Monday, January 19, 2009

The Spirit of Robert Briscoe

( I am NOT Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey NOR am I connected to her in any way. I discuss naming it after her in the "notes" post)

In my second post I said I'd do a post on Jews and anti-semitism in Ireland. In general, when I say I'll do a post on this or that, I will, it just might take 1-2 months. Anyway, this is that post.

I think I'm going to be especially lazy with this post and just do numbered items. Also, I barely know anything about Jews in Ireland before 1904.

1. There are 1,930 Jews in the Republic of Ireland according to the 2006 census. In N. Ireland in 1967, the population was estimated at 1,350; by 2004 this number had fallen to 130.

2. In 1904 there was a pogrom in Limerick. The Jewish community fled to Cork, and were planning to leave the country, but the people of Cork were so welcoming that many/most decided to stay (that part about Cork is Wikipedia).

3. Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein who was a major leader of the Republic during the War of Independence, defended the Limerick Pogrom.

4. Robert Briscoe was an aide to the President of the Republic (Eamonn DeValera) during the War of Independence, spoke at public meetings in America, was a Quartermaster in the IRA, and was sent to Germany to get arms. Between this and the next item, especially if you give extra weight to Briscoe for being so senior and even if we ignore the likelihood there were a few other Jews in the Republican Movement, it seems safe to say that Irish Jews contributed disproportionately to the struggle during that War. He also fought on the anti-treaty side of the Civil War, and later went on to be a senior politician with Fianna Fail.

5. At one point when DeValera was on the run from the British during the War of Independence, the Chief Rabbi of Ireland hid de Valera in a safe-house.

6. There's a report that an IRA campaign in the 1920's against usury unfairly targeted Jews. UPDATE 10/13/10 This is exclusively from Wikipedia.

7. This is my favorite story about this subject. In the 1930s there was an Irish Jew who later on became Mayor of Cork. In the 30s he was a University student in Cork, One day his professor wouldn't let him speak in class because he was Jewish. He was upset and kind of inclined to forget about it, but told some people. The next time he was in class with that prof., there were a bunch of IRA members there, who forced the professor to let him speak. After that, he experienced no more anti-semitism on campus.

8. For some period in the 1930s, the President of SF was an anti-Semite.

9. From 1933 until 1939, Ireland's Ambassador to Germany was an anti-Semite, and blocked most Jews from immigrating to Ireland during that period. Because of his pro-Nazi attitude he was sacked in 1939. His family were quite different. Those Jews who did make it to Ireland were directed by the Red Cross to cafes owned by his family where they got a free breakfast.

10. The IRA accepted aid from Nazi Germany. I'll do another post on that soon, but for now I'll say this:

A: It was probably overwhelmingly motivated by the ideas that "The enemy of your enemy is your friend," and "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity."
B: It may have also been motivated by anti-semitism which probably claimed a large minority of the IRA.
C: I have read nothing to indicate that it resulted in attacks or anything of the sort on Ireland's Jewish community.
D: To put it mildly, it was NOT their brightest move.

UPDATE 2/5/09 10b. When the Irish Prime Minister learned, in 1942, of the Holocaust, he tried to use diplomacy to save Jews, but it didn't work.

11. In 1982, apparently in connection with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, there was some vandalism of a synagogue in Dublin (Wikipedia).

12. The last 10-15 years at least twice and probably every year, SF leaders have attended Holocaust Memorial events in Belfast.

13. About 2004, for about 1-2 years, the Chair of Dublin SF was Justin Moran, who I know is against anti-semitism.

14. This one will require some explanation, even if I keep it relatively brief. First, I support the Palestinians.
A: I'm halfway between supporting a single-state solution and a two-state solution. As far as I can tell, there's a fair amount of support for the former among Palestinians, and I'm not sure how viable the latter is.
B: I support some kind of continuation of Israel as a homeland for Jews, but not in a way that negatively affects the Palestinians, and I have a problem with states that are defined by religion and/or ethnicity.
C: There are serious human rights problems with how the Palestinians are treated.
D: I'm not familiar with the exact details of the peace process, and am open to the possibility that there are flaws in the approach of Fatah/PLO, and I've heard there are some other problems with Fatah. Nonetheless I generally support Fatah, considering the alternative.
E: Hamas can go fuck itself. I have plenty of reason to believe that something like AT LEAST a large minority of their military activities (ignoring fights with Palestinian rivals) are aimed at intentionally killing civilians, and since they're not going after Arab-Israelis, it's Jews they're going after. And their religious fundamentalist politics and social conservatism are horrible.
UPDATE 2/5/09 Whatever mistakes Fatah has made, Hamas military activities must have alienated huge amounts of international and Israeli public opinion from supporting the Palestinians- those people shouldn't react that way, but they almost certainly have and that would be predictable. Also, if continuing the armed struggle is a good idea (and I am not sure it is) why doesn't Hamas limit their armed operations against Israel to the military and destroying, in ways that limit the possibility of civilian casualties, commercial and non-military government property (that's what about 99.5% of the IRA's operations were like)?

I support an economic and political boycott of Israel, but I'm not so sure of a cultural or academic boycott. It's not that I think it will be anti-Semitic, but I think it can encourage anti-semitism (comparing this to South Africa is not reasonable- there wasn't an historic, current, and global problem of bigotry towards white S, Africans). With that in mind, when I heard that the Belfast chapter of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (and in Belfast I'm pretty sure they're mostly republican and probably something like half SF) was going to protest an Israeli dance company's performance in Belfast, I was concerned. In all fairness, Israeli government money was used to arrange the performance, which might be what prompted IPSC to protest, but I was still uneasy about it. I considered writing a letter to the (SF-aligned) West Belfast community paper I heard about this in, but wasn't sure. I contacted 5 people, all of them supporters of the Palestinians who are either Jewish or definitely against anti-semitism. I think only one responded, and said that I shouldn't worry about it.

More generally, there is a huge level of support for the Palestinians in Ireland, especially among republicans. My theory, based on a small amount of research and things I've heard from sources I trust, is that of American leftists (and progressives) who support the Palestinians, there's probably some small minority that are anti-Semitic (it's probably all non-religious and non-racial, it's the "New Anti-semitism"). I have reason to believe that it's probably the same in Ireland (I met a left-wing anti-semite in Ireland). UPDATE 5/05/09 For a discussion of that, see this.

As far as I can tell, SF is much closer to Fatah than they are to Hamas. On the other hand, a video I found on YouTube for a song about Ogra Shinn Fein (SF Youth) included two images of Hamas members.

15. In 1999, a British Holocaust Denier, David Irving had the brilliant idea of giving a lecture at the University of Cork. Apparently he hadn't heard about how Cork republicans feel about anti-Semites (see #2 and #7) and wanted to give a lecture on the subject "Myths of World War II." A lot of young leftists, including members of SF, physically forced the cancellation of the event by fighting with the police.

That's almost it for Ireland. There's two items about American support for the Nationalist community and the RM.

1) In the late 1990s, during the first incarnation of my group Students for Justice in N. Ireland at the University of Colorado at Boulder, for a year or so, one of the other main people involved was Morgan Carroll, who is currently a very popular and very liberal Democratic State Senator in Colorado. She's an Irish-American Jew.

2) When I proposed a resolution about N. Ireland at the 2001 National Conference of the Young Democratic Socialists, it was defeated (LONG COMPLICATED story), but the two people who were critical in either increasing it's chances of getting passed or rescuing it after it was defeated (it was later voted on by the leadership, who said no) were Jewish (the former was Gabe Kramer, the latter was Erin (now Eliyanna) Kaiser).

Going back to Ireland, I have a feeling that, considering everything above, and even considering how in response to republican support for the Palestinians, Loyalists have recently expressed support for Israel, Jews have contributed in some ways to the republican struggle the last four decades. I'd be surprised if there was a single Jewish member of the Provisional IRA, but I'd also be surprised if Jews haven't often given their higher or lower preferences in elections to SF.

UPDATE 2/15/09 I just did more thinking about the way that leftist supporters of the Palestinians support Hamas and either support or refuse to condemn Hamas's military activities which focus on trying to kill Jewish Israeli civilians. There's one more problem with that. It kind of dehumanizes Jews, it fuels hatred of Jews among left-wing supporters of the Palestinians (I'm mostly thinking of America, Europe, similar countries, but to some degree the entire world). The thing is, the far-right supports the Palestinians, although that's not because they aren't racist towards Arabs it's because A: they simply hate Jews more, and B: they figure it's a good way to recruit stupid people. There's material on YouTube that's anti-Israel from the Nazis, they have concerts that have anti-Israel themes. And there's gotta be some tiny chunk of leftists being seduced by that, probably in combination with something else, something that makes them lean towards racist or homophobic (a large chunk of the far-right have positions on labor, the environment and globalization similar to the left, which makes this recruitment more possible). The refusal to condemn the attacks on Israeli civilians makes this recruitment more likely.


Louis said...

interesting comments on Jewish involvement to Republicanism.

here are the gaps in Irish Jewish history that the author admitted not knowing about:

Tom Shelley said...

Thanks for reminding people about the wikipedia page. Although only about 1% of what I post comes exclusively from wikipedia, and that goes for this post, I actually read that page, but the pre-1904 stuff didn't sink in, I forgot a few things, and I didn't re-read more than a small amount of that material as I was typing the post.

Anyway, glad you found it interesting. Yours is the first comment. I won't mind if you tell others about my blog.