In a watershed moment, the Irish Senate (Seanad Éireann) approved a bill to criminalize West Bank settlement activity on Wednesday, thereby taking a stand both against European Union policy and its own government.
This is an “historic, momentous occasion,” said Irish Senator Frances Black, who had submitted the private member’s bill that now goes to the House (Dáil Éireann) for approval before it is passed into law.
The senate vote puts Ireland on track to become the first European Union country to end trade with Judea and Samaria, as well as with Jewish areas of Jerusalem over the pre-1967 lines.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that the Irish Senate had approved “the most extreme anti-Israel piece of legislation in Europe.”
The ministry added: “This bill will not help a single Palestinian and is aimed at negating the historical connection between the people of Israel and the birthplace of the Jewish people.”
In Dublin, senators stood and applauded after the vote.
“I feel so emotional and so proud,” Black said.
She almost seemed to burst into tears as she thanked those who had supported the measure, which imposes a fine of up to 250,000 euros or five years in jail for those found guilty of such activity.
“I know just how much it means to the Palestinian people to know that someone out there cares. Today we sent a strong signal that Ireland will always stand on the side of international law and justice,” Black said.
This “is not a radical ask. If we know that certain goods are produced as the result of war crimes, then we should not be trading in them. How can we keep condemning the settlements as illegal while trading in the proceeds of this crime,” Black said.
Prior to the vote, a representative of the government warned the senate that the legislation was contrary to EU law and “requires the state to do something which is not in its power.” The attorney-general has also warned against it, she said.
Goods from West Bank settlements can only be excluded by the EU and not by an individual member state. “This is the essence of the EU single market,” the representative stated.
The bill “would expose the state to legal action by the European Commission and parties adversely affected by the bill,” the representative said.
She noted that the bill would have little impact on settler goods, because the volume of trade with east Jerusalem and West Bank settlements is low. But it would harm Irish businesses, particularly those in the US, which could find themselves placed between incompatible legislative demands,” she said.
It would also marginalize Ireland in any peace process, the representative said.
She clarified that the government opposed settlement activity. But the boost it would give to the Palestinians would quickly be turned into a victory for the settlers when the European Court of Justice ruled that the legislation was “in breach of EU law,” she said.
A number of senators who spoke against the bill said they did so solely because they backed the government’s position and clarified that their stance should not be interpreted as support for settlement activity.
Supporters of the bill were quick to state they were not “antisemitic.”
Senator David Norris said that “this is a great day for this country. We are the first country and I hope we won’t be the last” to break ranks with the EU. “You will never get unanimity in the EU. The Germans have such conscience about the Holocaust [that] they are never going to do anything.
“There is a rather nasty campaign by the Israeli government against this bill,” he said.
Norris compared Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, charging that he was leading a “Goebbels-style” propaganda campaign on the web, specifically on Facebook.
This included a 10-minute video of a young Palestinian girl repeatedly stabbing, with a voice over that said, “Palestinian children are trained to hate.” Specifically, Norris said, this video has popped up on Facebook feeds of those who support Black’s legislation.
“I just wanted to point out that this kind of Goebbels-style operation is going on from the Israelis,” he said.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has charged that the bill is discriminatory because it only uses international court decisions against Israel and excludes other cases of “disputed territories.”
“It is a dangerous piece of legislation as it gives the Palestinians the illusion that external coercion can actually replace negotiations. It encourages Palestinians to continue supporting terrorism instead of engaging in direct negotiations,” the ministry said.
“Sadly, if this legislation becomes a law it will be counter-productive, as it seeks to close doors for Israelis but will only succeed to close the door on any future input that Ireland could have in a peace process in the Middle East,” the Foreign Ministry said.