Why being Jewish in Ireland has become dangerous

The tiny local community and the community of Israeli hi-tech workers are dealing with a bleak reality.

Lior Tevet (second from right) and friends protest against a pro-Palestinian rally in Ireland. Credit: Courtesy.
Lior Tevet (second from right) and friends protest against a pro-Palestinian rally in Ireland. Credit: Courtesy.

John, 15, is the only Jewish student at his school in Dublin, the Irish capital. Since Oct. 7, he cannot forget this fact for an instant. Like many other Jews living in the country, he is trying to survive under incessant antisemitic fire.

“A month ago, some kids at school laughed about how Jews were gassed, and they know he’s Jewish,” says his mother, Masha. “I told him to ignore it, but the next day, another kid he had never spoken to approached him during recess and gave him a CD with recordings of Hitler. I went to the principal for clarification, and she said my son wasn’t behaving properly either.”

Masha and her son are not alone. Reports of verbal attacks against Jewish and Israeli children in educational institutions are increasing, with some youngsters having to transfer to different schools. The situation is similar for Jewish students at academic institutions.

“As early as October 9, the national student union here organized a pro-Palestinian demonstration, and many student unions, including the university where I work, issued statements supporting the Palestinians—just two days after the Hamas massacre,” says Lior Tevet, 37, a mother of two.

Originally from Ramat Gan, she moved to Ireland with her husband and has been working as a course instructor at a university for six years.

On May 22, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris announced the recognition of a Palestinian state. Norway joined Ireland, which is leading this move in Europe, and Spain also announced that it would recognize a Palestinian state the following week.

Ireland’s dramatic step joins a series of other measures it has been taking against Israel in recent months. Among other things, it supports a European Union probe into “human-rights violations” by Israel during the Gaza war, joined the E.U.’s call to review trade agreements with Israel, and routinely condemns Israel.

The worrisome situation in Irish educational institutions is just a small part of the gloomy picture. The whiskey, beer, music and joie de vivre evoked by Ireland hide a not-so-simple reality for Israelis and Jews living there today.

Maurice Cohen, chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland. Credit: Courtesy/private album.

“The pro-Palestinians have taken over the public discourse, no one knew how to respond in time, and now the pro-Israel voice is not heard at all,” says Maurice Cohen, 74, chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland and a Zionist Jew, born in Dublin.

“It is not heard in the media, not in politics, and not within society. The only voice heard across all strata of Irish society is the pro-Palestinian one. Israel is portrayed here as the absolute evil in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

According to Cohen, this is not an entirely new phenomenon but rather an escalation of an existing reality.

“For years, alongside the rise in support for the Palestinians, antisemitism has been brewing in Ireland,” he explains. “October 7 simply brought antisemitism from under the table to above the table.”

The Irish hostility is reflected, among other things, in the growing demand by political and academic bodies to boycott Israel and boycott local businesses owned by Israelis and products from Israel. This is alongside school curricula that educate an entire generation to love the Palestinians and hate Israel through historical distortion, and attacks on social media against anyone who voices support for Israel. All of this is compounded by the significant presence of a hostile Muslim/Arab community.

There are only about 1,200 Jews in total who are native to Ireland, and they are joined by about 2,000 Israelis who have moved to the country in recent years, partly because Ireland is a tax haven for tech companies.

“Systematically, the mood has changed for the worse against Israel, and hatred of Israel is now at the heart of the consensus,” explains Alan Shatter, 74, who served as Irish minister of justice, equality and defense from 2011 to 2014, a Zionist Jew who was active in international parliamentary frameworks.

According to him, there is currently not a single parliamentary voice supporting the Jewish state. Attacking Israel has become a means of creating electoral capital, and since general elections will be held in Ireland in the next nine months, the future does not bode well.

“The tone in the media has also changed rapidly for the worse against Israel, with the Israeli side not being presented,” Shatter says.

“Anyone watching television or reading newspapers might think that Israel is aggressively destroying Gaza and killing as many civilians as possible. They will not hear about rockets fired at Israel by Hezbollah or Hamas, nothing will be said about the tunnels, and there will be no mention of civilians being used as human shields.

“Some Irish know there are hostages, but there is no focus on them and their fate. The Irish media will not report that Hamas said it would repeat the horrors it committed on October 7. In the Irish government’s call for a ceasefire, there is no condemnation of Hamas for not releasing the captives, and no mention of Hamas’s agenda calling for the destruction of Israel.”

Shatter recounts that “almost every weekend, there are thousands of people shouting ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’ The only reason Israeli trade is not boycotted is that Ireland is bound by the agreements of the European Union, of which it is a member.”

Historical enmity

The conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland was, for the Catholics, a war between the settlers and the natives.

“In the 1970s, IRA terrorists formed ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], and their fighters underwent training in Tunisia with the Palestinians. The IRA believed that just as Palestinians were fighting against Israel, so Catholic Republicans were fighting against the British, against Protestant rule. Palestinians were seen as indigenous fighters against Israeli settlers,” says Shatter.

“If you had visited Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, in the 1970s to the 1990s, you would have seen in the Catholic districts images and wall paintings of Palestinian terrorists depicted as heroes. On the other hand, if you had visited the Protestant districts, you would have seen images and wall paintings glorifying IDF soldiers.”

And so, a conflict thousands of kilometers away from Israel became intertwined with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the Catholic-Republican narrative from the North gradually seeped into the neighboring Republic of Ireland.

Sinn Féin is currently the largest opposition party in Ireland. It belongs to the national right, but also to the economic left, and it supports BDS and is a vehement critic of Israel.

“Sinn Féin calls for expelling the Israeli ambassador from Dublin,” says Shatter. “They don’t want two states for two peoples. They hear calls for the destruction of Israel and don’t protest. There is a possibility that they will be partners in forming the next government and may even lead it.”

Jewish life in Ireland developed in the 19th century when Jews from Eastern Europe arrived in a country still under British occupation. Further waves of immigration came in the following decades and around World War I. At its peak, the Jewish community in Ireland numbered around 5,000.

According to testimonies from elders of the community, in the 1920s and 1930s, Jews did not suffer from overt antisemitism, although there was “classic antisemitism” related to the Catholic Church, which accused Jews of the death of Jesus. During World War II, Ireland refused to accept Jews trying to flee the Nazis, but in the early days of the State of Israel and until the 1967 Six-Day War, Ireland supported Israel.

The example of Barcelona

Is it even possible to fight the phenomenon from within? Shai Doitsch, head of Community Development at Israeli Community Europe (ICE), believes there is hardly any choice.

“The Jewish community in Dublin is a small community, but with a history,” he says. “The family of former Israeli President Chaim Herzog and the current President Isaac Herzog were among the leaders of the Dublin community.

“Now, take for example an antisemitic and anti-Israeli city like Barcelona, which has an established Israeli community connected to the Jewish community, working together with it to change the reality—and is succeeding. The community there managed to thwart an initiative for solidarity strikes with the Palestinians in the education system, prevent the takeover of businesses, and more.

“In contrast, the community in Dublin is fighting against the wave of antisemitism with the limited means at its disposal, without a community center, a driving force, and a unified voice. Therefore, these days, we at ICE are accompanying the community and working to recruit partners for the establishment of a center that will serve as a place where one can be a proud Israeli and Jew, while simultaneously allowing for real-time response and influence on local public opinion,” he continues.

“As someone who researches and accompanies communities on the continent, I am convinced that part of the response is the presence of the Israeli community as a living, proud, strong, and active community. Precisely now. Precisely in Dublin,” Doitsch says.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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