Category Archives: Israel

Visit of Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan to Israel and OPT

Ambassador’s Message, 24 February 2015

In the life of an Embassy a visit by a member of the Government is an important event, second only to a state visit by the President.  Visits by members of the Government are critical to maintaining bilateral relations.  They signal that the relationship matters and they provide direction and energy into the portfolio for which the Minister is responsible.  There is an added significance when it comes to visits of the Minister for Foreign Affairs given his or her preeminent role in diplomatic relations.

We at the Embassy were delighted then to host the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan T.D., on his first official visit to Israel last week.  He and his delegation of officials from Headquarters had just come from Lebanon where the Minister had visited our troops serving with UNIFIL in south Lebanon.  In Israel, he had a substantive exchange of views with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, toured Yad Vashem and laid a wreath in the Memorial Hall there, visited Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva (employing over 400 in Ireland), discussed current issues with Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog and met with key contacts of the Embassy at a reception at the Residence.

The Minister’s programme also included a visit to the OPT organized by our colleagues in the Representative Office Ramallah.  The Minister met with President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah, laid a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, and toured Bethlehem and other sites in the West Bank.

The Minister and party visited Gaza to see conditions there and meet with officials of UNRWA and UN OCHA who are providing vital services and humanitarian relief.  It was certainly sobering for the delegation to see how little progress had been made in reconstruction.  The Minister’s main impression was the hopelessness of the people, something that needs to be addressed he felt by political dialogue within Gaza and by unblocking the flow of goods into and out of Gaza so the economy can start to grow.  The party also visited a Moshav outside Gaza to hear views and stories from its perspective of life lived with the threat of rockets and tunnels.

The Jordanian part of the visit regrettably had to be cancelled because of the snowstorm and related travel difficulties so the Minister did not have the chance to meet contacts there and visit Syrian refugee camps.  Departing instead from Ben Gurion we ran into Quartet Representative Tony Blair which allowed for the Minister and Mr. Blair to exchange notes on the crisis in Gaza and on the prospects for the MEPP.

These were the highlights of a visit that was workman-like, balanced and focused on key issues.  Along the way were a range of meetings and encounters with officials and others who gave insights and analyses into the situation here that are critical to fully understanding the complex dynamics and powerful forces at work.  As the programme rolled along, it was also really productive to spend time with the new Secretary General at the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Niall Burgess, and colleagues from Headquarters working on the Middle East, examining ways in which we can best use our resources in this area.

A personal highlight for Mary and me was the reception for the Minister at the Residence in Tel Aviv where he had the chance to meet our contacts from business, culture, peace building and from the Irish community.  A special thanks to Mary and David Lee from the Embassy for all their hard work on the visit: I would also like to pay tribute to the officials from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs whose professionalism and courtesy made everything run smoothly, especially when dealing with the usual feature of every visit – the unexpected!

The Minister’s interview with the Irish Times on his visit is here http://t.co/7AHil1CcSm

You can find some photos and links from the Minister’s visit on the Embassy’s website at www.embassyofireland.co.il

Best wishes,

Eamonn

Eamonn McKee

Ambassador

Tel Aviv

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Col. Patterson Rests Now in Israel

This morning I attended the ceremonious re-interment of Col. John Henry Patterson and his wife Frances.  The event was the culmination of efforts by his grandson Alan Patterson to fulfill his grandfather’s wish to be buried alongside his Jewish Legion veterans in Israel. Guests included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defence Moshe Ya’alon and Minister for Tourism Uzi Landau, my colleague the British Ambassador Matthew Gould, members of the Knesset, and representatives of the armed forces and the Jabotinsky Institute, key supporters of the event.   After the re-interment at Moshav Avichail, we adjourned to the auditorium of the Beit Hagedudim Museum for a wonderfully evocative programme of music, recital and song.  Alan Patterson spoke engagingly of his commitment to the reinternment and his grandfather’s influence in the pre-state evolution of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke eloquently and movingly, clearly from the heart, of Patterson.  He asserted emphatically that Patterson was the “godfather” of the Israeli army.  Jews had had a great reputation in ancient times as fierce fighters and defenders against aggressors but this martial prowess was lost through two thousand years of wandering.  It was Patterson who instilled discipline in the Jews under his command.  And critically he instilled confidence that Jewish fighting units could distinguish themselves in battle.  Like Herzl’s commitment’s to the Zionist state and Patterson’s to a Jewish army, both notions were initially rediculed.  Yet Patterson had proved a point that Jews could and would defend themselves, fighting valiantly in the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns.  The Prime Minister spoke too of Patterson’s close relationship with his family, recounted below.  He said that his presence, along with that of his wife Sarah, was repaying a debt of honour owed to Patterson by his family and by Israel.

It is interesting to reflect that if Patterson made his contribution to the formation of Israel through his profession as a British soldier, it was Irish guerrilla fighters like Michael Collins and Tom Barry who inspired the early Zionists to take up the fight through irregular actions during the Mandate period.  Ireland had defied an Empire and won; Zionists could do the same.

In the blog below, I recount Patterson’s life, seeing in its motivation and aspiration a parallel with that other great figure of this region and this era, T.E. Lawrence.

Patterson of Ballymahon, Zionist Hero Comes Home

Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson was re-interred in Israel on 4 December. While not well known in Israel and fast being forgotten elsewhere, certainly compared to that avatar of the British adventurer in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence, Patterson made an early and significant contribution to the Zionist cause. Indeed in some critical ways, both he and Lawrence shared common impulses that underlay their remarkably picaresque lives in the service of others.

Patterson’s birthplace was Ballymahon, Co Longford, son of an Anglo-Irish Protestant father and an Irish Catholic mother. The year of his birth, 1867, also witnessed the sporadic Fenian Rising that fizzled out ineffectually. Though it would be the last incidence of insurrection by Irish republicans until the Easter Rising of 1916, the Anglo-Irish lived insecurely with ominous signs on the horizon about their future. Demands by tenant farmers for rights and proprietorship, backed up by political campaigns and nocturnal violence encouraged a series of land Acts that weakened the gentry’s hold. More ominously still, Gladstone became a convert to Home Rule for Ireland in 1886.

Patterson’s mixed heritage may have given a personal edge to this sense of uncertainty, lending a certain air of mystery, even alienation that was to surround him all his life. Unlike so many scions of this class, Patterson did not join the British Army as a cadet but as a groom for a cavalry unit, working his way up through the non-commissioned and, over the years, commissioned ranks.

Patterson’s first claim to fame came when he was hired by the East Africa Company to oversee the construction of a railway in Tsavo in present-day Kenya. Local workers were preyed on by man-eating lions, sparking both real and superstitious fears, and posing a threat to the whole project. Having learned big-cat hunting skills while on service in India, Patterson eventually tracked down and killed the two male lions, manifestly huge beasts as evidenced by the trophy photographs. Patterson’s account of this, The Man-eaters of Tsavo, was published to much acclaim and fascination in 1907, becoming a best seller (and eventually a number of films, including the 1996 film The Ghost and the Darkness, with Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer).

In the meantime, Patterson fought in the Boer War under General Allenby, winning the DSO and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was also involved in a scandal which drew Ernest Hemingway’s attention to his colourful life: the suggestion of an affair with the wife of a fellow soldier who died from a gunshot wound while they were all on safari. The cocktail of big-game hunting, sexual pursuit and contested machismo forms the basis for his story The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. Patterson is the inspiration for the safari guide Robert Wilson, a hunter of big game, and women if the opportunity presented itself, taciturn but manifestly philosophical in a manly, rough hewn way. Being Hemingway, the prose is pruned and compressed but a psychological portrait emerges of Wilson which may not have been too far removed from Patterson; courageous, skilled, cool under pressure, tough, self-sufficient, detached.

Patterson, a committed unionist, was drawn back to Ireland during the Home Rule crisis of 1913-1914 where he took command of a unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force. However Patterson’s destiny lay neither in Africa nor even in Ireland but rather in the Levant. That Patterson did not stay to participate in the revolutionary tumult of his native Ireland but opted for the allure of the Middle East and the adventures of fighting the Ottomans says much about his inclinations and interests.

As the Ottoman Empire crumbled during the onset and course of World War I, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor formed the Zion Mule Corp in 1915 as approved by General Maxwell. Their intention was to help the British wrest control of the Levant from the Turks and stake their claim to the creation of the state of Israel. Having served in Flanders in 1914, Patterson travelled to Egypt where he met with and was evidently impressed by the young and determined Zionists. Jabotinsky made a marked impression on him as did his idea for a Jewish Legion, both as a symbol of resurgent Jewish nationalism (the first Jewish fighting unit for two thousand years) and as a statement of intent to form a nation state..

The Corps fought gallantly at Gallipoli under Patterson’s command (recounted in his With the Zionists at Gallipoli (1916). Patterson wrote: ‘I have here, fighting under my orders, a purely Jewish unit. As far as I know, this is the first time in the Christian era that such a thing has happened.’ (Quoted by Zeev V. Maizlin, in the Jerusalem Post, link herehttp://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/The-man-who-became-Lawrence-of-Judea).

After a stint back in Ireland where he commanded the 4th Royal Irish Fusiliers and fifth Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Patterson went to England where he formed and trained the Jewish 38th Fusiliers, part of what was to become known as the Jewish Legion, the sobriquet of five Jewish battalions in the British Army.

According to one account, “in February of 1918, Patterson proudly led soldiers of the 38th Fusiliers Battalion, one of the components of the Legion, in a parade in the Whitechapel Road, before they were shipped off to Palestine. They met a tumultuous and joyous reception among the Jews of London, as well as generating amazement among other bystanders….” Patterson fought with his battalion in campaigns in Palestine, notably recorded in his memoirs With the Judaeans in Palestine (1922).

Throughout his time with the Jewish Legion, Patterson encountered and resisted anti-Semitism in the British Army, an experience that came to alienate him further from his erstwhile colleagues and increase his sense of identity as one of uncertainty and flux. Increasingly, he came to admire his Jewish comrades. He was becoming a fervent advocate for the creation of the State of Israel, forming life-long friendships with Zionist leaders, including Jabotinsky and Benzion Netanyahu. (Netanyhu would name one of his sons Yonatan in Patterson’s honour: Yonatan died in the famed Entebbe raid and his younger brother Benjamin would become Prime Minister.)

After the war, Patterson helped lay the foundations for what would become the Israeli defence forces. From his adopted home in America, he would advocate for the cause of the Jewish people and was at the forefront of efforts there to save Jews from the Holocaust. He died in California in 1947, a year short of the creation of the State of Israel.

Patterson in many ways was the Judean counterpart to Lawrence of Arabia. Patterson and Lawrence shared a common origin in both having Anglo-Irish fathers. Lawrence’s father was Thomas Chapman, born not far from Patterson’s Ballymahon. Chapman absconded from his first wife and family with the family governess, Sarah Lawrence, to Wales where T.E was born and given his mother’s surname. Both men shared ambiguous or hybridized identity and an outsider status. Both were soldiers and scholars, innate researchers as well as searchers. Both appeared to be compelled to search for inner meaning and outsized causes, Lawrence in Arab studies and Arab nationalism, Patterson in Hebrew and biblical studies and ultimately Zionism.

Patterson lived a life in tumultuous times and his wanderings progressively created a life that became a veritable palimpsest of the times and places in which he lived, stretching from Ireland, to the heart of Africa and the shores of the Mediterranean; a man of Ireland and yet not Irish per se, Anglo-Irish and not quite British enough, ambitious and independent, a tough disciplinarian and spiritual, worldly and erudite. Above all, his experience of life never dulled his capacity to strive – not for himself but for others. It is a deeply appealing quality that he shares with Lawrence (and which distinguishes him from the fictional Wilson).

Ultimately Patterson would find a sense of belonging with his Jewish comrades, outsiders like himself, looking to fashion their own home and indeed their own identity through the Zionist cause. If there is one place for Patterson to finally rest, it is surely here in Israel.

Eamonn McKee
Ambassador of Ireland

Tel Aviv

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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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Some Recent Topics and Themes from Ireland-Israel

(Touching on Beckett, the Holocaust, the Irish dead of WWI, commemorating Ireland’s past, the Euro elections, the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land and a visit to Petra.)

If you were at the 10th Annual Tel Aviv University/Irish Embassy Samuel Beckett Lecture yesterday, I hope you enjoyed the evening and our conversations over refreshments afterwards.  (If you were not, well there’s always next year.) I and my colleagues at the Embassy are delighted to continue this proud tradition, one began through the inspiration and commitment of the wonderful Professor Linda Ben-Zvi.  I want to thank the Dean of the Arts Faculty Prof. Zvika Serper and Prof. Shulamith Lev-Aladgem, Chair, Dept. of Theatre Studies for their continued support.

As I noted in my welcoming remarks, Beckett is a central figure in Ireland and Israel but he is more favoured here I think than his mentor James Joyce.  It is not too much of a guess to propose that this is because Beckett deals with catastrophe, stripping man’s condition down to its existential essence in response to the physical and moral ruins of WWII and the Holocaust. 

Stripping art down to its essence was also the concern of Avigdor Arikha, a survivor of the Shoah and Beckett’s great friend in Paris for over four decades. 

Our guest speaker was Alba Arkiha, Avignor’s daughter, who spoke eloquently and insightfully of her memories of the chiseled, blue-eyed man who regularly came to visit, to chat, to drink and to stay silent in company.  Sam, as they called him, would become her godfather and occasional mentor, a benign even beatific figure in a noisy household that brimmed with art, literature and conversation from its many creative guests.  

Alba’s memoir Major/Minor assembles her memories; what gives the book its beauty is the kaleidoscopic recall, poetically expressed, of someone making sense of life and of those around her, lived in Paris but threading through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, New York and London.   I want to thank Alba for making the trip here and hope that she will be back for a future Beckett event.

As you know, I occasionally collect links from my Twitter account that collectively turn out to be less random that I think when I post them. 

Three items regarding the Holocaust caught my eye. 

The first was a paradoxically sobering and inspiring report on new avenues to catch and convict guards involved at the death camps even at this late hour; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/10/opinion/germanys-pursuit-of-death-camp-guards.html

The second was simply inspiring, recounting the brave actions of one British man who saved 669 children while so many others stood idly by:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/20/nicholas-winton-birthday-man-saved-children-nazis

Third was a BBC story of the poignant and nightmarish voyage of the SS St Louis as it vainly criss-crossed the Atlantic in May 1939 with 900 hundred Jews fleeing the Nazis: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27373131

In terms of Ireland’s own human catastrophe, the Great Irish Famine, I tweeted a link to this article under the rubric ‘remembering one million dead’;http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/kenny-speaks-of-painful-slow-famine-deaths-1.1791348#.U2_iwkkwgkQ.twitter

Still on the subject of remembrance, the Irish Independent reported on the number of Irish who died in WWI;http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/world-war-1/ireland-during-world-war-1-the-facts-figures-30249108.html The magnitude of the losses were startling for such a small country at 49,000; counties Dublin and Antrim recorded the most fatalities with more than 10,000 between them. 

These loses more than validate the recent respect accorded to their memory in Ireland, including at Glasnevin Cemetery and a RTE report covers developments there http://www.rte.ie/news/player/2014/0527/20586443-glasnevin-cemetery-honouring-the-irish-who-died-in-both-world-wars/#search=true&query=war&page=2

I tweeted a very interesting speech by my colleague, our Ambassador in London Dan Mulhall, on the subject of commemorating the past here https://www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/great-britain/news-and-events/2014/ambassador-mulhall-lecture-liverpool-university/

More contemporaneously, good news from Ireland included the fact that our debt rating has been upgraded by two notches, reflecting our economy’s growth and I think a growing confidence that the Euro crisis is passing, even if structural issues still remain unresolved such as the overhang of bank debts imposed on unsuspecting taxpayers: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-27450300

Ireland as you know recently held local and European elections, as well as a number of by-elections.  There has been extensive news coverage of the elections to the European parliament, notably for the results in a number of countries that showed a surge in Euro-critical, Euro-sceptical and frankly plainly right wing parties in some instances. 

This has led to much scratching of heads in Euro-circles in Brussels and in capitals.  The message from the Irish Government was that while we have performed exceptionally well in overcoming our financial crisis, and our economy has improved in terms of growth and employment, there is too much of a disconnect between the macro-economic picture of recovery and what ordinary people, who have borne the brunt of austerity most directly, feel in their household income and prospects. 

You will be lost for choice in the coverage but I would recommend this link which I tweeted, a column by the NYT’s Roger Cohen that draws its inspiration from an unlikely source;

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/30/opinion/cohen-capitalism-eating-its-children.html?smid=tw-share

Closer to home, I tweeted some quotes and pictures from President Peres’ reception for the Diplomatic Community in honour of the visit of Pope Francis.  Thanks to my front row perch I managed this picture   pic.twitter.com/n27m2HH2Nc . 

President Peres affirmed the Pontiff’s message saying that “I believe that your visit and call for peace will echo through the region and contribute to revitalizing the efforts to complete the peace process between us and the Palestinians, based on two states living in peace. A Jewish state – Israel. And an Arab state- Palestine.” 

In his remarks, Pope Francis underlined the need for peace and its widespread benefits; the Pope said he prayed daily for peace, security, prosperity and fraternity, above all fraternity, the most beautiful of all.  “I renew my plea for all parties not to do anything against their pleas for peace and a true settlement.” 

Overall, I think it is fair to say that the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land touched all the vital reference points on both sides while delivering firm encouragement to resume the search for peace in a conflict that has universal relevance. 

Finally, the visit of a friend occasioned a trip to Petra.  I could not resist a blog on this fascinating place and its history;

 https://eamonncmckee.com/2014/05/25/petra-back-to-the-future-at-the-nabatean-metropolis 

After a long day trotting around the site, up and down its stone-hewn steps and across its sandy avenues, we were footsore but thrilled to have got a sense of this justly famous site. 

 Shabbat Shalom,

 Eamonn

 

 

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Samuel Beckett and Avigdor Arikha: The Long Friendship of an Irish writer and a Jewish Painter

“A Different Side of Sam; Beckett, Arikha and a Parisian Adolescence.”

Annual Samuel Beckett Lecture by Alba Arikha

Tel Aviv University

29 May 2014

This is the eleventh successive year of the annual Samuel Beckett lecture at Tel Aviv University.  It is the brainchild and longstanding project of Prof. Linda Ben-Zvi.  I want to thank her and the University’s Theatre Department for creating this wonderful literary bridge between Ireland and Israel.

This year the lecture will be delivered by Alba Arikha, the daughter of one of Israel’s greatest artists and the godchild of the great man himself, Samuel Beckett.  Her life, and her story of her father’s forty years of friendship with Beckett in Paris, weave together many strands; from the Irish writer’s Jewish connections and sympathies, Avigdor Arikha’s own Holocaust and wartime experiences, to their lives in Paris over the decades and the grounds for their deep friendship.

The causal chemistry of friendship is a mystery, as ineluctable as it is abiding.  But the outsider can usually trace some of the elements that forge it.

Both Beckett and Arikha found themselves deeply immersed in the great cataclysm of the rise of Nazism and World War II. Beckett fleetingly witnessed Nazi triumph within Germany during his stay there between 1936 and 1937 before moving to France and fighting alongside the Resistance, the Maquis, during the war.  Arikha survived the death camps and serious injury in Israel’s War of Independence before moving permanently to Paris.  Both men were confronted with the abject abandonment of all morality and goodness that was both a cause and a consequence of the great global conflict and its greatest sin, the Shoah.

As men of the arts, they arrived at the same conclusion about their craft and its purpose; to look unflinchingly at life and report back without artifice.

For the writer Beckett this meant spare, even brutal prose to describe the existential absurdity of life without a god, without meaning.  For Arikha, it meant abandoning abstract art in favour of drawing from life directly and in one go.  He would use neither photographs nor memory but draw his subject – whether himself, models or the quotidian things of life like fruit, furniture, rooms, even stones – there and then in one sitting.

Indeed, Arkiha’s art has a startling immediacy, most notably in his self-portraits which are alert, even electrifying.  His many sketches of Beckett show the mastery of his craft.  Like all great art, they capture Beckett both physically – angular, slouching comfortably, smoking, peering – and psychologically: meditative, ever thoughtful, as if always on the verge of being about to say something.  You long to hover in that apartment in Paris as Arikha sketches his friend and to wait to hear their conversation.

While we can’t go back, we have an emissary from that time and that very place in Alba Arikha.  She, along with her sister Noga, grew up with her father and her mother, the poet Anne Atik, in a household that served as an intellectual and artistic hub, whose energies and emotions were coloured by the seismic events through which both her father and his close friend Beckett had lived.   It was also an arena for the struggle between a traumatised father and a young adolescent striving to create her own future and her own life, to escape what Beckett’s mentor, James Joyce, called the nightmare of history.

Her memoir, Major/Minor (Quartet, 2011), recounts her coming of age in the 1980s and her evolving view of the Irishman.  Her inclination was to dismiss him as part of that burden of history that loomed over her home until she discovered Beckett through his writings.  As she recalled of his style, “No surplus, all essentials; something to strive for, when I’m older and wiser.” She remembers him: “He had a very gentle way of talking, Beckett, very calm. He spoke slowly and there was definitely something very soothing about him, very shy about him. He never judged, really.” And he would encourage her as a writer.

In association with the Theatre Studies Department of Tel Aviv University, the Embassy is delighted to host Alba Arikha as the speaker for this year’s Samuel Beckett Lecture: “A Different Side of Sam; Beckett, Arikha and a Parisian Adolescence”.

It promises to be a wonderful evening, followed by refreshments and conversation.  Please come to join us on Thursday, May 29th at 6:00pm, Room 101 Kikone Building, Tel Aviv University.

Best wishes,

Eamonn

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A Visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial

Yad Vashem,  Jerusalem, 12 August 2013

After my courtesy call at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem to present a copy of my letter of credence (I am Ambassador designate until I present my credentials to the President), I visited Yad Vashem, the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust.  My guide for the visit was Rob Rozett, Director of Libraries.  The centre piece of the complex is the Historical Museum.  It comprises a main hall, a long wedge of concrete sliced deep into a hill and forming a canopy over a series of rooms that trace sequentially the rise of anti-Semitism, Nazism and the Holocaust. 

Fact is piled on startling fact: the Polish population was 3.25 million before the war and by its end 3 million had been killed, reducing Polish Jewry from 10% of the population to a mere remnant.  As Rob explained, the exhibition of photos, film, archives and artefacts determinedly asserts the individuality of victims so that the human cost is not lost in the figures of fatalities that are themselves so astronomical as to become merely objective. 

Listening to Rob trace the evolution of the tragedy one cannot escape the realization that there was an inexorable determination at work by the architects of the Holocaust, from the vilification and ritual public humiliation of Jews to their isolation in camps and Ghettos and their eventual transportation to the death camps.  The footage of Hitler’s infamous 1939 speech predicting the destruction of the Jews of Europe displays the ferocity and clarity of his determination.  He was the driving spirit of the genocide but it took many individuals and organisations to give it effect.  Throughout the exhibition there are photographs of the implementers of the Shoah.  Their names and faces are on lids that open to boxes containing information about their very normal lives and qualifications – husband, father, doctor, Ph.D, accountant.  It is this conscious and determined effort by educated men to eliminate an entire human group that constitutes the effrontery, the grand moral offence of the Holocaust that makes it the crime of crimes. 

Mysteries abound that continue to haunt.  How could such a civilized country like Germany engage in such evil?  Why were Jews, a mere 0.8% of population and themselves proud Germans, accepted by the vast majority to be such a threat at the mere prompting of the Nazi Party?  How could so many people participate, condone or by acts of omission allow the thuggish Nazi leadership have its way in this scheme of such vast malignity?  And – most frightening of all in some ways – how easily average citizens across Europe were recruited to form a cog in the butchery of millions of their fellow human beings.

Nazi determination to complete the genocide of the Jews even as the war is manifestly lost illustrated its centrality to Nazi ideology.  By early 1944, the Soviet Army is rampaging on the Eastern Front toward Germany.  The Allies are preparing for the invasion of Western Europe and the race to Berlin.  Time is running out, Germany’s defeat is inexorable and only a matter of time.  In Hungary, the Jewish community has escaped the worst of it because the Government, though allied to Germany, had refused to hand them over.  Hungary is host to some 800,000 Jews.  Hearing of secret Hungarian talks with the Allies, the Nazis invade Hungary in March 1944.  They decide to play catch-up: deportations of Jews begin in May and, astonishingly, within eight weeks 437,000 Jews are rounded up and transported to Auschwitz-Birkeneau.   

My family and I had visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC last year.  It was personally very interesting to compare that experience with Yad Vashem.  Both have in common the evocation of what the Holocaust constituted, with graphic and unforgettable images of barbarity and slaughter of individuals and families; the murder of children is unavoidably even more incomprehensible. Both too testify to the intimacy of murderer and victim – the removal of spectacles, shoes and clothes from the living, the act of killing men, women and children whether by bullets or Zyklon B, the looting of possessions and body parts, the callous burden of disposal of such large numbers of victims.

In Washington for me the most startling image was a simple one; against a plain black background, in a frameless glass case, a Brownshirt uniform was displayed, cosy light brown corduroy, swastikas on the lapels, flaring jodhpurs.  This was the font of evil, a physical artefact from the scene of the crime.  Many donned that uniform and later other uniforms that allowed the wearer to abrogate the normal human decencies.  The truth of the uniform was that general causative explanations of the Holocaust cannot relieve the burden of moral obligation from the individuals who took part.   

At Yad Vashem, the most profound occasion came toward the end.  Rob had had to leave to give press interviews because on the day of my visit Hungarian war criminal Laszlo Csatary had passed away.  Yossi Gevir took over and escorted me to the Hall of Names.  The wall of this circular space is shelved with the black dossiers of the names of those known to have died in the Holocaust.  Some 4.2 million names of the 6 million victims have been traced, authenticated and inscribed.  The search goes on, aided by technology, threatened by the passage of time.  Yossi explained the painstaking process of collating and verifying the names.  In the centre of the Hall, below a circular handrail, a rocky funnel frames a pool of water.  From your reflected image, your gaze vaults upwards to photos of a selection of photos of victims in the chimney ceiling; the space between symbolises the journey from the source of life to its end, our reflections the remembrance of the Shoah.  The physical metaphor of the well is compelling but it was toward the books on the shelves that one’s gaze kept returning. The simple white letters on their black spines seem to speak in whispers. 

We turned to approach the exit, up an incline to where the concrete walls that lean together to form the wedge’s apex curve outwards toward a vista of bright sky, pines and olive groves on the hills of Jerusalem receding before you.  Mere consciousness of the effectiveness of the architectural intent could not suppress the sense of welcome and relief that one had exited to such light and landscape, that an unmade day beckoned with possibility.  God, as someone once said, only owes us a sunrise.  The rest is up to us.

Séamus Heaney once wrote that early Christian monks in Ireland would lie in their dark corbelled beehive huts for days on end, fasting and meditating with a heavy rock on their chests.  One can only imagine where their Dark Age minds travelled as they sought out devils to wrestle.  Casting off the rock, they would emerge into the sunlight, their spirits vaulting heavenward. Though the devils are very different, the architects of Yad Vashem brilliantly achieve a similar effect.

The Chairman of Yad Vashem, retired Brigadier General Avner Shalev, graciously met me and over coffee we discussed the Holocaust, what it said about human nature, models of remembrance and lessons for us today.  As with our conversation, history and evil, capricious twists of history and inexorable tragedies, ironies and explanations return again and again to the Holocaust’s ineffable sadness, the loss of so many and so much. 

There is much more at Yad Vashem than its central and incomparably dramatic and compelling Historical Museum – the exhibition pavilion, the Art Museum, the learning centres, and the location itself.   My visit was only a first one but I left with an inescapable impression.  The modern secular Yad Vashem complex stands in evocative power and significance alongside the other great sites of ancient Jerusalem.

ENDS

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