Thursday, January 15, 2009

Emerald Isle and Emerald City: Ireland, the Vatican, and Palestine

[Image: President Sean T. O'Ceallaigh inspecting the guard. Mr. O'Ceallaigh was President of the Republic of Ireland from 1945-1959 and set the tone for diplomatic relations between Ireland and Israel.]

"If one were to throw a sack of flour over the Irish parliament, it is unlikely that anybody pro-Israeli would get white. Among the 120 members of the Dáil-the Irish parliament's lower house-and the hundred members of the Senate, not one name springs to mind as a regular defender of Israel. There are either those who do not care or pro-Palestinians."

Dr. Rory Miller interview comments (cited from Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Rory Miller, "Irish Attitudes toward Israel," European-Israeli Relations, 181-94).

After reviewing several of the positions that Christy and Damien espouse regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one is struck by the similarity of these individuals’ respective view with those of Ireland based Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign: (link:

Much of The Scenic Route’s critique of the politics of the Left and its stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict appears directed at organizations and umbrella groups of this ilk. This site contains links to a wide range of human rights organizations as well as to thinkers and writers on the Israeli Left and Palestinian center. The IPSC, while relatively small, is among the most vocal groups of its type. The page devoted to Irish voices lists a total of three politicians, leaving one with the impression that those politicos willing to back the Hamas position in Irish politics are relatively few in number.

Under the category: The Importance of Ireland’s Role [as an arbitrator?] one may read the following paragraph:

“Irish diplomats and politicians speak with the moral authority derived from our history of peaceful co-existence, cooperation and mutual respect for other peoples and nations of the world since the foundation of our state. Owing to our centuries long struggle for independence and recent experience of conflict resolution, others who long for justice and peace are inspired by the Irish peace process.”
However inspired the world may or may not be with the Irish peace process, the casual observer has every right to examine the record of Irish diplomats and politicians to speak with moral authority on the question of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

It is worth remarking that Ireland, in pursuing its diplomatic role as an international self-styled moral authority, has been in the vanguard of United Nations efforts to speak out on issues of religious intolerance. In an interview conducted by Manfred Gerstenfield with American Law professor Anne Bayefsky, Bayefsky “points out that Ireland has been the EU's leading state on the subject of religious intolerance at the United Nations. Yet it was determined to exclude any mention of anti-Semitism from the 2003 UN resolution on religious intolerance. Ultimately, to avoid a separate motion by Israel, Ireland agreed to include such mention if Israel withdrew its motion, which it did. Yet, the Irish delegation reneged on its promise.” (Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Anne Bayefsky, "The United Nations: Leading Global Purveyor of Anti-Semitism," Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 31, 1 April 2005).

While several scholars are quick to observe that this diplomatic behavior smacks of a form of anti-Semitism, one must weigh the possible provenance of such a policy. After all, it is a diplomatic axiom that nations have no permanent friends, only permanent interests. On the level of economic exchanges, for example, the record between Ireland and Israel are distinctly more positive.

A quick survey of Irish diplomatic behavior toward Israel since 1948 suggests that there exists a set of biases that require careful and critical examination.
First, in the most recent major example of Ireland's diplomatic attitude toward Israel and Arab terrorism it may be stated that Ireland was one of only three countries, the others being France and Spain, that sought to prevent the EU from declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization. (Rory Miller, Ireland and the Palestine Question, 1948-2004, by, Irish Academic Press, 2005).

By way of aside, the monarchies of Bourbon France and Bourbon Spain each carried titles conferred by the Pope designating the Christian role of these monarchies as temporal powers under a duty to protect Christians. The French monarchs were designated Christianissimus (Most Christian) and the Spanish monarchs were designated Catholicus. The politics of the Spanish reconquest of the Iberian peninsula and the expulsion of the Muslim and Jewish populations therein during the XV and XVI centuries did much to shape the demographics of early modern Palestine. Moreover on the subject of extra-territorial rights concerning the protection of Christians in Muslim lands, particularly in with respect to Ottoman-era Palestine and the city of Jerusalem, France and Spain have served as a Vatican sanctioned Christian state-powers charged with the protection of Christians at the holy places. Here is a summary of the historical legal position of Jerusalem related to the nineteenth-century Ottoman Capitulations as summarize by the Irael Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

The Holy Places in the city have often been a matter for dispute. In the 19th century there was bitter controversy when certain European countries extended their protection over the various Christian churches in Palestine, and over their Holy Places. Some of the Powers also established consulates in Jerusalem (France, Britain, Russia, Prussia, Austria, Sardinia, Spain and the United States). For the purpose of regulating the status of the various churches at the Holy Places, the Ottoman government published a number of firmans, the most important being that of 1852. This firman dealt with certain Holy Places and determined the powers and rights of the various Churches in those places. This arrangement was generally known as the 'status quo', and has been applied to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its dependencies, the Convent of Deir al-Sultan, the Sanctuary of the Ascension (on the Mount of Olives), the Tomb of the Virgin Mary (near Gethsemane) in Jerusalem as well as the Church of the Nativity, the Milk Grotto and the Shepherds' Field near Bethlehem.

It is worth hypothesizing the extent to which historical Vatican policy toward the status of Jerusalem has affected the diplomatic relations of these three modern majority Catholic European states, Ireland, France, and Spain with the modern state of Israel.

For the record, the Vatican itself has never backed away from what was essentially a nineteenth-century position supporting the extraterritorial (one would now use the term international) nature of Jerusalem. The Vatican did not offer official recognition to the state of Israel until December 30th, 1993.
The Vatican felt compelled to articulate its position on the extraterritoriality of Jerusalem with the successful formation of the state of Israel in 1948 in two Encyclicals issued by Pope Pius XII (In Multiplicibus, 10/24/1948 and Redemptoris Nostri Cruciatus, 04/15/1949). Below are the relevant excerpts from the 1949 Encyclical:

9. We have never ceased to pray repeatedly for this enduring and genuine peace. And to the end that it might be brought to fruition and permanence at the earliest possible moment, We have already insisted in Our Encyclical letter In Multiplicibus, that the time has come when Jerusalem and its vicinity, where the previous memorials of the Life and Death of the Divine Redeemer are preserved, should be accorded and legally guaranteed an "international" status, which in the present circumstances seems to offer the best and most satisfactory protection for these sacred monuments.

10. We cannot help repeating here the same declaration, encouraged by the thought that it may also serve as an inspiration to Our children. Let them, wherever they are living, use every legitimate means to persuade the rulers of nations, and those whose duty it is to settle this important question, to accord to Jerusalem and its surroundings a juridical status whose stability under the present circumstances can only be adequately assured by a united effort of nations that love peace and respect the right of others.

11. Besides, it is of the utmost importance that due immunity and protection be guaranteed to all the Holy Places of Palestine not only in Jerusalem but also in the other cities and villages as well.

12. Not a few of these places have suffered serious loss and damage owing to the upheaval and devastation of the war. Since they are religious memorials of such moment—objects of veneration to the whole world and an incentive and support to Christian piety—these places should also be suitably protected by definite statute guaranteed by an "international" agreement.
Link to full text:

It is worth consulting the full text of this document. Its redaction fails to mention the state of Israel and its overall points and concerns mirror diplomatic discourse found in official statements made by the governments of France, Spain, and most particularly, Ireland.

Such parallelism between the Vatican positions taken toward Israel and the official and unofficial discourse on the Israel-Palestinian conflict one reads in Irish political tracts suggests that historians would be justified in taking up the important question of Ireland’s role in support of Vatican policy in East Jerulsalem and the extent to which the policy of Ireland toward Jerusalem specifically and toward the state of Israel generally is informed by Vatican positions regarding Holy Sites.

Ireland for example, did not extend immediate recognition to the state of Israel in 1948. Irish policy in this matter appears not to follow and independent source. Rather, Irish policy solidly adheres to Vatican developments. This is illustrated by that government extending to Israel the barest minimum of recognition and only upgraded diplomatic relations when questions arose surrounding Ireland’s application to join the European Union. Thus one finds the very odd diplomatic announcement by Ireland on 25 January 1964 that it had granted de jure recognition to Israel “some time ago.”(note: (note: Stefan Talmon: Recognition of Governments in International Law (1998), p. 73)

But like the Vatican, Ireland withheld full recognition and establishment of full diplomatic relations was slow, very slow (the agreement to establish diplomatic relations was not finalized until 12 December 1974). Lastly, it very curious to note that the Irish government did not approve the opening of the Israeli embassy in Dublin until 14 December 1993, some two weeks prior to the official recognition of the state of Israel by the Vatican. (note: Talmon (1998) p. 73). Again, such diplomatic parallelism is too stark to ignore.

While this is just a brief sketch on a complex topic, the pattern illustrated here indicates that nineteenth-century attitudes (at least 19th century) die a hard death and continue to linger on in forms that are not quite as obvious as one would suspect given the gloss and glitz of our modern media age.


  1. Christy3:37 PM


    While I appreciate the research you obviously put into this, I'm not sure where you are going with this. Is it a 'revelation' that Ireland was closely tied with the Vatican until very recently? Any half wit in any bar in the world will tell you that. Our 'diplomatic coldness' towards Israel is no surprise either. Are you attempting to hint that because of our historically cold relations (And I actually believe 'cold' is too strong a word in this case) with Israel that we all are anti-semitic?

    Another thing I find remarkable about all of this was that it lacked any clarity of argument. It was, essentially, a compilation of very minor misdemeanours which attempts to paint a broader picture. And your conclusion, which I will repeat here:

    "While this is just a brief sketch on a complex topic, the pattern illustrated here indicates that nineteenth-century attitudes (at least 19th century) die a hard death and continue to linger on in forms that are not quite as obvious as one would suspect given the gloss and glitz of our modern media age. "

    is simply baffling and doesn't support the 'argument' you constructed in this essay.

    Frankly, Irelands diplomatic coldness probably had to do with what we may have seen as a parallel in the Palestinian situation with our own situation in the north. Our political hierarchy at the time, a very much Eamon De Valera/Fianna Fáil ascendancy, were just about to issue its declaration of the Republic - a lifelong dream for many, but still tainted by the curse of Ulster.

    The assertion by you, which of course isn't made entirely explicit, is that this essay proves Ireland has anti-semitic undertones based on your readings of Joyce.

    When are you going to be able to differentiate between anti-Israel and anti-Jew? Can someone not object to the politics without objecting to the religion? Have enlightenment values really been desecrated so much?

    I was much hoping you would provide an apologists account for the establishment of Israel - instead we get a very vague, very inconclusive account which ignores the extremely complex historical context of the emerging Irish Republic at the time. With all due respect Jack, I reccomend you do a little reading on Irish history before you reach such a conclusion. I could reccomend various books on this period (From the declaration of the Republic to the 1969 - the start of the Troubles) if you'd like. You have completely ignored the Irish experience with Ulster in your analysis, thus completely ignoring the historical context of your assertions.

  2. Christy3:40 PM

    I apologise, I am only after realising this post was made by a new contributor.

  3. David Pelfrey8:17 PM

    Hello Christy,

    First let me thank you for your comments. As for not making an argument you are correct, the essay was intended to be expository and comparative. The intent being to avoid presenting an argument and conclusion that might polarize the response from those readers in Ireland or elsewhere.

    Nothing in the essay is intended to be a revelation; however, while the diplomatic policies of Ireland and the Vatican with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are generally well-known and discussed, the two governments’ diplomatic timelines and diplomatic discourse are seldom juxtaposed.

    When one begins to juxtapose promulgated Vatican and Irish Republic diplomatic statements on the subject of Israel, Palestine, and Jerusalem, as well as the timing of actions taken, it is possible to put forward the hypothesis that on political and religious issues related to Israel, Irish Republic and Vatican foreign policy appear coordinated.

    If one carries forward the hypothesis that the Irish Republic’s foreign policy toward Israel is influenced by Vatican positions, Ireland is adopting policies that have been shaped by centuries of anti-Semitism and over a century of anti-Zionist diplomatic influence.

  4. Christy3:00 AM

    This could have been shaped another way: A very Catholic country (Ireland) was influenced by the Vatican in diplomatic relations - and only slightly it appears.

    "Ireland is adopting policies that have been shaped by centuries of anti-Semitism and over a century of anti-Zionist diplomatic influence."

    Ireland was a very catholic country, and the Vatican's stance on Judaism only changed with Vatican II. So your conclusion is unsurprising but its hardly criminalising. I don't believe that just because Ireland shared a similar foreign policy with the Vatican that it was by nature anti-semitic. I don't even believe the Vatican was outrightly anti-semitic after world war II - the 'guilt clause' they had for the Jews wasn't removed until Vatican II but the papacy was just as appalled at the Holocaust as anyone else.

    This is akin to saying that since America has diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, then America must be a fundamentalist Islamic country. I don't see the massive connection you seem to.


  5. Hello Chisty,

    Thank you for the nice set of comments, let us see if we can move this discussion further a bit.

    In several of the secondary sources regarding recent Irish history, one comes across a phrase attributed to Mr. Conor Curise O’Brian stating that the long, slow, process of establishing diplomatic relations with the state of Israel was the result of “the Vatican factor.” Mr. O’Brian suggests that Ireland’s government did not want to adjust its position on Israel without Vatican approval.

    O’Brian is of interest to historians of this issue because his parents chose to school him in non-denominational, or at least non-Catholic and non-Nationalist, settings. O’Brian is recorded to have attended the Sandford Park School, and Trinity College. This educational context, at least to those of us outside Ireland, suggests that a level of cultural objectivity exists in Mr. O’Brian’s writings when those writing touch upon Irish cultural blind-spots, i.e., influence of Catholicism and Protestantism. Of course, as you observe, all societies are prone to such cultural blind-spots (the U.S. is no exception).

    Anyway, when one begins the process of sorting out Mr. O’Brian’s viewpoint, there is a good deal of biographical material to turn toward. In 1944, as WWII was reaching its Western European climax, Mr. O’Brian was transferred at his request to the Irish Department of External Affairs, here is the picture he presents and this is a primary source observation:

    “Anyone who knew the department as it was in those days, and who knew me, would have thought it highly improbable that the department would accept me. Joseph P. Walshe, the secretary--that is, permanent head--of the department, was an exceptionally devout Catholic, even by the exacting standards of the Ireland of the first half of the twentieth century. He had served thirteen years of the novitiate for the Jesuit order before being rejected on grounds of ill health. Rome, for Walshe, was still the center of the civilized world. And not only papal Rome but also political Rome in the thirties and early forties. Mussolini had been his hero, both as anti-communist champion and as restorer of the glories of Rome. A memo of his, in June of 1940, reveals him as exhilarated by the victories of the Axis (as he saw it; they were of course really German) and implies that Irish neutrality should be revised in a pro-Axis sense. He hoped to see Ireland aligned, after the war, with Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, and Mussolini's Italy, forming a stabilizing Catholic element within the New Order, which he expected would follow the victory of the Axis. By 1944, of course, this blissful vision was fading fast. But Walshe's outlook did not change. He was always an extreme-right-wing Catholic in his personal views. His official position was significantly different. I shall come to that.
    To a person holding those views, my CV was necessarily repulsive.

    My secondary school, Sandford Park, in Dublin, was a nondenominational school for boys. The boys were the children of Protestants, liberal Jews, and dissident Catholics--roughly a third of each description. From Joe Walshe's point of view, this was the most disreputable and morally contagious collection and environment that one could find in Catholic Ireland, with one exception: Trinity College, Dublin, an Anglican foundation, then under ban by the Catholic Church. No Catholic could attend it without a dispensation without committing a mortal sin. From Sandford Park, I went to Trinity College, without asking for a dispensation: a second large black mark in Walshe's book.” (Quoted from: Conor Cruise O’Brian, “The Roots of my Preoccupation”)

    This is a sobering picture and it is worth discussing. What are your views, for example, of Mr. Joseph P. Walshe? He was secretary of the Department of External Affairs in 1944 and remained in that position until he became Ireland's ambassador to the Holy See, in 1946.

    The point here is determining the bias inherent in each historian or writer treating a subject and weighing the work accordingly. Going back to Mr. O’Brian and the Ireland-Vatican post heading this discussion, what Mr. O’Brian asserts appears at first glance to be in evidence in the diplomatic record.

    That is to say, Ireland’s policy toward Israel appears to be more than influenced by the Vatican; it may be argued that Ireland allows the Holy See to take the lead on this issue and lends its direct support.

    Mr. O’Brian, in fact, demonstrates a very strong command of the primary source material he cites in his works. He also shows and unusually strong interest in areas of historiography outside of a direct Irish perspective.

    In contrast to this position, much modern Irish historiography tends to downplay the role of the Vatican in Irish policy toward Israel and instead shape narratives that attribute hostility toward Israel to an ingrained Irish hatred of partitions in general. However, one should again note that one finds both positions articulated in Mr. O’Brian’s works.

    I am aware that you have written that Mr. O’Brian is not held in the highest regard as an historian in Ireland today. Would you care to elaborate on this in more detail against the context of the present discussion?

    Lastly, if Mr. O’Brian and what can be gleaned from the diplomatic record is correct, Ireland has for many years directly followed Vatican political policy with respect to Israel. While it may be argued that Ireland did not formulate this policy, it may equally be said that it has given direct support to policies formulated by Pope Pius XII that were infused with anti-Semitism, anti-Judaism, and anti-Zionism. If Ireland’s diplomacy is not considered by the Irish themselves as any one of these three things; at the very least one may assert that Ireland is indifferent to all three and their influences, direct and indirect, on this area of Irish foreign policy.

    Kind Regards

  6. Christy5:54 AM


    Concerning O'Brien,

    He is not well regarded by historians today because his history writing is not history. He starts out with a conclusion, finds the evidence to support the conclusion, and overlooks the evidence that might dispute this. While he was distinguished, and undoubtedly an intelligent man, he was also much disliked for joining the UK Unionist Party in his later life.

    Concerning our relationship with the Vatican,

    Following the Civil War and the ensuing Cumann Na nGaedghal government of Cosgrave Ireland became deeply embedded with the Catholic Church. This was possible because of the exodus of much of Irelands protestant population in the revolutionary period (Most when to Britain, many settled in the north, and in the country itself only a few aged merchants and landed gentry seemed to remain. Though there were exceptions to this, and Dublin in particular had a considerable Protestant community)

    The wedding of Devotionalism and Nationalism which occured following the revolutionary period was motivated by a desire to heal old Civil War wounds and a genuine zeal by most participants to replace all remnants of 'Anglican' culture with a purile Gaelic, Catholic culture. The Catholicism of Fenianism was not a new idea but only now was it so blatant. Distinguished and widely admired Protestants in Irish life such as Ernest Blythe and W.B. Yeats could do nothing, despite speaking eloquently in the Dáil and Seanad against this union - which saw among many other things the outlawing of divorces and all other remnants of 'protestant' rule.

    When De Valera came to power in 1932 he represented a full swing in Irish politics. For De Valera had a decade earlier defied the popular will and joined the irregulars in the Civil War. He more than anyone else deeply embedded Catholicism in Irish public life. He did display one major act of defiance however - in the drafting of the 1937 constitution, he rebuked the papacy by refusing to name catholicism as 'the one true religion'. The Church had become complacent in Ireland, dominating so much of our institutions (The education system for example is still heavily dominated by the church) and they hardly expected this strong rebuke by De Valera.

    While I can see why you might believe from O'Briens writings that Irelands position was purely based on Jew hatred, or by bowing before the church, we also have a long history of acting independently of the church ourselves. We defied excommunication in the War of Independence, and we defied many times after.

    As for O'Brien being objective, that is a strange view on him. He was an 'Irish Unionist', a contradiction in terms almost. He clearly supported Israel in the partisan manner he did because he supported the partition of Ireland itself.

    In effect, O'Brien didn't see our foreign policy as an objection to partition, he saw it as an obeyance of the church - which he disliked particularly about Ireland. All O'Brien did was write about the church he hate's so much and ignored the vast bulk of historical evidence and context which lay before him.

    Which is why he isn't well regarded by historians.

  7. Christy5:58 AM

    O'Brien is of course useful as an exemplar of an 'independant' education in Ireland at the time. Going to a non-denomitional school back then was truly a revolutionary act, and he was a good dissident - I'll give him that. People like O'Brien were essential in those dark years of Catholic domination.

    However, I must stress that in the last decade, Catholicism has been dealt a serious blow in Ireland. Even their grip on education is slowly beginning to fall away.