Ireland's ambassador reprimanded by Jerusalem

Liberman wants Dublin embassy shut over Ireland’s anti-settlement legislation

‘We won’t turn the other cheek,’ defense minister says after Irish Senate advances bill to ban settlement goods, despite Irish FM opposing it

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

In this file photo, then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman waits outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem for a meeting with his Irish counterpart, Eamon Gilmore, Jan 29, 2012 (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
In this file photo, then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman waits outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem for a meeting with his Irish counterpart, Eamon Gilmore, Jan 29, 2012 (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday that Israel should close its embassy in Dublin with Ireland, after the country’s senate passed a bill criminalizing the import of goods from Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“There is no point in summoning the Irish ambassador for a reprimand. With Israel haters there is nothing to debate. Israel should immediately close the embassy in Dublin. We will not turn the other cheek to those who boycott us,” Liberman, a former foreign minister, tweeted.

Such a move would constitute a dramatic downgrading of ties, but is not the same as breaking off diplomatic relations.

The government in Dublin — known to be one of the most pro-Palestinian governments in Europe — opposed the bill, arguing that it is not legally entitled to curtail trade with Israeli companies based in the settlements.

Hours after the bill was passed on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry summoned Irish ambassador to Israel Alison Kelly to reprimand her over the vote.

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday afternoon confirmed that the reprimand had taken place, but declined to say who in the ministry spoke to her or any other details.

Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon also declined to comment on Liberman’s tweet.

Screen capture from video of Irish Ambassador to Israel, Alison Kelly. (YouTube)

Since becoming ambassador in Israel in November 2015, Kelly has been summoned several times in the past over Irish policies concerning the Palestinians.

On Wednesday, the Irish Senate, known as Seanad Éireann, passed the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 with 25 yes votes, 20 no votes and 14 abstentions. It still faces several hurdles before it becomes law.

The advancement of the legislation was denounced by Israel and hailed by Palestinian officials and Arab Israeli Knesset members.

“The Irish Senate has given its support to a populist, dangerous and extremist anti-Israel boycott initiative that hurts the chances of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians; it will have a negative impact on the diplomatic process in the Middle East,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“The absurd in the Irish Senate’s initiative is that it will harm the livelihoods of many Palestinians who work in the Israeli industrial zones affected by the boycott,” read the statement.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, celebrated the vote. “This courageous step builds on the historic ties between Ireland and Palestine, as well as it shows the way forward for the rest of the European Union,” top Palestine Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat said in a statement issued before the vote was taken.

The Joint (Arab) List also welcomed the bill, saying it hoped it would “mark the beginning of a new stage in which Israel starts to pay an international political, economic and moral price for its actions.”

The bill’s passage would start “a new stage in treating the Zionist lobby as a danger the values that Europe claims to represent,” the Arab Israeli party said.

The minority-government in Dublin, however, opposed the bill. “On behalf of the government I am unable to agree that this bill is the way forward,” Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said during the discussion that preceded the vote.

While Coveney said he could “emotionally connect” with the bill, lamenting the “deep injustice” that Palestinians have suffered for decades, he argued that there were important legal and political reasons to oppose the bill.

For one, as a member of the European Union, Ireland does not have the right to ban the import of goods that are available elsewhere in the union, he said.

In fact, he said, “passage of the bill would be a breach of European law,” adding that Ireland’s attorney general confirmed this view.

Perhaps even more importantly, Coveney added, advancing the bill would not only sideline Ireland as a party that both Israelis and Palestinians would take seriously but would also greatly diminish Dublin’s ability to influence EU policy on the Middle East.

Ireland would be “fanning the flames” of an already volatile Middle East if it passed the legislation, he said.

The proposed legislation — a private member bill — declares it an offense “for a person to import or attempt to import settlement goods.”

Likewise, those who “assist another person to import or attempt to import settlement goods” would be committing a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, if the bill were to become law.

While the bill does not mention Israel and the Palestinian territories, critics have charged that it appears to have been written exclusively with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in mind.

The bill has at least half a dozen legislative obstacles to clear, including several readings in the lower house of Ireland’s parliament, known as Dáil Éireann, before it can be signed into law by President Michael Higgins.

On January 30, when the Seanad Éireann first debated the bill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply criticized the proposed legislation and ordered Kelly, the Irish ambassador, summoned for a dressing down at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

“The initiative gives backing to those who seek to boycott Israel and completely contravenes the guiding principles of free trade and justice,” Netanyahu said, hours before the planned vote.

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