids home safe but confused by the news. People were streaming by on foot.

Evening 9/11: she said the air had a strange odor, a wretched mix of dust and burn. Save for emergency vehicles, city at a standstill. NY, city of spontaneous shrines.

We pilgrimaged to nearby Armory Building, festooned with notes, photos of those hopefully just missing.

The missing of 9/11 we knew later were dead, families forever bereft. As we remember them today, may they rest in peace.

My wife and I honoured to attend moving 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony, Jerusalem.

ENDS

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Some thoughts on Ari Shavit’s ‘My Promised Land, The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel’

Every country should have an Ari Shavit. His acclaimed and criticized book My Promised Land, the Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (Spiegel and Grau, 2013) is an engrossing and insightful story of a nation told from the perspective of a questioning, ardent man. It is the kind of compassionate dissection and health check that every country could do with once in a generation or so.

Shavit makes no claim for his account as history and that is its strength. It is his story, the story of his family, of his profession as a journalist and how his life has been shaped by the dramatic creation and evolution of Israel. The narrative moves from encounters with the landscape of Israel and the individuals who shaped Israel’s achievements in key fields to majestic thematic sweeps that explain why and how Israel got to where it is today.

Perhaps Shavit’s greatest quality as a writer and chronicler – and he has many – is his empathy with the other viewpoint and the courage with which he explores and records the experiences of others, in particular those of the Palestinians dispossessed by the creation of Israel.

Shavit has thought long and hard about Israel and the dynamics that have shaped it. His narrative falls into well-defined even abrupt phases, each driven by social and political revolts. He moves eloquently from the founding Zionist idealism, the wars for survival and the massively under-appreciated impact of the arrival of the Oriental Jews – the mizrahim – in the 1950s and 1960s to the arrival of one million Russians in the 1990s, the growth of the settler movement and the Orthodox community (now numbering 700,000), the cultural and economic opportunities of globalization, and the burdens and expectations of the middle classes.

Each of these revolts presented an enormous challenge to Israel. Each of these was dealt with expediently and ultimately successfully, though Shavit argues at a price. That price, he suggests, is cumulative and now coming due.

Shavit is smitten with the notion that Israel is in trouble, possibly deep trouble, despite the miracle of its birth and survival. He looks backward in time; his family’s history is woven in the very fabric of Israel’s story. But he projects forward too; as he watches his children grow, he wonders what future lies ahead for them. Indeed his anxiety about Israel’s future is what has driven his exploration of its past. The title of the book captures his belief in a bifurcated Israel, triumphant and tragic. Shavit posits, mainly, that Israel’s triumph precedes a cluster of hinge moments between 1967 and 1977 and that its tragedy follows that cluster.

But Shavit is too aware of Israel’s dualistic nature – socialist and ruggedly individualistic, secular and religious, liberal democratic and oppressively colonializing – to suggest that the triumph and tragedy are divided chronologically by a convenient caesura. Rather the triumph and tragedy interplay: What made Israel triumph contained the seeds of its tragedy. He is mindful and courageous in facing the fact that Israel could not have come into existence without the Nakba, the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their ancestral lands and villages. Indeed he goes on to argue that the heart of the matter is not 1967 but 1948 (his account of what happened at Lydda in 1948 has drawn particularly heavy fire from his critics.) Without the original sin of the 1948 expropriation and expulsion of Palestinians, the state of Israel could not have been possible. Yet the existence of Israel was an existential and moral imperative against the backdrop of the Holocaust.

Much of his account indeed is a constant juggling of such moral juxtapositions and how to understand, even rationalize, them. The many moral and strategic conundrums he encounters make the book the thrilling, courageous and sympathetic account that it is.

Shavit is not blithe enough to suggest that expiating the moral corrosion of the 1967 occupation by acceding to the two state solution is an easy or obvious thing to do: for ending the occupation certainly increases the security risks to Israel through the sheer loss of a heavy security and intelligence presence that the occupation demands. But unless Israel ends the occupation, it faces an increasingly difficult international environment, the prospect of a bi-national state and demographic uncertainty about sustaining a Jewish majority, and the alienation of the younger Jewish Diaspora notably in the US.

Shavit writes vividly about the unique threats that Israel faces and of which we comfortably in Europe are less cognizant. After the Holocaust, the decision to concentrate so much of world Jewry in one place was necessary but a gamble of a very high order; “…essential but dangerous” as Ari Shavit writes. He points out that in 1950 10% of Jews were in Israel; today it is 45% and by 2025 the majority of the world’s Jews will be Israeli. Israel is western, democratic and Jewish in an Orient of Arabs and Muslims comprising an outer circle of 1.6bn Muslims, an intermediate circle of 370 million Arabs and an inner circle of Palestinians who by 2055 will comprise 10 million or 55% of the population between the Jordan and the sea. All these circles press in on Israel in some form or another.

In a very specific way the title does not do justice to Shavit’s thesis and conviction. It might have been more accurately entitled if it contained the word ‘hope’ along with ‘triumph’ and ‘tragedy’. In all fairness that might have defied the cleverest of editors but it’s a necessary caveat because Shavit concludes on a positive note. He sees his children contented and confident as young citizens of Israel in a way that proved impossible for Jews anywhere else.

The concluding chapter is at one level hopeful but its title – By the Sea – is double edged. Yes, he seems to be saying, it’s lovely to see my kids by the sea free and equal in this miracle of a country but being by the sea is very dangerous because there is nowhere else to go, we are at the edge. Yet as he reflects on the miracle that is Israel, he concludes that its resilience and creativity, its commitment to life and restless energy suggests that Israel can yet again fashion a solution to its problems, that another chapter defying the odds can and will be written.

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Reflecting on Gaza and the Passing of Irish Peace Maker, Albert Reynolds

Ambassador’s Message, 22 August 2014

These are distressing and uncertain times but for none more so than the families who have lost loved ones or seen them injured: the families of the kidnap and murder victims Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Mohammed Abu Khdeir; families of the members of the IDF killed and injured in Gaza, many of the fallen so young they had barely tasted life; the families of those killed or injured by rocket and mortar fire from Gaza; the families of those Palestinians killed in the West Bank during public order disturbances; the many, many families in Gaza who have suffered terribly and endured a frightening level of fatalities and casualties, including many so very young. As we mark World Humanitarian Day this week, we record too that eleven UNRWA personnel, eleven medical staff, eight fire fighters and seven technicians working on water and energy supplies have been killed.

Everyone living here in Israel has experienced something along the spectrum of fear. Seeing my wife and children stand in the bomb shelter and feel our home shudder as Iron Dome missiles intercept rockets nearby was at the mildest end. Ashkelon, Ashdod and other towns near Gaza along with Kibuttzim there have been hardest hit by rockets and now face new fears about attacks from tunnels that have demonstrated their fearful potential.

The Irish Government has made clear its position on the situation in Gaza on a number of occasions, nationally and jointly with EU partners, most comprehensively the statement by Minister Flanagan in the Seanad Éireann debate on the Situation in Gaza and Ukraine, on 31 July (https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/speeches). Other key documents are listed below this message.

Ireland’s support for humanitarian work is a strong aspect of our foreign policy. This is partly because of Ireland’s tradition of missionary and more recently NGO work in some of the world’s most deprived and unstable places. On 21 July Minister Flanagan and Minister of State Sean Sherlock T.D. announced a contribution of €500,000 to the UNRWA flash appeal for humanitarian aid for Gaza. This is on top of substantial Irish Aid assistance to the Palestinian people, which amounted to €10.7 million in 2013. (https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/july/government-announces-emergency-funding-in-gaza).

As the crisis continues to unfold, let us hope that a ceasefire can be restored and that negotiators and their partners in the UN, US and EU can map out a solution that avoids further conflict and loss of life, eliminates threats to security, facilitates reconstruction and improvement of life in Gaza, and helps build towards a reinvigoration of the Middle East Peace Process.

Ireland is reflecting on our own peace process this week as we mourn the passing of former Taoiseach, Mr Albert Reynolds T.D. His outstanding achievement was the creation of the conditions for the declaration of an IRA ceasefire on 31st August 1994, the twentieth anniversary of which we fast approach. He did this by negotiating with British Prime Minister John Major what became the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993.

The Declaration set out principles agreed by the British and Irish Governments: that the consent of the people of Northern Ireland was required for unity with the South; that the British Government had “no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland”; that it was “for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self-determination”; that both Governments would create institutions and structures which reflected “the totality of relationships” and which, while respecting the diversity of the people of Ireland, would enable them to work together in all areas of common interest; that the achievement of peace must involve a permanent end to the use of, or support for, paramilitary violence and a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods.

Even Articles Two and Three of the Irish Constitution, the doctrinal expression of nationalism’s view of Ireland’s territorial integrity, was open to reformulation in the event of a settlement, according to the Declaration. For an Irish nationalist leader, this was political leadership of a very high order indeed on the part of the Taoiseach.

An Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Prime Minister John Major appealed to all sides to grasp the opportunity for a new departure that would compromise no position or principle, nor prejudice the future for either community. In the stirring words of the Declaration’s concluding paragraph: “On the contrary, it would be an incomparable gain for all. It would break decisively the cycle of violence and the intolerable suffering it entails…..these arrangements offer an opportunity to lay the foundations for a more peaceful and harmonious future, devoid of the violence and bitter divisions which have scarred the past generation. They commit themselves and their Governments to continue to work together, unremittingly, towards that objective.”

The Downing Street Declaration was negotiated with great determination by Mr Reynolds. In his passing this week, Ireland rightly honours him for that signal achievement. For the conceptual breakthrough and the framework for peace set out in the Declaration was critical in creating the peace process and in shaping in decisive terms the Good Friday Agreement itself in 1998.

You can read the full text of the historic Downing Street Declaration here
https://www.dfa.ie/media/dfa/alldfawebsitemedia/ourrolesandpolicies/northernireland/peace-process–joint-declaration-1993-1.pdf

The Department of the Taoiseach has opened a book of condolence which you can find here http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Book_of_Condolences_for_Albert_Reynolds

Finally, I would like to let you know that David Lee has joined us at the Embassy. David will be looking after our database, amongst other things, so if you know of someone interested in joining our network of friends you can have them send an email to David (david.lee@dfa.ie) or to our external mailbox on our Embassy website (http://www.embassyofireland.co.il)

Best wishes and Shabbat Shalom,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee
Ambassador Tel Aviv

Irish Government position on Gaza, Key Documents

• Statement by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore T.D., on 9 July https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/
• Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan T.D., 14 July https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/july/minister-calls-for-ceasefire-in-gaza-and-israel/
• Address by Minister Flanagan in the Dáil on 16 July http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/seanad2014073100003?opendocument#B02000
• Statement on Gaza by the EU Heads of Government at the European Council, 14 July http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/143990.pdf
• Statement on Minister Flanagan’s meeting with the Ambassador of Israel, 18 July https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/july/statement-following-meeting-israeli-ambassador/
• Conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, 22 July
http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/144092.pdf
• Address by Ireland at the Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, 23 July https://www.dfa.ie/news-and-media/press-releases/press-release-archive/2014/july/irelands-position-at-the-un-human-rights-council/
ENDS

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Irish Israeli Relations: Remarks in Honour of Ambassador Zvi Gabay

(The Israel Ireland Friendship League hosted a talk and reception to mark the launch of the memoirs of Zvi Gabay, the first resident Ambassador of Ireland to Israel who presented his credentials to President Robinson in 1994.  His book, written in Hebrew, is entitled From Baghdad to the Pathways of Diplomacy – a Personal Story and his friends hope that with a little encouragement he will have it published in English.)

I am delighted to be part of the launch of Ambassador Gabay’s book of his life and times. I gather he looks back rather fondly on his time in Ireland I am happy to say.  This is also true of his family.  Ireland’s influence is probably most marked on his daughter who graduated from Trinity College. Zvi is the kind of diplomat to which we all aspire; he is wise and erudite, a writer and a man of ideas. I enjoy his columns and very much look forward to the translation of his book.

 It is also appropriate to mark this occasion as we reflect on fifty years of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Israel.

 Of course the history of Irish Jewish relations goes back to the early Middle Ages when the Annals of Innisfallen record the arrival of Jews in Galway followed some time later by the establishment of a Jewish community in Dublin in the 12th century.  Over subsequent centuries, Anglo-Jews arrived and established themselves in Ireland, mainly in Dublin, Belfast and Cork.

These were followed by a surge of Jewish emigration to Ireland from the Pale of Russia, predominantly from Lithuania, in the 1880s and 1890s.  They settled also in Ireland’s main cities. In my hometown of Dublin, they established themselves off the South Circular Road and as they rapidly moved up the socio-economic ladder they moved to the leafier suburbs.

The Briscoe family epitomized the commitment, patriotism and contribution of the Irish Jews to Ireland. Abraham Briscoe came to Ireland from Lithuania as a teenager and earned his living as a peddler, traveling the highways and byways of Ireland. The condition of the Irish under British rule that he witnessed made him an ardent Irish nationalist. He called one of his sons Robert after the famous Irish patriot Robert Emmet, executed by the British in 1803 for his rebellion.

Robert Briscoe would become a committed insurgent in the fight for Irish independence, aligning himself with Eamon de Valera with whom he formed a close bond. During the War of Independence, he ran guns for the IRA. He became Ireland’s first Jewish member of our Parliament, the Dáil, having joined the Fianna Fáil party. Robert’s son Ben inherited his mantle, making a distinguished contribution to Irish life both as a member of the Dáil and as a Lord Mayor of Dublin. Abraham Briscoe’s grandson Daniel made Aliya to Israel and has established himself as a leading medical practitioner in his field, doing much philanthropic work at home and internationally.

The Irish military struggle for Independence between 1919 and 1921 was of course an inspiration to Zionists fighting against the British: Yitzak Shamir’s nom de guerre was ‘Michael’, after Michael Collins.

It is from the community of second generation Litvaks that our most famous Irish Jew comes, Leopold Bloom – probably the greatest fictional portrait of the twentieth century, brought to life by James Joyce.  It is clear from Ulysses that Joyce was familiar with the Jewish community in Dublin. Bloom, for example, considers an advertisement that offers investment in Turkish Palestine and there are a number of both overt and subtle anti-Semitic encounters.  Indeed, one of the central concerns of his novel is the notion of the native outsider; Bloom as a Jew and Dedalus as an artist.

During one encounter with an anti-Semite, the school headmaster Mr Deasy, Dedalus rebuts him and famously says that he is trying to escape from the nightmare of history. It is not a thought that preoccupies Bloom in that age of innocence before the Holocaust. One person from the Jewish community in Ireland was lost to the Shoah. Ettie Steinberg had moved to Belgium with her new husband and was tragically rounded up just before visas for safe passage to Ireland arrived.

Some Nazi bombs fell in the Jewish neighbourhood in Dublin and one wonders if German intelligence had been so good as to know that that was the heart of Litvak life at the time.

 By the 1950s, Irish Jews had made a huge impact on life in the capital city; in politics, medicine, law, arts and entertainment.  However by this time too there began a rapid decline in Ireland’s Jewish community. This followed a broader pattern evident too in Britain where small Jewish communities moved to larger urban concentrations like Manchester and London, emigrated to the United States or made Aliya to Israel. Dublin was left all the poorer for their decline as a force in Irish life.

The Irish Jewish community made an important contribution not just to Irish life but to the life of Israel. Its first Chief Rabbi during the mandate period and later under independence was Yitzhak Herzog, Ireland’s first Chief Rabbi before he made Aliya in 1936.  Like the Briscoe’s, the Herzogs were committed Irish nationalists.  De Valera had come to know Rabbi Herzog well and would spend evenings with in deep conversation during the 1920s.  Their relationship endured and de Valera visited him at his home in Jerusalem in 1950, accompanied by Robert Briscoe.  Herzog’s son Jacob would make a significant contribution to Israeli diplomacy. His other son, Chaim, born in Belfast and raised in Dublin, would fight for Israeli independence and later become its sixth President. His grandson, Isaac, continues to make his contribution to Israeli public life as Member of the Knesset and leader of the Labor Party.

Ireland and Israel both entered the international community, profoundly reshaped by WWII, around the same time. The State of Israel was born in 1948. Ireland’s wartime isolation slowly drew to an end when it joined the Marshall Aid programme that year. Ireland was blocked from joining the United Nations until 1955 so it missed out on the formative debates and resolutions that established Israel and the commitment to a Palestinian State.

Ireland quickly granted Israel de facto diplomatic recognition in February 1949. However official recognition did not occur until 1963. In Conor Cruise O’Brien’s telling phrase, the “Vatican factor” played its part in the delay, the concern inter alia that Irish foreign policy be consistent with that of the Vatican in relation to the status of the Holy Places (see Ireland’s Decision for De Facto Recognition of Israel, 1947-9 by Paula Wylie in Irish Foreign Policy 1919-1966, From Independence to Internationalism, Kennedy and Skelly (Eds), (Four Courts Press, 2000)).  Non-resident Ambassadors were established on a reciprocal basis in 1974.  The Government of Ireland gave approval for the establishment of a resident Israeli Ambassador in 1993. The first Israeli Ambassador to Ireland presented his credentials to President Mary Robinson in 1994: Zvi Gabay.

My great friend and colleague, Brendan Scannell became the first resident Irish Ambassador in Israel in 1996. In a commemorative supplement in the Irish Times in 1998 on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Israel, he wrote, “The State of Israel proves what vision, hard work, creativity, perseverance, courage and not a little stubbornness can achieve.”

Also in the Supplement, which Zvi has kindly shared with me, Zvi himself wrote:

 “Ireland and Israel are two nations that have much in common, most importantly both were born in this century in war and both are striving for peace, within and without……. Relations between our countries are both old and new. The heritage links between our two religions date back to a common beginning that bind Christianity and Judaism in broader kinship than that of nationality.”

He wrote this in 1998, just after we had negotiated the Good Friday Agreement. That Agreement became the foundation stone for the continuing peace in Northern Ireland and for the ongoing reconciliation between the traditions that share the island of Ireland and between Britain and Ireland.

We have the same hopes for Israel and its relations with the Palestinian people and with its regional neighbours. We have faith that that can be achieved through peace, negotiation and the two state solution. We believe that that outcome best guarantees the security and prosperity of Israel.

On the MEPP, Ireland is guided by a commitment to the two-state solution, the EU’s active engagement in the search for peace, the rule of international law, the fulfillment of UN Resolutions and adherence to human rights.  This may lead us at times to have frank exchanges of views but it does not detract us from our commitment to Israel and the peace to which we all aspire. The question is not the aim but how we get there.

The Irish presence here in Israel is not of course just diplomatic. It is represented by the Irish community, including those who have made Aliya here and those who have moved here to work and live.

The Israel Ireland Friendship League has been a mainstay of the Irish community here. I want to offer particular thanks to the League and to Malcolm Gafson for its contribution to our bilateral relationship since Corkman Dr. David Birkhan founded it forty-five years ago in 1969.  We also have the Israel Ireland Chamber of Commerce and the Ireland Israel Business Network promoting business links.

Economically, Irish exports to Israel are worth €550 million. Irish and Israeli companies are working in both countries with significant investments involved.  The number of Irish pubs here in Israel testifies to the popularity of Ireland as a brand representing tradition and hospitality.

Irish literature is also a strong source of mutuality, particularly the writings of Samuel Beckett, commemorated each year in the Annual Beckett Lecture at Tel Aviv University, ongoing now for more than a decade thanks to the inspiration and commitment of Professor Linda Ben-Zvi.  Where Joyce wrote from a world poised on the cusp of modernity, Beckett wrote from a world that was physically and morally a smoking ruin. World War and the Holocaust were devastatingly bleak parchments on which an artist might consider man and his place in the cosmos. Beckett’s willingness and capacity to do this, I think, explain his appeal here in Israel where making sense of catastrophe is an inescapable daily occupation. Writers, acting as the voices of our public and private narratives, form a central part of life in Ireland and Israel.

There is then a very constructive bilateral relationship between Ireland and Israel.  It is deeply rooted in our shared history of struggle for survival, independence and identity in a fast changing world. We both have had to wrestle a sensible narrative from our history and to forge peace from a turbulent past. That is ongoing work for both of us as a people.

We can learn much from each other. Ireland can learn much from the fantastic development of the Israeli economy, its prodigious creativity and entrepreneurial skill. Israel might look to our peace process for ideas about how to resolve conflict, to manage differences and to build peace. We both understand the complexities, the contradictions, choices, compromises and ultimately the sheer dogged determination that progress requires.

We have made great strides in our relationship. Our guest of honour tonight, Zvi Gabay, played a formative part in that when he arrived as Israel’s first Ambassador there twenty years ago. His contribution, his wisdom and his great personal warmth are fondly remembered and did much to get our diplomatic relationship off to a great start.  Thank you.

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