Tag Archives: Ireland 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 McKee


Tel Aviv


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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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Ambassador’s Message – Some Themes of Topics from my Twitter Account, November

I thought you might be interested in some of the topics and themes that I’ve been covering via Twitter over the last couple of weeks.

The Tánaiste and Deputy Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, TD, announced a major review of Ireland’s foreign policy and the means of their delivery.   He said “the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will shortly launch a consultation process as part of this review, inviting input from members of the public, and other stakeholders with an interest in Ireland’s foreign policy.”   The Irish Times report is here  http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/gilmore-announces-complete-review-of-state-s-foreign-policy .

The Tánaiste made the announcement in the course of a speech whose main focus was on the centrality of Human Rights to Irish foreign policy principles and diplomatic activities.  The text of the speech is here http://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=89926.

This Review comes at an important transitional time with Ireland proudly and stoically exiting the EU/IMF programme.  This is a not just a major achievement by Ireland but an invaluable investment in our reputation.  In the international bond market, a good reputation translates directly into lower and stable bond yields that will aid our delivery and lighten the burden on our future.  The Government announcement is here http://www.merrionstreet.ie/index.php/2013/11/ireland-to-exit-the-euimf-programme-on-15th-december-as-planned-and-without-further-supports/?cat=3

Another theme I’ve been picking up is hi-tech start-ups, with some links to articles and quotes.  This article from the Guardian used the example of Snapchat – very popular with my wife and daughters, its speed and disposability lends itself to pictures of the funny things of daily family life – as an insight into the current start-up culture: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/13/snapchat-app-sexting-lawsuits-valuation .  The BBC carried an interesting article on the almost artisanal approach to start-ups and creativity in Norway at a place called Mesh, “Oslo’s first bespoke hub for budding entrepreneurs”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24912717 .

A lot has been happening on the Northern Ireland front and Anglo-Irish relations generally.  The President of Ireland, Michael D. O’Higgins, will be the first Irish President on a State Visit to Britain next April.  This is accurately described as an historic event, a hinge moment in the long narrative of Anglo-Irish relations; see Irish Times editorial on its significance here http://www.irishtimes.com/debate/editorial/mr-higgins-goes-to-windsor-1.1599118

The platform for this amicable visit, so reflective of the good relations now enjoyed between Ireland and Britain, was laid by Irish independence in 1922, the progress of the Northern Ireland Peace Process from the 1990s onwards, the pioneering visit of President Robinson to Buckingham Palace in 1993, the tremendous bridge-building work of President McAleese and the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland in 2011. 

For history buffs, it comes on the millennial anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf (Good Friday, 1014) when the great and only truly High King of Ireland, Brian Bóru, broke the power of the Vikings in Ireland (and some historians think fended off a major Danish invasion). 

More directly, it coincides with the centennial commemoration of the start of World War I.  We Irish nationalists have had a conflicted response to those Irishmen who enlisted in the British Army and fought in the Great War, instructed though they were to do so on Ireland’s behalf by the great Irish nationalist leader John Redmond (i.e. that fighting for ‘little Belgium’ would translate to an obligation to grant Irish home rule).  Since the late 1980s, however, Irish thinking has moved on very considerably and we are now recovering the deeply rooted tradition of Irish service in the British Army, lost sight of in the winnowing of Irish nationalist resurgence in the 20th century.  See an interesting article on this here http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/alex-massie/2013/11/when-50000-irishmen-gathered-to-commemorate-the-first-world-war .  Both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste attended remembrance day services; see here http://www.rte.ie/news/2013/1110/485740-gilmore-belfast .

The peace process in Northern Ireland is very much a work in progress.  This is true of the divisions still entrenched between the communities manifest in the Peace Walls, included in this Guardian article graphically illustrating the walls of the world (including the barrier here): http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2013/nov/walls?CMP=twt_gu

Dealing with Northern Ireland’s past and the legacy of the conflict is an ongoing issue as most recently shown by a new investigative report here  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24987465   on British Army killings and by the Northern Ireland Attorney General’s suggestion that no prosecutions be pursued for acts carried out prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/anger-at-call-to-draw-line-under-past-northern-killings-1.1601889

I keep an eye out for insightful coverage of the Holocaust and this New York Times article captures a sometimes forgotten aspect of the rapacity and significance of stealing and disposing of the quotidian goods belonging to Jews destined for the death camps: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/16/opinion/sunday/the-banality-of-robbing-the-jews.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0 .

Twitter lends itself to sharing photos which I gleam from a variety of sources including National Geographic and Irish Archaeology, all involving Ireland of course: some examples here https://twitter.com/NatGeopix/status/401194177629028352/photo/1/large  and here http://www.betterphoto.com/gallery/dynoGallDetail.asp?photoID=10380075&catID=198&contestCatID=&rowNumber=1&camID  . 

In local news, I attended the funeral of the Irish priest and renowned academic, Fr. Jerome Murphy O’Connor in Jerusalem.  A Dominican father, he devoted his life to the study of St Paul and the Holy Land, writing the brilliant and now standard guide The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide.  He was appointed Professor of New Testament at the École Biblique in Jerusalem in 1967 and held the position for the rest of his life.  His walking tours were legendary as was his expansive personality and deep intellect.  His brother Fr Kerry delivered a heartfelt tribute to his life, his personality and achievements at the funeral service at the beautiful Basilica de St. Etienne.  He noted that three of his grandparents’ children and six of their grandchildren joined religious orders, including his cousin, Archbishop of Canterbury Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor. 

Though he lived for some fifty years in Jerusalem, Fr Jerry, as he was fondly called by all who knew him, remained a true and great Irishman.  After an evocative service and blessing by his brother, accompanied by transcendent chanting by his Dominican brethren, Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor  was interred in the vault there, in the company of fellow scholars.  As I paused on the steps on the way in, I captured the scene here https://twitter.com/EamonnMcKee/status/400653809753395201/photo/1

As always we welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have about links to things of interest to Ireland and Israel. 

Best wishes,




Eamonn McKee

Ambassador of Ireland

Tel Aviv

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