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February 6, 2019 9:23 am

On Top of the Brexit Crisis, Does Ireland Want to Awaken Ugly Memories of Antisemitism?

avatar by Harold Brackman

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Anti-Israel protesters in Israel as part of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Photo: Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign via Facebook.

You might think that today’s Brexit worries would be enough to preoccupy Ireland’s government. Instead, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament has escalated the BDS war on Israel by forcing tech companies, such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, to choose between doing business in Ireland and Israel. Over the objections of the Irish Foreign Ministry, the Occupied Territories Bill would impose a five-year prison sentence or a fine on certain companies and institutions.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Frances Black, described the BDS Movement as a “means to overcome the Israeli regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”

During last year’s Israel Peace Week in Ireland, the president of Maynooth Students for Israel was physically assaulted. Israel’s ambassador to Ireland has also been barred from speaking at Trinity College. There have been death threats and warnings to wear “bullet-proof vests,” and a conference at Trinity Seminary featured Steven Salaita, who was fired from the University of Illinois for the obscene wish that all the West Bank settlers “would go missing.”

This year as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, Irish-Jewish relations in New York City will again be bathed in a hue of shamrock-colored bagels and nostalgia. Relations in Ireland also have their stock repertoire of feel-good images, including two Jewish mayors of Dublin, and 19th-century “Liberator” Daniel O’Connell’s declaration that “Ireland is the only Christian country I know of unsullied by any act of persecution against the Jews.”

Yet the Irish — including Irish Jews — have long memories. Even if it were not for the anti-Israel bias of the IRA and former Irish President Mary Robinson, Irish Jews would remember the Limerick Pogrom of 1904, supported by Sein Fenn founder Arthur Griffith, as well as Irish President Éamon de Valera’s signing of the official book of condolence on Hitler’s death on May 2, 1945.

The remarkable thing is how the equally problematic history of Irish-Jewish relations in the US has been forgotten:

  • In 1850 on Yom Kippur Eve, in perhaps the first example of the blood libel hysteria in the US, a mostly Irish Brooklyn mob of 500, including policemen, wrecked a Jewish home and adjoining synagogue.
  • In 1902, mostly Irish workers rained down bricks — then popularly called “Irish confetti” — on the 25,000 East Side Jews marching in Chief Rabbi Jacob Joseph’s funeral procession, while the mostly Irish police joined in with their billy clubs.
  • In 1927, in response to Warner Brothers’ film “Irish Hearts” and MGM’s “The Callahans and the Murphys,” violently antisemitic Irish Catholic newspapers equated Hollywood’s “Jewish Trust” with “perverts and pimps” for picturing Jewish boys marrying Irish girls.
  • Up through 1943, longstanding gang battles between Irish and Jewish young men were ominously politicized by fascist “radio priest” Father Charles Coughlin, whose “The Christian Front” group organized anti-Jewish boycotts, and incited street violence and even bomb plots.

After World War II, relations improved, with the high point being overwhelming Jewish support for JFK in 1960. But now it’s time for Irish voices everywhere to speak up against a grave new injustice against Israel and the Jewish people.

Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African-Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).

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