Meet the heroes standing up for Israel in an Irish sea of hostility

The JC hears from Ireland’s advocates for the Jewish state


Demonstrators gather at the pro-Israel rally in Dublin on 26 May, 2024, the first such rally in Ireland since just after October 7. (Photo: Leah Farrell, Photocall Ireland)

On a torrentially rainy day in late May, nearly 1,000 people gathered outside St Stephen’s Green in Dublin to wave a flag that has become implicitly prohibited in the land of 1,000 welcomes.

The demonstrators, made up of Irish and non-Irish, Jews and non-Jews, were not deterred by Ireland’s recent declaration that it would recognise a Palestinian state, nor by the baying counter-protesters – carrying a sign reading “Zionists out of Ireland” – who awaited them outside Leinster House.

Ireland has historically favoured Palestine in its conflicts with Israel. It was the first EU nation to endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state in 1980, and has leaned further in that direction since October 7.

From Ireland’s support for South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice to its official recognition of Palestinian statehood last month, the country appears to be unanimously anti-Israel – politicians, grassroots groups and national media outlets alike. And with a recent poll finding that a whopping 71 per cent of Irish people believe that Israel is imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians, you would be excused for overlooking the minority of Irish voices daring to advocate for the Jewish state.

“I know it doesn’t look like it when you read the media and look at our government and their actions, but there is a groundswell – a quiet groundswell, I would say – of supporters of Israel in Ireland,” said Jackie Goodall, founder of the Ireland Israel Alliance group, which organised the first pro-Israel march in Dublin after October 7.

Goodall, who is a Christian, said she was among a growing number of people in Ireland “who are very supportive of Israel and realise that it’s the canary in the coal mine as far as Western civilisation is concerned”.

On the day of the rally, Ireland Israel Alliance was joined by the Irish branch of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, Irish Christian Friends of Israel, All Nations Church and a Romanian congregation called Betania Church. Among the speakers to stand before an Israeli flag outside parliament on that rainy afternoon was Alan Shatter, former government minister for justice, minister for defence and member of parliament for more than 30 years.

Shatter, who is among Ireland’s roughly 2,700 Jewish residents, has been trying to present a more balanced perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict for decades, an effort which he sees as simply a matter of “stating the facts of the conflict as they are”.

“There’s a lot of good people in Ireland who are seeing tragedy in Gaza and think that Israel is just arbitrarily killing people for no good reason, and they are not being told the full truth of what is actually happening.”

Goodall and Shatter claim that “none of the Irish media turned out” to report on the rally, despite it being the first such demonstration since the start of the war, despite regular coverage of the frequent pro-Palestine marches in Dublin, and despite the presence of a former government minister as well as the newly inaugurated Rabbi of the Republic of Ireland, Yoni Wieder.

“A lot of people on the street don’t share the same vehement disgust with what Israel’s doing and might actually be a lot more supportive of Israel than the politicians and the press like to portray,” said London-born Rabbi Wieder, 28, who moved to Dublin with his wife last year and was inaugurated chief rabbi last month.

“I have had so many people come up to me in the street, not because they know I’m the chief rabbi, but because they see me wearing a kippah and say, ‘We stand with Israel, we stand with the Jewish people, what our government’s doing doesn’t speak for us. We’re ashamed by our government’s actions.’

“Dozens of my congregants report that their acquaintances and their colleagues say similar things and have sent them similar messages, and when I say these anecdotes to the Irish media, they choose not to include that in the broadcast or in the write up of my interview, because it doesn’t really fit with the established narrative,” said Rabbi Wieder.

Rachel Moiselle, a PhD candidate at Trinity College Dublin, has unwittingly become a voice for Jews in Ireland since speaking up about her Jewish heritage on social media as a way to protest against the “completely normalised” antisemitism she notices in day-to-day life.

“I’m very proudly Irish and it brings me no joy to constantly eviscerate Ireland’s problem with antisemitism, but it is the reality of Irish society,” Moiselle said. “I’ve had to recognise that my connection to Irishness will have to be my own one and not what Irish society purports it to be.”

One thing Irish society has come to associate with Irishness is standing up for those they perceive as being oppressed, a byproduct of the nation’s own history of oppression, colonisation and partition.

Perceived parallels between the Irish and Palestinian experiences have, for decades now, fostered an emotional fidelity to the cause of Palestinian independence. The Irish generally view the post-1947 partition of Mandatory Palestine as a mirror image of their own post-1922 landscape, when the Anglo-Irish Treaty left a newly independent Ireland partitioned by the British.

In the words of Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British military governor of Jerusalem, Israel was to become “a little loyal Jewish Ulster,” meant to hold back the tides of Arab nationalism just as Ulster – or Northern Ireland – remained a British stronghold as the crown’s defence against Irish nationalism.

But Shatter claims the Irish-Palestinian parallel is contrived. He references the provisional IRA’s involvement with the Palestine Liberation Organisation during the 1970s and the subsequent promotion of Palestinian allegiance by Sinn Féin. The connection between the IRA and extremist Palestinian groups is missed by the general public, according to Shatter.

“There’s a simplistic presentation of the conflict: Ireland was colonised by the British, we fought for our independence; the Palestinians have been colonised by the Jews, the Palestinians are fighting for their independence. The Palestinians are the underdogs, ergo, we will support the Palestinians. And it then goes to the extreme that when you’re engaged in resistance and liberation, any methods are acceptable.”

The Irish media does little to publicise the real aims of antisemitic Palestinian terrorist organisations such as Hamas. Moiselle added: “Irish people would never condone the IRA, for example, committing atrocities such as those Hamas committed against British people. Your average good human being would not condone that level of violence, and yet I have seen widespread endorsement or rationalisation of the atrocities that Hamas inflicted.

“So if it truly is a parallel, then why is that the case? Why are you condoning behaviour from Hamas that you would never condone from the IRA?”

Moiselle – as is the case with Shatter and Goodall – is convinced that an undercurrent of antisemitism is also largely to blame. “One of the problems in Ireland is that people don’t really understand what antisemitism is,” said Goodall. “They don’t realise that antisemitism mutates over the centuries – they don’t actually understand the insidious nature of it.”

Moiselle points to Irish people’s disproportionate response to the tragedies of the conflict: “You see righteous outrage about the atrocities in Gaza and I share that outrage, I very much share it, but where is that outrage for butchered Jews? It’s not there.”

Even as Moiselle calls out anti-Israel bias in Irish media and tweets threads about antisemitism, she still recoils at the term “pro-Israel”, probably because of the consequences adopting the label carries in Ireland. “I don’t particularly see a future for myself here,” said Moiselle, who has lost numerous friends since she began speaking out for the Jewish community in Ireland after October 7. "Either I live my life giving that up, not talking about that aspect of myself, not talking about the fact that I have loved ones in Israel, not standing up for what I believe in, or I live my truth and I stand up for my beliefs and I’m basically ostracised.” 

Shatter said he has been “effectively cancelled” by the Irish Times, a newspaper for which he has written op-eds over the years. According to Shatter, the paper had never refused to publish one of his opinion pieces until he wrote a piece that strayed from the “biased editorial anti-Israel line”.

Soon after October 7, Shatter wrote an opinion piece that referred to Israeli women being raped and noted the difficulty Israel faced in fighting an enemy that uses civilians as human shields. “The response was they didn’t like the article. It was unbalanced. They wanted more sympathy expressed for the fate of people in Gaza, and they asked me to prove that women had been raped.”

Shatter explained that, as the chairperson of Magen David Adom Ireland, “I probably knew more about what was happening in Israel on October 7 in the early morning than a lot of people in Israel did”.

He said that when he tried on one further occasion to offer another opinion piece to the Irish Times he was met with yet another rejection, and he gave up. So his advocacy for Israel is now largely restricted to international media outlets and X. But after eight months of trying to balance out the Israel-Palestine narrative in Ireland, Shatter wonders whether there was any point in engaging at all.

“I’m afraid an awful lot of what we’re spending our time doing is achieving sweet feck all.”

But for Goodall, whose pro-Israel rally in May attracted more supporters than even she imagined, the voices of support for Israel in Ireland – however sparse, however timid – make the endeavour of advocacy worth the heavy price.

“Sometimes you think, why am I doing this?” she said.

“And then you go out and you do a rally like that, and you see that there are so many people out there who are behind you and supportive and you think, OK, that’s why we do it.”

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