Justice and Defence Minister abuses position in attacking human rights campaigners
On Friday, May 4th, Alan Shatter the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, issued an incendiary and defamatory attack on the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s (IPSC) right to engage in peaceful campaigning for a cultural boycott of Israel. In his attack, Alan Shatter tried to spuriously link this peaceful Irish human rights group with Al Qaida. In doing so the Minister has abused his position; the IPSC calls upon him to withdraw his attack and believes the Irish Government should immediately and publicly dissociate itself from Minister Shatter’s press release.
Below is an open letter to Minister Shatter in response to his press release.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence
Alan Shatter TD
94 St. Stephen’s Green
Dear Minister Shatter,
In your press release (4th May) you claim that the IPSG’s (by which we understand you mean the IPSC) “action in directing its members to ‘target’ the website of the musical group Dervish in order to intimidate the group into cancelling their planned concerts in Israel is nothing other than cyber-bullying”. This claim is inaccurate and defamatory. The IPSC issued an open letter calling on Dervish to cancel their tour of Israel and called on members and supporters to “consider leaving a message for Dervish on their official Facebook page”. In this letter and in messages left on the band’s Facebook page, IPSC members appealed to Dervish to respect the 2005 boycott call and not to be party to the normalisation and whitewashing of apartheid by playing in Israel. This is normal campaigning work, and it is disturbing that you, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, have used your office to attack the peaceful actions of the IPSC.
You attribute Dervish’s decision not to play Israel to the “venom” on social media. However the official statement by Dervish issued on the morning of 30 April, explaining their decision to cancel their tour in Israel, states “[a]t the time we agreed to these performances we were unaware there was a cultural boycott in place. We now feel that we do not wish to break this boycott. Our decision to withdraw from the concerts reflects our wish to neither endorse nor criticise anyone’s political views in this situation”
In your press release you refer instead to a message from Cathy Jordan which was posted to the band’s website and Facebook page on the night of 1 May. This message was issued after Dervish had already made their decision and announced that they would not play Israel. Instead of deciding not to play Israel as a result of “venom” and “an avalanche of negativity”, it is clear from looking at the Facebook page of Dervish that the venom followed their decision to cancel. Furthermore, this venom came from apologists for Israel and was largely directed at those who had left messages of appreciation and thanks for Dervish following their decision to cancel their trip to Israel. We call on you to condemn such ‘cyber-bullying’.
The Palestinian call for BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) was issued on 9 July 2005, exactly one year after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated, in its Advisory Opinion, that “construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law”. Moreover, there are legal consequences for “third states” as the ICJ found that all states are “under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.”
In spite of this there has been a failure at international level to hold Israel accountable for its breaches of international law and human rights violations. In fact, the 2005 call for BDS – of which cultural boycott is a central tenet – arose as a result of the inaction of governments, including the Irish government, to act in order to address the oppression of Palestinians. For this reason, the BDS campaign seeks to “force Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights and to end its occupation and oppression of the people of Palestine”.
You call on the IPSC to “recognise the value of cultural and artistic exchanges and the contribution such events make to fostering understanding and tolerance”. Regrettably, however, Israel prevents any such cultural exchange from taking place. While theatre groups like Habima are free to perform in the illegal settlements in the West Bank (performances which Palestinians are barred from attending) and travel abroad, Palestinian artists are frequently prevented by the Israeli authorities from travelling between the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and Israel. Within the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in East Jerusalem, the right of Palestinians to hold and attend cultural events is met with repression and brutality on the part of the Israeli state. In 2009 Israeli police raided the Palestinian National Theatre and shut down the opening of the Palestinian Literature Festival. In reality, far from “cultural exchange” being fostered by Israel, there is a concerted campaign by Israeli authorities to segregate audiences and in the case of Palestinians, repress cultural expression. If, Minister Shatter, you are truly concerned about the expression of culture in Israel/Palestine, we call upon you to issue a statement condemning repressive Israeli state practices.
You go on to claim, based on declassified documents, that “the actions of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Group (IPSG) [sic] and its associates have caught the attention of some of Osama Bin Ladens [sic] followers who now see Ireland as promising ground for support”. We would ask you to clarify what “actions” are referred to in this declassified report and how these “actions” can be attributed to the IPSC as the documents declassified on 3May do not mention the IPSC. You claim that the IPSC “ignores the constitutional rights of Irish citizens and those who live in this State to get on with their lives, to travel and perform around the world free from bullying, intimidation and discrimination”. Yet, by linking the IPSC to Bin Laden and his followers in a ministerial press release and in such an incendiary fashion, you are putting Irish individuals in danger, compromising the constitutional rights of Irish activists to freedom of expression and opening the way for others to intimidate us.
Although the IPSC focuses specifically on the issue of Palestine, we would imagine that the remit of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence is broader. In light of this and your silence on the way in which Israel violates international law and oppresses the Palestinians, depriving them of the freedom to travel and perform both internationally and within the OPT, it is your appeal to human rights that rings hollow – this is nowhere more apparent than in your reference to Syria given that the Golan Heights was illegally annexed by Israel in 1981. Your press release is an attack on the freedoms of Irish citizens to campaign peacefully as well as a defamation of human rights activists.
Unfortunately, we can only conclude that you, Minister, are abusing your position and the good offices of the state by pursuing a personal ideological vendetta against Irish citizens going about their lawful business in support of human rights.
Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign