Israel’s Ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, thought he was dropping in to the small town of Carrickmacross for a cup of tea and a chat with the mayor.
Instead, he walked into a massive political row in which Sinn Féin councillors even called for a page he signed in the visitors’ book to be removed.
Dr Evrony visited the town in County Monaghan last Friday and was greeted by more than 30 residents protesting alongside councillors and the deputy mayor.
The group blocked his route and demanded that mayor Mary Kerr-Conlon cancel her meeting with him.
Police helped Dr Evrony get through the crowd to the council offices where he signed the town’s “Distinguished Visitors’ Book”.
Sinn Féin councillor Matt Carthy claimed four of the town’s nine councillors opposed the visit and declared that Mrs Kerr-Conlon, a member of the opposing Fine Gael party, “should be ashamed of herself”.
He said: “The mayor’s actions in this regard are disgraceful. Carrickmacross does not want to be associated in any way with the Israeli government.
“To be associated with this rogue government is an affront to the Palestinian people who, only one year ago, were the subject of an unrelenting aerial and ground attack by Israeli forces in their Operation Cast Lead.”
And in something reminiscent of a scene from the comedy show Father Ted Cllr Carthy even said his party would propose that the council “remove” the page in the visitors’ book.
But Dr Evrony, though he admitted he had not expected the demonstration, was fairly calm and unrattled. He said the visit had gone ahead as planned, and added: “My visit was to clarify the misperceptions held by some people about Israel and to explain that it is doing all it can to achieve peace with the Palestinian people.
“It was an unusual event. Overall, I have been received in Ireland with warmth and hospitality, despite some disagreements about Israel’s policies. I intend to continue making Israel’s case everywhere in Ireland.”
The ambassador has written to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams asking him to condemn the protest. Mr Adams met the Israeli ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, in Belfast in May last year. Tom Carew, chair of the Ireland-Israel Friendship League, said Sinn Féin’s opposition was a stunt aimed at winning support from the electorate.
“This was just an attempt to create controversy. Sinn Fein is in huge decline and is attempting to do something to conceal that,” he said.
“I would like to see these councillors go to Sderot and see the effect of terror on the people living there.
“Carrickmacross is very close to the border with the north and the people there should be more aware than anybody that if you want peace you should work hard with your neighbours.”
Mayor Kerr-Conlon said she did not want to be dragged into a dispute but contested Sinn Féin’s version of events, saying that a number of meetings had successfully taken place with Dr Evrony.