Should Ireland have voted to expel the Israeli Ambassador?

Image Credit: Ilaria Riccio

Saidhbh Brannigan weighs in on whether Ireland should have passed the motion to expel the Israeli ambassador from the country and in doing so, taken a clear and firm stance on the current escalation in Gaza.

Recent statements and comments by the Israeli Ambassador on the blatant Irish solidarity with Palestine has fuelled further calls by Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and Social Democrats for the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador. “The Israeli ambassador to Ireland is now untenable, while Israel persists with this deepening violence, while they ignore the international call for a ceasefire”, states Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin. However, are these calls for withdrawal of diplomatic relations with Israel, proposed by populist parties, the best way to manifest Ireland’s outcry for a ceasefire?

Throughout the last few weeks of the violent, horrific and internationally divided crisis in the Gaza strip, manifestations of solidarity with Palestine have continued throughout Ireland - following the trend of the past decades. Ireland's parallel experience of occupation, dispossession and erosion of country and culture by an oppressor strengthens our resolve to protest against those in power who continue to subject populations to the ethnic cleansing taking place in Gaza. 

Ireland's parallel experience of occupation, dispossession and erosion of country and culture by an oppressor strengthens our resolve to protest against those in power who continue to subject populations to the ethnic cleansing taking place in Gaza.

It is undeniable that the consequences of expelling an ambassador are multi-faceted. Irish populist parties have supported motions from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, which align with the actions undertaken by the EU in response to the Ukraine and Russia conflict. However, the added motion to expel the ambassador opposes Ursula Von Der Leyen's claim that the support for Israel from the EU was iron-clad. Indeed, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste affirmed that Von der Leyen is “not speaking for Ireland.” The hope is that the expulsion will signal further solidarity with Palestine and promote a debate within the EU Parliament to investigate the crimes of the Israeli Government, extending the investigation to the International Criminal Court.

The Israeli Ambassador has faced criticism by the Irish people for her reproach of the Irish solidarity with Palestine, described as “a mix of pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.” Although many Irish people and politicians reprimand the Ambassador and use her statements as fuel for continued protest, it is essential to recognise her role: an Ambassador plays a crucial role in facilitating connections for immigrants and establishing direct communication channels between governments, allowing negotiations through diplomatic means and maintaining equal representation for each country. If an Ambassador is declared Persona non-Grata (the practice of prohibiting or censoring a diplomat in a country), not only is their diplomatic status revoked, but the status of the host country's ambassadors may also be recalled, severing direct and potential future connections. 

If an Ambassador is declared Persona non-Grata (the practice of prohibiting or censoring a diplomat in a country), not only is their diplomatic status revoked, but the status of the host country's ambassadors may also be recalled, severing direct and potential future connections. 

Lack of representation might result in disinformation and misinformation; in such a media-saturated society like ours, it is vital to have verified personnel to refer to. For example, international media spread false dialogue on Ireland’s stance on the ongoing escalation, going insofar as claiming that Ireland does not recognise Hamas as a terrorist organisation, but is actually funding it and it is cultivating anti-Semitism. This one-sided discourse is inaccurate. Following the storm of unchecked facts and information on such a vital international agenda, Michael D. Higgins has called for a collective checking of conflict facts, stating that “we need the capacity to verify what are the facts on the ground”. President Higgins has been clear in his opposition to Israel’s actions, which has urged an aggravated response from Ambassador Erlich accusing the President of making “inflammatory” and “misinformed” comments.

Following the storm of unchecked facts and information on such a vital international agenda, Michael D. Higgins has called for a collective checking of conflict facts, stating that ‘we need the capacity to verify what are the facts on the ground.’

Internationally, Palestinian voices and leaders in support of Palestine are being silenced. For instance, in the United States, the House of Representatives voted to similarly censure the Palestinian-American lawmaker and advocate Rashida Tlaib, accusing her of spreading anti-Semitism. The criminalization of peaceful protest and the restriction of freedom of speech under the guise of preventing 'hate-marches' is a deliberate attempt to silence dissenting voices. The current climate begged the question: would Ireland have contributed to this international censorship by silencing the Israeli Ambassador? 

On November 15th, it was announced that TDs in the Dáil have rejected the Social Democrats’ motion to expel the Israeli ambassador with 85 deputies voting in support of the Government’s decision to reject this motion and 55 deputies voting in favour of the motion. 

Opting to stifle the voice of an ambassador, irrespective of its unwelcome nature, would have posed an immediate threat to our nation's political awareness and fosters an environment conducive to hate and discrimination. The persistent calls from parties to expel the Israeli Ambassador had remained unwavering which continues to be important to maintain a state of protest, yet it is important not to compromise diplomatic ties in times of war. It is likely that the motion was rejected to protect those ties - although it is important to maintain a critical stance on the matter. 

It is the opinion of some that the silencing of dissenting voices, including key political actors  will not contribute to a ceasefire. Instead, the embracing of a more conventional route relying on negotiations, communication between involved parties has been brought forward by President Higgins. He cited his aspirations for a space where “diplomacy can be found, and out of all of this how a consistent diverse body of proposals might come forward, ones that can deliver a reasonable security to citizens of Israel, and at the same time achieve the delivery of the long-neglected rights of the Palestinian people."