Closing the Dublin embassy would be a grave mistake

Two weeks ago I was invited by the Zionist Federation to do a speaking tour in the UK and Ireland. I had not been to Ireland for 25 years and I was scheduled to speak to the dwindling Jewish community that today numbers around 2,500 and in its heyday was over double that number.

In the large hall of a synagogue where president Chaim Herzog’s father had once served as chief rabbi of Ireland, I found a community of lovers of Israel, Jews as well as non Jews, staunch Zionists, who have been forced into a defensive position because of Ireland’s bias against Israel.

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Ireland’s relationship with Israel has been chilly for decades. It wasn’t until 1963 that Ireland recognized Israel, and only in the 1990s that Israel opened its embassy in Dublin. Ireland transitioned from a country sympathizing with Israel in the embryonic stages of the state, identifying with Israel’s defiance of colonial Britain, to a country that now wholly identifies with the Palestinian cause: fighting the evil forces of Israel’s colonization of the West Bank.

The latest ugly expression of this bias is the bill that was passed a week ago, which is still to be approved by Ireland’s lower House of Parliament, banning “the import and sales of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied [Palestinian] territories.”

The swift response of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was to call for the closing of the Israeli Embassy in Dublin. I am not sure whether he was chasing a provocative headline or whether he really meant it, but I believe this would be a grave mistake for Israel for three reasons:

Firstly, as a former foreign minister, he should know that the Israeli embassy does not just serve as a diplomatic arm of the Israeli government for the foreign country where it sits, but also as an oasis for the local Jewish communities. My talk at that synagogue in Dublin was attended by the deputy ambassador, who makes a point of attending all Jewish community events. The community needs this; it is their lifeboat to Israel in a sea of hostility.

In the UK, there are dozens of organizations that do admirable public diplomacy work like my hosts at the ZF, Bicom and the Board of Deputies, to name a few. In Ireland there are no Jewish organizations that are fighting on the ground to protect Israel. However, to remove the embassy would be a betrayal of the Jewish community and would leave them without an authentic connection to their beloved Israel.

The second reason why I believe closing the embassy in Ireland would be a grave mistake is that we would be playing right into the hands of the boycotters. One of the key demands of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in every European country is to expel the Israeli ambassador. They do this to damage Israel’s global relationships, hoping to isolate and delegitimize Israel. If we walk out ourselves, we are giving them a win they do not deserve. Ironically, in these turbulent times, Israel sometimes reacts impulsively and walks out of international forums, rather than waiting to get kicked out. Whilst I truly understand the feelings of outrage generated by these plainly antisemitic pronouncements, this withdrawal in effect means that we are playing by their script and not ours.

The third reason why I believe the removal of the Israeli embassy in Ireland is the wrong move is because although Ireland is a small country on the geographic periphery of Europe, is a country that punches way above its weight. It’s the only English-speaking country in Europe outside the UK and its diaspora is large and influential, particularly in the US. Over 100 million people around the world consider themselves of Irish descent, which is more than 20 times the population of Ireland today. The trade-union boycott of Israel was born in Ireland and it spread like a plague across Europe. Imagine if we would have been able to stop it there! Without an embassy, we are surrendering the fight.

Israel should be putting up a formidable defense to the calumnies of countries like Ireland, funding our embassies better so they can arm themselves with tools to fight, and maybe even go on the offensive from time to time. This approach has to be better than storming out of unfriendly countries in a rage, damaging ourselves in the process.

The road that Israel has to take to fight delegitimization is long. It is the modern iteration of antisemitism, and it is infuriating that in this day and age we are still grappling with this issue. I am very critical of Israel’s lack of vision and strategy in this regard; removing embassies is not the answer. Shirking from battle does not mean we have won the war, and leaving our men and women behind to fend for themselves is unthinkable.

The writer is the leader of the Opposition in the Jerusalem City Council.