Israelis invited to Belfast after Irish boycott attempts

Former Irish government minister Alan Shatter, an Irish Jew,  has condemned a bill in the Dail which aims to boycott Israeli goods
Former Irish government minister Alan Shatter, an Irish Jew, has condemned a bill in the Dail which aims to boycott Israeli goods

Israeli legislators who cancelled a Dublin trip because of Irish attempts to criminalise purchase of their goods have instead been invited to Belfast.

Israeli politicians cancelled the trip scheduled for March in protest against a bill progressing through the Irish Parliament which attempts to criminalise buyers of goods from Middle Eastern areas ‘occupied’ by Israel.

If the Republic of Ireland wants to turn its back on the opportunities of working with Israel I would extend an invitation to the Israeli legislators to come to Northern Ireland.

William Humphrey, DUP MLA

Supporters of the private member’s bill, which originated with independent senator, singer Frances Black, claim it will support Palestinians.

However, the Irish government, facing a growing revolt on the matter from TDs, says the bill would breach EU law and is opposing it.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 does not specifically mention Israel but would make it an offence for a person to “import or sell goods or services originating in an occupied territory or to extract resources from an occupied territory in certain circumstances”.

The bill passed through the Upper House of the Irish Parliament, the Seanad, by 29-14 and 30-13 in two votes in November. Last month, a further vote in the lower house, the Dail, saw it supported 78-45 with three abstentions.

It has a further three stages to go in the Dail after which it would have to be signed by the Irish president to become law. Some observers suggest it is unlikely he would, due to government opposition.

DUP MLA William Humphrey said: “It seems bizarre that the European enthusiasts in the Dail would try to pass a bill boycotting Israeli goods when such a move is not compatible with EU trade law.

“Israeli technology and goods are embedded completely in our everyday lives and those proposing boycotts ignore the practical and economic realities of such a move.

“If the Republic of Ireland wants to turn its back on the opportunities of working with Israel I would extend an invitation to the Israeli legislators to come to Northern Ireland. I know many businesses would welcome the opportunity such a visit would bring.”

In a speech to TDs on January 23, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said the bill would place the Republic in breach of EU trade law.

“Trade is an exclusive competence of the European Union,” he said. “We are not in a position to raise a barrier and declare that it is prohibited to bring to Ireland, for sale or personal use, goods which enter the EU legally, and are freely circulating elsewhere in the single market.”

The bill will not significantly impact on Israeli settlements, he said. However, it could lead the Republic into legal challenges, significant EU penalties and paying damages to those with economic interests in the Israeli settlements.

Such legislation would also undermine the Republic’s credibility to influence Middle East issues at EU and UN level, he said.

And it could create conflicts for US companies in the Republic and Irish companies in the US, he said, because the US Congress has been considering legislation which forbids companies based in America from cooperating with Israeli trade bans.

“For these reasons, no responsible party of government could support this bill and this government must and will oppose it,” Mr Coveney said.

Opposing the bill in the Jerusalem Post, Irish Jew and former Irish minister for justice and defence, Alan Shatter, said none of the proponents of the bill in the Irish Parliament had mentioned ongoing terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians or the support by Hamas and Hezbollah for Iran’s “genocidal objective of destroying the Israeli state”.

Although not much emphasized, he said, it is also clear from the bill’s terminology that it applies to any goods or services originating from any Israeli presence in east Jerusalem and on the Golan Heights.

In addition, he said, Sinn Fein’s enthusiastic support for the bill is “payback for the training given by the PLO in terrorism and bomb making” to the IRA.

And slamming Fianna Fail’s support for the bill, he noted that in the 1930s the party “denied residential visas to many German Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany and, postwar, to Holocaust survivors”.

He believes that the bill’s passage “may grind to a halt” if the government considers it too expensive to implement and designates it as “a money bill”.

If enacted, Mr Shatter added, it may also have no immediate effect if Mr Coveney declines to implement it, although this could be reversed by any minister of foreign affairs who might succeed him.