Powerful NGOs, Antisemitism, and the Irish BDS Bill
The Irish Parliament is considering a bill, drafted in conjunction with Trocaire and Christian Aid, two powerful NGOs involved in demonization of Israel, ostensibly to criminalize trade in Israeli settlement goods. The “Control of Economic Activity (Occupied territories)” bill would make it illegal for Irish citizens and residents to import or sell “settlement goods” or to provide or attempt to provide “settlement services.” Violators of the proposed law face up to a five-year prison term and a €250,000 fine.
Although the bill refers generically to “occupied territories,” it was clearly written to explicitly target Israel. In the explanatory notes, the bill’s supporters acknowledge that a unique definition of “relevant occupied territory” that applies only to Israel was “drafted specifically to take this into account.”
Reflecting the BDS origins of the bill, during the parliamentary debate that took place on January 30, several MPs invoked antisemitic rhetoric that violates the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, as also endorsed by the European Parliament. One Irish MP stated, “It is a tragic irony that we in Europe resolved our consciences after the Holocaust by inflicting what the Palestinian people call the Nakba,” and “more than 40 years ago when [Israel] was a left leaning, socially conscious, politically active and decent country, before the inrush of 1 million Soviet citizens who had been scalded by communism and had become extremely right wing.” The NGOs that promoted this campaign failed to comment, and did not condemn this discriminatory rhetoric.
The NGOs Behind the Legislation
The legislation was introduced by independent Senator Frances Black, who previously signed a letter calling for a boycott of all Israeli products.
Her initiative received vocal support from a number of powerful Irish non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Trócaire and Christian Aid – both of which that have long histories of factual distortions, bias, and anti-Israel campaigns, including BDS.
For many years, Trócaire, Christian Aid, and other NGOs have promoted demonization and BDS intensely, claiming to be merely opposed to “settlements.” In July 2017, Trócaire released a documentary This Is Palestine , repeating false claims and libel against Israel. Both groups participated in the 2012 publication of the “Trading Away peace” document that describes the stages of “product labelling,” followed by a “ban on settlement products,” and eventually progressing to a wider boycott targeting Israel as a whole.
Trócaire has previously lobbied for sanctions against Israel and for suspending the EU-Israel Association Agreement. The group has similarly attempted to block Israel’s inclusion in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Following the EU’s 2015, decision on settlement labelling guidelines, Trócaire supported the EU’s settlement labelling guidelines and acknowledged that they viewed the guidelines as encouragement “to push further for an EU ban on trade and investment with Israeli settlements.”
In addition, Trócaire funds highly politicized and biased NGOs, including BADIL and Who Profits. These and other Trócaire-funded groups support BDS and utilize demonizing rhetoric against Israel. Badil frequently promotes antisemitic and violent rhetoric and imagery on its website.
Christian Aid Ireland similarly supports radical groups, including the Israeli NGO Zochrot, which supports a “One State Solution” and a “de-Zionized Palestine.” The NGO also refers to Israel as having an “ethnicized and racialized Zionist” system.
Designed for Political Attack, Not Legislation
The language of the bill applies extremely broad and inscrutable definitions of key terms and promotes discrimination based on categories of religion and national origin. For instance, an “illegal settler” is not a resident of settlements, but a “member of the civilian population” of Israel “who was or is present within the relevant occupied territory.” In other words, every Israeli citizen who crosses the 1949 Armistice Line is defined as an “illegal settler.” “Occupied territory” is determined not by international agreements, law, or litigated cases, but rather by a non-binding advisory opinion requested by the UN General Assembly.
Under the bill, Jerusalem’s Old City and the Kotel (Western Wall of the Temple Mount) are considered to be “occupied territory.” As a result, among many other absurd outcomes, Irish citizens who visit the Jewish Quarter and buy a souvenir to bring back to Ireland, study the Bible, or pray at the Kotel could face jail time and fines.
Participating in tours and other programs conducted in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by Israeli human rights organizations (such as the Irish-government funded Breaking the Silence) would be illegal.
Similarly, an Irish citizen or resident could run afoul of the law if they hail a cab and that cab happens to drive even a centimeter over Green Line, if the driver happens to be “member of the civilian population of Israel.” The bill provides a defense if “the subject of the alleged offence was carried out with the consent of an entity or form of authority which is recognised by the State as being the legitimate authority over that relevant occupied territory.” In other words, a person can only be found innocent if the PLO agrees to waive the prosecution. (Although under the 1993 Oslo Accords, as guaranteed by the international community, Israel is the “recognized… legitimate authority” of East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank.)
Taken as a whole, the language in the bill reflects a broader goal of isolating Israel and implementing a discriminatory BDS agenda. References to settlements and “differentiation” are pretexts.
Violating US and European laws
If enacted, this shortsighted, political bill will gravely undermine Ireland’s economic relationships with Israel, the EU, and the United States. The provisions of the bill reflect an attempt by BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) activists to impose sanctions on Israel. As such, they breach US Federal and State laws (as noted by law professor Orde F. Kittrie) and may be in violation of European Union law and World Trade Organization standards, if not also Irish domestic law. American companies with Irish subsidiaries may be forced to choose between violating Irish law or violating US Federal law regulations that prohibit US firms from participating in foreign boycotts that are not sanctioned by the US. The bill would also subject companies to multiple state-level sanctions that blacklist companies that participate in BDS.
Further, the bill may also even be in contravention of EU law. Specifically, EU member states are barred from adopting unilateral restrictions on imports and may be in violation of European anti-discrimination statutes on the basis on religion and national origin.