Sunday 23 November 2014

Eoghan Harris: Remembering Zion -- and a big Shalom to his successor

Published 22/08/2010 | 05:00

LAST week, Zion Evrony finished his four-year stint as Israel's ambassador to Ireland. Although I am sorry to see him go, I am glad for his own sake. Four years is a long time to spend listening to the special sick sound the Irish body politic makes when it speaks publicly about Israel.

For most of his time in Ireland we behaved like boors to Evrony. The Irish Times intellectuals implied similarities between the behaviour of Israel's armed forces and the Nazis, Sinn Fein politicians compared him with Josef Goebbels, Galway students jostled and jeered his attempts to make his country's case, Carrickmacross Council voted to rip the page from the visitor's book he had signed.

To its shame, the Irish political class did not just stand idly by while this cultured Jew, alone among all the ambassadors, was harried and hounded: it actively joined in. Evrony was treated like the emissary of some evil dictatorship when, in fact, he represented the only real democracy in a Middle East dominated by squalid dictators, and Islamist fundamentalists who are fascists in the full sense of the word.

In saying this I am well aware that I am outside the national consensus against Israel. And I don't give a damn. I spent some 30 years of my political life confronting the cosy national consensus against Northern Protestants. Finally the Provos' evil deeds forced us to change that national consensus. And I predict the same will happen with Hamas, especially when Iran has a nuclear weapon and the West has to wake up.

At this point I can almost hear most of you ask: but what about the Palestinian case? My first instinct is to ignore the question. As I regularly remind my readers, people's minds are changed by deeds, not by debates. The Provos were defeated by their own dastardly deeds -- changes in public opinion followed rather than preceded atrocities like Warrington and the Enniskillen bombings.

But if you insist on knowing what I think, here goes, briefly. Like Hillary Clinton, I believe that Israel wants a permanent peace based on a two-state solution. But unlike Hillary Clinton, I doubt the Palestinian Authority does, and I am certain that Hamas does not. In support of my belief that Israel wants peace let me point to three major concessions by Israel in the past 30 years.

In 1979, Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt, withdrew all its forces from Sinai, and gave up territory three times the size of Israel. In 1994 it signed a peace treaty with Jordan. In 2005, Israel withdrew all its soldiers and civilians from the Gaza Strip.

The response of Hamas was to murder moderate PLO activists, impose a Sharia-type regime of repression on its own people, and begin to fire thousands of rockets into Israel. In doing so Hamas had the implicit support of large sections of the European Left. And Hamas only stopped when Israel invaded Gaza and forced them to stop.

So while my heart hopes that Hillary Clinton is correct in thinking that a permanent peace is possible, my head tells me that such a peace is moot. Israel is a democracy fighting for its life against a fundamentalist Islamism which wants to wipe it from the face of the Earth. The Palestinian people are pawns in that war.

Where should we stand in this struggle? Until now the political class has lined up squarely behind the Pied Piper of the Irish Left. But this sinister musician is leading us into an objective alliance with degenerate Islamist regimes which repress women, persecute homosexuals and stone loving couples to death.

The proposed boycott of Israel by Irish artists is another shameful milestone in the Irish Left's long campaign against Israel's right to defend itself against deadly foes. By virtue of what principle do these pretentious artists single out Israel and ignore really repressive states like Burma, Chad, Eritrea, Laos, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Zimbabwe?

Given the gross bias of the Irish Left against Israel, Evrony evoked a strange feeling of protectiveness at our first and only meeting at the start of his mission. This was partly because he physically reminded me of my father -- slight frame, sensitive face, spectacles -- and partly because he came from the high culture of Persian Jews. So I worried how he would handle the hatred the Irish Left aims exclusively at the state of Israel.

Luckily he also shared my father's deceptive facade. Behind his scholarly face was a steely mind and masses of moral fortitude. And when Israel struck hard against Hamas in Gaza, and the Irish Left went mad, Evrony was both forensic and fearless in facing Israel's political critics.

Far from hiding out and hoping the storm would pass, Evrony came out fighting. He was neither intellectually intimidated by the Irish Times intellectuals like Fintan O'Toole, nor personally intimidated by Sinn Fein bootboys like Aengus O Snodaigh, who savagely attacked him to his face at an Oireachtas committee.

Last January, Fintan O'Toole wrote a polemical piece in the Irish Times severely criticising Israel's actions in Gaza, but in terms which should have caused some soul-searching among his liberal supporters.Evrony did not evade the implications of O'Toole's article and his almost immediate response opened as follows:

"Fintan O'Toole began his column this week ('Israel must be held to account over Gaza action') by trying to insulate himself in advance from the charge of equating Israel with Nazi Germany. But in a transparent display of intellectual dishonesty, he then proceeds to do exactly that."

A week later, at an open Oireachtas committee attended by Evrony, Aengus O Snodaigh shamefully compared Evrony and Deputy Alan Shatter with Josef Goebbels. (Equally shamefully, Shatter's political peers made no attempt to protect him). Evrony believed that O'Toole's article had encouraged the likes of O Snodaigh to indulge in more primitive abuse and he said so plainly in this paper: "For deep-seated prejudice to reach the light of day, a favourable ideological climate must first be created. A week earlier, Fintan O'Toole, writing in his Irish Times column, had taken the serious step of drawing a moral equivalence between Israel's military operation of self-defence against Hamas terrorism in the Gaza Strip and the genocidal policies of the Nazi regime."

After O'Toole and O Snodaigh's interventions it was open season on Evrony. But he continued to tour the country, making Israel's case in the teeth of increasingly insulting behaviour, culminating in the crude bad manners of the Carrickmacross councillors who allowed Sinn Fein to set their agenda.

The Jewish word shalom can mean peace, goodbye or hello. Accordingly, on behalf of Irish democrats who support Israel in its struggle against Islamist terrorism, let me say 'Shalom' to Zion Evrony and his wife Rita, and in the same breath say 'Shalom' to the new ambassador Boaz Modai, and his wife Nurit.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the new Israeli ambassador is practicing the proper pronunciation of "Cead mile failte a daoine uaisle", and hopes this will endear Modai to audiences of his host country. Some hope.

Even if Modai spoke fluent Munster Irish it would not soften the hearts of those who are only happy when Hamas is happy. So I hope he will emulate the courageous example of Zion Evrony. No surrender.

Sunday Independent

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