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Really, Ambassador? September 26, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, Irish Politics.
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Yeah, yeah, I’m recycling headings of posts (after Peter Sutherland), but intriguing interview in the Mail on Sunday by Jason O’Toole with the new Israeli Ambassador, Boaz Modai…

When asked about why people express such strong opinions against Israel in Ireland he has, as O’Toole notes, an unorthodox theory:

– economic jealousy. ‘Some people would say, “People hate you around the world because they envy you!” Maybe. It is a simple answer but, maybe. Israel is a young country with so many difficulties and to fight 62 years for its very existence and to fight six different wars… with all these difficulties, we have achieved quite a lot. ‘Israel is the second country in the world in companies that are listed on the NASDAQ, did you know that? The United States is first. Second comes Israel with 121 companies, not very far from the Americans. Do you know how many Ireland has? Seven companies.

Hmmm… feel the tact, relish the diplomacy…

‘We were looking at Ireland in admiration in the Celtic Tiger times. It was mentioned to the people of Israel many times by our prime minister today, who used to be minister of finance. I think that maybe Ireland can take some examples from Israel these days.’

As for our own diplomacy:

He describes such criticism [of Israel] as ‘sometimes naive’, ‘sometimes coming from a lack of knowledge’ – and sometimes, he hints, downright opportunistic. He says: ‘I don’t know if I’m right – maybe I’m wrong – but I come from a home of politicians and I know that politics is a very cynical thing. And in some cases, the considerations have nothing to do with the case itself but have much broader approach. They have different interests and they have to take all of them into account. In this case, sometimes maybe Israel has to pay the price. ‘I think that what Ireland has been doing lately – to put itself in the position of being so vocal against Israel and so extreme in its criticism – is wrong because then it might lose its power to influence Israel and the peace process. It is not in the interest of Ireland. ‘We hear from our friends around the world and they don’t really understand the behaviour sometimes of the Irish Government. We have to convince them to find a different channel which would be a bit more neutral.’

A bit of whataboutery for good measure:

But he allows that, perhaps, our country champions Palestine because ‘Irish people, who have been oppressed for many years, prefer always to sympathise with the underdog’. ‘It quite amazes me that I don’t see demonstrations in front of the Iranian embassy. After the elections last year, when hundreds of people were killed in the streets, we haven’t seen the same emotion that you see when Israel is doing something that some here don’t like,’

But not to forget a spot of local bother that directly infringed on Irish sovereignty.

[he] takes over the helm here after a period of fraught relations between the countries after it emerged that as many as six Irish passports had been used by, allegedly, a Mossad hit squad in the assassination of a terrorist leader in Dubai back in January. It later emerged that one of the Israeli assassins checked in to the Emirates Towers hotel in Dubai giving her address as No.6 Elgin Road, Ballsbridge, which it transpired was a vacant property – coincidentally, only a stone’s throw from the Israeli embassy – owned by the brother of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin stated that the investigation led to the ‘inescapable’ conclusion that the Israeli intelligence agency was responsible for the forged Irish passports. As a result, an Israeli embassy official was expelled from Ireland.

His view of such matters?

‘We deeply regret the impact this issue had on the Irish people and Government. I know what was the reaction of the Irish Government; we said we regret it, that’s it. The only answer I can give you is that we regret all that. ‘I don’t know any details that can elaborate or give you more light on this issue. I read it in the papers so I know more or less what you know from the papers. We don’t even have any more dialogue about this since it happened. I had a very cordial and very good meeting with the secretary-general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, David Cooney, and this issue wasn’t even raised. I understand it’s all behind us. It belongs to the past. We’re going on. There is work to be done in order to improve the relations and this is what I came for.’

That’s interesting that he ‘regrets’ it. But what exactly?

Anyhow, what of another issue close to Ireland?

There was more tension between the two countries when Israeli commandos stormed an Irish boat, the Rachel Corrie, heading with humanitarian aid for the occupied Gaza Strip in June. Thankfully, no blood was shed on that occasion – just days before, nine people were killed on a previous flotilla attempting an identical mission. Mr Modai describes the incident, which he says ‘unfortunately’ damaged his country’s reputation, as a ‘mistake’ and says; ‘We’re very sorry about the results because any people that are being killed is bad’. But he also claims that those killed on the boat were linked with IHH Turkey, a humanitarian group with ‘links to Al-Qaeda and Hamas’. ‘Look, if the main aim was to kill, the soldiers could have shot from the outside. It’s clear that they tried to find a solution. It’s bad that nobody expected such a violent reaction from these people who were claiming that they were peace activists.’

And what of the perception of Ireland in Israeli – ahem – diplomatic circles?

‘I’ll be very frank with you, when I saw the list of capitals vacant for this summer, I looked at it and said, “There is only one place I would like to go. This is Dublin”. We are usually entitled to ask for three different places. But I only wanted to go to Dublin.’ ‘I knew it’s a challenge. I have some knowledge of this country from many years ago when I was posted in London. Before we had an embassy here, I used to come here once in a while. I knew that politically there is a lot of work to do. ‘My colleagues back in the foreign ministry in Jerusalem would look at Ireland as a lost cause. This is a very bad sign. We should do our utmost that this is not the case. There is a lot of things to be done and clearly there is a lot of difficulties and there is a lot of criticism – some of it comes from a good place; people really care and they want to influence but some of it is really vicious. ‘I came here in good faith and I believe in the openness of the Irish people. My job here is to convince the Irish press, the politicians, the public opinion that the picture is not as it seems. We sometimes get the feeling that people here simplify the situation. It is much more complicated. It is not a black and white story – there are lots of colours.’

And this?

But he admits that even his own wife expressed doubts about his ability to win over the Irish public during his four-year term. ‘On the way back from a trip to the Cliffs of Moher, we saw these huge fields, everything was green, and she said, “How can they ever understand us? They have this relatively huge country. Everything is green. They don’t have to bother about water. They don’t have any enemy around them that wants to eliminate them. The Irish people have no fears; they can live quietly”. ‘We are surrounded by 22 Arab countries, some of them very hostile. Look at Israel compared to the whole Muslim world – its seven million people compared to more than one billion. We are trying to survive in a neighbourhood in which we are not very welcome. We have to explain the differences and try to convince people to understand at least our point of view, if not to convince them that we are right.’ But, as he admits himself, those persistently ‘unpleasant’ demonstrations outside Israeli embassy will probably only come to a halt with lasting peace in the Middle East. Sadly, it’s hard to envisage that happening on Mr Modai’s watch.

A masterful understatement.

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Comments»

1. Goldie - September 26, 2010

I like your wise comments which are not only sharp but show significant skills of using understatement

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2. Dubliner15 - September 26, 2010

Jaysus….what a car crash on an interview. It reads like a PR disaster. Why on earth did say all that stuff?

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EWI - September 26, 2010

what a car crash on an interview. It reads like a PR disaster. Why on earth did say all that stuff?

Because Avigdor Lieberman is currently the Israeli Foreign Minister, and this muppet becoming ambassador is what happens.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

Amazing though that the media handlers weren’t more on the ball. I mean this is a disaster waiting to happen. Don’t they have a sort of protocol for this sort of thing – even something along the lines of ‘sorry, going to have to stop now, got the Foreign Ministry on the line for you your excellency’.

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EWI - September 26, 2010

even something along the lines of ‘sorry, going to have to stop now, got the Foreign Ministry on the line for you your excellency’.

They clearly see themselves as having the luxury of rubbing others’ noses in what they’re about. The Israelis have the sole remaining superpower writing them a blank cheque (literally as well as figuratively), after all. The similarities to the OUP abound.

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3. Tim Johnston - September 26, 2010

heh. A bit of a slip there, “22 Arab countries” I was unable to find on a map; 22 Muslim ones, maybe!

A startlingly frank interview from the Israeli ambassador. But I don’t know if this statement can be dismissed as ‘whataboutery’:

But he allows that, perhaps, our country champions Palestine because ‘Irish people, who have been oppressed for many years, prefer always to sympathise with the underdog’.
[I think that’s completely true]

‘It quite amazes me that I don’t see demonstrations in front of the Iranian embassy. After the elections last year, when hundreds of people were killed in the streets, we haven’t seen the same emotion that you see when Israel is doing something that some here don’t like,’

That latter is something we’ve discussed before. No serious person could argue that there aren’t much greater human rights abuses in the world than those alleged in Israel. The question is rather what we can do about them. In the case of the worst abusers – nothing. You can’t divest from Saudi AramCo.

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Brian - September 27, 2010

First of all, the crimes of Iran, bad as they are cannot be in any way be compared to the persistent war crimes, ethnic cleansing and land theft committed daily by Israel. Thats no defence of Iran in case anyone thinks it is.

However, the big difference is that Iran endures sanctions from western countries while Israel receieves favourable trading status and links with the US and the EU including Ireland.

Despite Irish citizens being among those kidnapped and brutalised by Israel, Cowen and martin have taken NO action against Israel.

What do you think would be the wests, and the government here, attitude if that slaughter and act of international piracy was carried out by Iran?

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Tim Johnston - September 27, 2010

Iran did kidnap British soldiers in 2007. Nothing happened. Somalia kidnaps people all the time, but they don’t have a government so nothing much happens there either. (As for those Irish citizens, they went to Israel voluntarily so it’s hard to have sympathy for them specifically, particularly as they did not represent me or my nation in any way.).
Saudi Arabia basically enslaves hundreds of thousands of ‘guest workers’, but they are from desperately poor countries which don’t do anything about it.

I think your argument WbS, (which someone else made on a previous occasion as well) is entirely fair, although it would be better to actually hear it made more often, that we are friends of Israel and just want them to do the right thing.
It’s fair enough too to argue that changing things we can change is better than no change at all, even if it can look like hypocrisy at times. As the embassador says, though, it’s the emotion that’s different. Amd maybe, as EWI says, the proximity and relative development of Israel is a good reason to scrutinise it closely, for the same reasons we scrutinise Turkey or Serbia.

When you look at somewhere like Burma, with the horrendous crimes that go on there, it’s easy to feel impotent about it because China is in charge and has little care for human rights. It’s almost like people expend more frustration when they think they find something they can actually leverage.

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Brian - September 28, 2010

Again Tim you have missed the point. Ireland and the EU do not have favourable trading links with Iran (or Somalia), indeed sanctions are in force against Iran. Iran (or Somalia) have not been invited to join the OECD.

On the other hand Israel has been granted favourable trading status with the EU. Israel has been granted membership fo the OECD.

While the EU and Ireland insist that Iran is held accountable for its nuclear program, they vote against holding Israel responsible for its nuclear programme.

Finally Tim, those Irish citizens did NOT go to Israel voluntarily. They never had any intention of going to Israel – they were going to Gaza. Their boats were hi-jacked in International waters, and as the UN human rights report showed, they committed numerous atrocities and war crimes, including summary executions.

Those Irish citizens and other activists that survived the massacre were kidnapped and forcibly brought to Israel against their will, where they were abused and assaulted.

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4. Dubliner15 - September 26, 2010

This chap gets more and more interesting. Apart from his father being a famous minister for finance/justice, I just read the print version of this interview in the Mail – and in it the ambassador also admits that he harassed one of his staff members, after he discovered she was spreading ‘stories’ about him having an ‘affair’. He says: ‘I reacted in an emotional way that in hindsight was unhelpful…’

I googled it and there’s also a news story in an Israeli paper. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3382506,00.html

This news story mentions a restraining order, but he states in the Mail: ‘There was no restraining order. Most of what’s written is a lie…’

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2010

He’s quite a character. How this plays out…

Tim, I take your point about worst abusers, on the other hand it’s precisely because Israel is ‘known’ and indeed that there was a reasonably strong sympathy for prior to say the 1970s that I think people concentrate on it – there’s at least some chance pressure will assist in getting to a better position. After all, it has significant links with the EU, through shared cultural events, etc, etc, a sense of a shared culture on some levels, and so forth.

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Pope Epopt - September 26, 2010

Erm rather more than cultural links. Israeli companies get EU funding through the Framework Programmes. Astounding but true.

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EWI - September 26, 2010

there’s at least some chance pressure will assist in getting to a better position. After all, it has significant links with the EU, through shared cultural events, etc, etc, a sense of a shared culture on some levels, and so forth.

Exactly so. If they want to be in the club of western democracies – and boy do they want this! – then they need to adhere to certain norms of civilized behaviour.

Recognising the Arabs who inhabit their countries as human beings would be a nice start.

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Phil - September 27, 2010

I do like “most”. PR consultants are annotating this interview for use in training exercises as we speak.

What this reminds me of is Smith’s Rhodesia, or for that matter Amin’s Uganda – regimes with the combination of total self-belief and genuine stupidity in their spokespeople, because all the clever ones had got out or were keeping their heads down. I suppose those precedents are quite hopeful, if you squint hard and take the long view.

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5. David L - September 28, 2010

That was an amusing interview, showing the dumbing down of Israeli spokespeople – probably for reasons that Phil mentions. The previous ambassador was dull but able to present the lines in a more convincing manner. This one -as one would expect – reflects the far-right leanings of the present Israeli govt more faithfully.

Not too long ago, Avigdor Lieberman gave his ambassadors a dressing down for failing to present the Israeli case in a more robust manner, believing the best PR is to firmly denounce opponents of Israel etc. I think we can look forward to a confrontational ambassador.

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6. Pope Epopt - September 28, 2010

Mr. Lieberman’s presence may be flattering. Perhaps we have the distinction of being a lost cause, as far as the Israeli government is concerned?

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David L - September 28, 2010

Hi, I don’t think so. I genuinely think it’s an example of the poor quality of advocates and diplomats available to Israel at the moment (also nepotism must surely play a part in this person’s promotion).

But Israel can’t afford to ‘lose’ an EU member. Nor is it in danger of doing so, much as I hate to admit it. If we look beyond the posturing round times of flotilla crises or massacres, our govt offers fairly steady support to Israel.

The decision to keep buying Israeli arms, despite a sustained lobbying campaign is a case in point. Last week where Ireland joined in with an EU effort to ensure that once again Israel wouldn’t be censured by the IAEA over its nuclear weapons, was another example. One significant thing about these significant decisions was that they were pretty under-reported, whereas any effort to curb Israel is given the spotlight treatment.

Mind you, apart from the govt, Israel does regard Irish society as unbalanced and pro-Palestinian. In response, I think we can expect the growth of ‘Brand Israel’ cultural exports coming to these shores in the next couple of years as a form of soft propaganda for the state.

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WorldbyStorm - September 28, 2010

Interesting. I take your point about the reality as against the perception. Mind you it also points up how sensitive Israel is even to the most mild criticism, either public or political.

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Pope Epopt - September 28, 2010

No, not much danger, as you say. I’ve often speculated about why Irish passport renewals have become so expensive. Perhaps there’s a ‘one for me, one for you’ arrangement with Mossad.
😉

But seriously, Israel is dependent upon both the US and the EU in many ways. A change in EU (most importantly, German) stance could force a bit of real negotiation.

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EWI - September 28, 2010

Avigdor’s most recent comments live up to type:

“‘Thus, in searching for a durable agreement with the Palestinians, one which will deal with the true roots of the conflict and which will endure for many years, one must understand that first, the Iranian issue must be resolved. One must deal first with the root of the problem and not its symptoms

[…]

He added that the ‘friction’ caused by ‘two nations, two religions and two languages with competing claims to the same land’ meant there has to be a new look at the makeup of any new state.

‘The guiding principle for a final status agreement must not be land-for-peace but rather, exchange of populated territory,’ Mr Lieberman said.

‘Let me be very clear: I am not speaking about moving populations, but rather about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities.'”

http://www.rte.ie/news/2010/0928/mideast.html

Of course, he’s meanwhile busy changing the “reality” through Israeli colonies in the Palestinian lands…

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7. Pope Epopt - September 29, 2010

The Stuxnet Worm appears to be a sophisticated piece of rogue software – which attacks Microsoft Windows-based Siemens industrial controllers, with the intention of disrupting certain well-known Iranian facilities. It was made by a team with state-level resources behind it. Which state should be obvious.

The collateral damage is potentially large. Power-generation and distribution, transport, mines, hospitals etc. could be effected. A Rubicon has been crossed in cyber-warfare. Potential civilian casualties have been ignored in an imprecisely targeted attack on an entire country. Expect to see little informed reportage in the media, comprising largely of disinformation from the likes of Mr. Lieberman.

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8. why have we an Israeli ambassador that admits that he harassed a woman - April 13, 2011

[…] […]

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