Ireland moves to ban Israeli goods from occupied Palestinian territories

Senator Frances Black says the bill should show Ireland to be on the right side of 'international law, human rights and justice'

Ireland has moved a step closer towards banning Israeli products which are produced in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill passed through the Irish parliament’s upper house (the Seanad) on Wednesday afternoon by 25 votes to 20, and will now advance to the committee stage.

While other countries have issued condemnations or moved to label Israeli items produced in the occupied Palestinian territories, this bill is believed to be the first which would ban the import of the goods altogether.

It was proposed by Frances Black, an independent senator who is also a well-known singer in Ireland. Ms Black has campaigned passionately on the issue, and brought Palestinian farmers to be present in the Seanad during the vote.

Writing in the Irish Times, she called on her colleagues to support the bill “to state firmly that Irish foreign policy will always stand on the side of international law, human rights and justice.”

She pointed out that while settlements are condemned as illegal by the EU, the UN and the Irish government, there is “clear hypocrisy” in how people around the world continue to “buy the proceeds of this crime.”

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned the Irish ambassador in January over the issue, and expressed his dissatisfaction, and the Israeli Embassy in Ireland condemned the bill last week in a statement which warned it would “not in any way facilitate Ireland’s role and influence.”

They added, “Legislation, which promotes a boycott of any kind, should be rejected as it does nothing to achieve peace but rather empowers the Hamas terrorists.”

While the bill enjoys the support of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Independents, it is not supported by the incumbent party of government Fine Gael. But when he came to address the Seanad today ahead of the vote, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney was outnumbered.

While he described the Israel-Palestinian issue as a personal priority, he voiced the government's opposition to the move, advocating a meeker approach when compared with the stronger feelings in the house.

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Mr Coveney claimed such a ban was logistically impossible due to Ireland's trade being tied up with the EU, and proposed that Ireland should not push out ahead of the international community on the issue, "however strongly it might appeal to our sense of right."

He is currently at the fore of the campaign for Ireland to gain a seat on the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 rotation, and many senators in the house pointed out that this was exactly the kind of stand the country should be taking to set an example to the rest of the world.

Many senators cited a 1984 strike by Dunnes Stores workers in Dublin over South African produce as a precedent for today's action. Ms Black herself said, "Ultimately history has shown that the brave stance in favour of justice and human rights and against apartheid in South Africa did not damage Ireland's reputation, but rather enhanced it."

Ireland is one of Israel’s strongest critics in Europe, and relations between the countries have strained on several recent occasions, typically over popular Irish support for the Palestinian cause.

In 2017, Mr Coveney opposed the US decision to move their embassy to Jerusalem, and in June, thousands signed a petition calling for a boycott of next year’s Eurovision Song Contest which is due to be held in Jerusalem.

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