There are several references to Jews in Ireland recorded throughout our written history. The earliest known dates from 1079 in the Annals of Inisfallen, written by the monks of Innisfallen Abbey near Killarney. Jewish merchants are said to have come here to trade before moving on. The first permanent settlement of Jews was established on the South coast in the late 15th there following their expulsion from Portugal. Youghal, County Cork elected a Jewish mayor around that time.
There was some Jewish immigration to Ireland during the late 19th centuries. Initially, most of the immigrants came from England and Germany. However, the Russian pogroms led to the flight of many Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, with some settling in Ireland, particularly Lithuanian Jews. By 1904, the total Jewish population had reached an estimated 4,800.It is though the Jewish community in Ireland reached its peak in the late 1940s with a population of 5,500. It has been in decline ever since mainly due to assimilation and emigration to Israel or the United States. The current Jewish population stands at around 2,000. The community is served by three synagogues in Dublin and one in Cork.
The relationship between Ireland and Israel has at times been frosty. Both countries established diplomatic relations in 1975, but Ireland did not allow an Israeli embassy until December 1993 due to Israel’s alleged violations of UN Resolutions. Two weeks prior, Ireland had allowed PLO Leader Yasser Arafat to visit and open a delegation.
Sinn Féin and the Labour party are quite open about their affinity to Palestine over Israel. Some Irish republicans see their struggle for a united Ireland mirrored in the struggle for a Palestinian state. Indeed, the Troubles in Northern Ireland kicked off around the same time as the foundation of the PLO. Murals of IRA and PLO gunmen brandishing weapons are proudly displayed in West Belfast.
Senior Labour party members such as Eamon Gilmore and Michael D. Higgins, who holds the supposedly neutral position of President, have often made speeches at anti-Israel rallies. They have objected to Hamas being labelled terrorists and called for Irish people to boycott Israeli goods.
Anti-Israel groups based in Ireland have made international headlines in recent times, the most prominent incident being the provocative flotillas to Gaza. These groups have also been criticised for bullying musicians into withdrawing from touring Israel, as was the case with Irish band Dervish in 2012.
The main difference between Ireland and Israel of is course that Ireland is an island and Israel is not. This may well be stating the obvious but from an Israeli perspective this is also very significant. For unlike Ireland, tiny Israel is hemmed in on all sides by hostile neighbours. Not alone that, but some are sworn to the ‘destruction’ of Israel and actually supply military ordnance in the form of rockets, explosives and personnel in the hopes of achieving these aims.
Hardly a week goes by without some manifestation of this violence on the streets of Israel. Explosive laden rockets rain down on her cities, crazed suicide bombers threaten her streets, mobs of rock throwing youths continually endanger innocent lives and sniper fire is also a daily occurrence.
To some, it appears as though there has been a role reversal and that Israel is deserving of all of this.As for Ireland, this country has far more to gain by offering support to a beleaguered small democratic state in the face of naked aggression than it has by giving succour to fundamentalist who seek Israel’s destruction through violence,boycotts and demonisation.
With all this in mind, it’s no wonder that the Israeli foreign ministry labelled Ireland “the most anti-Israel country in Europe” in 2011. This is why groups like Irish4Israel are necessary. It’s important for the average Israeli to know that not all Irish people hate them. Our two countries share many trading links; Ireland was the most popular destination for Israeli holidaymakers in 2000; and Irish language advocates could learn a lot from the revival of Hebrew.