Really, Ambassador? September 26, 2010Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, Irish Politics.
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.’
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.