Palestinians have expressed dismay that representatives of Sinn Féin have been hosting delegations from Likud, the party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In June, a Likud youth delegation held meetings with young Sinn Féin activists in Belfast, the latest in a number of similar meetings Sinn Féin officials have held with Likud counterparts in recent years. It also continues a series of well-publicised engagements and photo opportunities with Israeli government representatives, which have included meetings between Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and the Israeli ambassadors to Dublin and London.
Many rank and file Sinn Fein members have found themselves conflicted by the relationship, which run contrary to the party’s links to Ireland’s Palestine solidarity movement, both in the North and the 26 Counties. The party is now being condemned in Palestine itself, where there have been calls for protests.
“This is very disheartening to us here in Gaza,” Haidar Eid, a university professor and member of the steering committee of PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
“We call on Irish comrades to condemn these meetings in the strongest possible terms,” Eid said, urging that people write to Sinn Féin leaders and “even disrupt any future visits by Israeli officials.”
“War criminals and racist organisations should not be welcomed in the new Ireland,” Eid added.
“I personally met with the Sinn Féin delegation headed by Gerry Adams after the 2009 Israeli attack on Gaza, and the support they showed at the time was enormous,” Eid said. “They even welcomed our BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) call and promised to take the issue further upon their return to Ireland.”
However, the Sinn Fein leadership has never endorsed the BDS boycott campaign, possibly as a result of US influence and in response to the investments of Israel-linked multinationals in the north of Ireland such as Caterpillar. The heavy equipment firm, which has several facilities in County Antrim, has notoriously supplied equipment to the Israeli Defence Forces, including the armoured bulldozer which killed US peace activist Rachel Corrie in 2003. It is also strongly associated with the construction of the ‘apartheid wall’ in Palestine.
The recent meetings between Sinn Fein and Likud have been held under the auspices of London-based ‘think tank’, ‘Forward Thinking’. One Sinn Fein official to take part was Pat Sheehan, a West Belfast assembly member (pictured, third from right). Forward Thinking says that its “Irish Peace Process Program” is an “initiative which brings delegations from key constituencies in Israel to Northern Ireland to discuss experiences of the conflict and peace process.”
Professor Eid expressed outrage that Sinn Féin is receiving delegations from “one of the most racist parties in Israel, one that openly calls for ethnic cleansing and apartheid and whose ministers have committed war crimes in Israel’s latest attack on Gaza in 2014.”
Pro-Palestinian campaigner John Hurson hit out at the meetings which he said had taken place “under the radar”.
“There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that they [Likud] want peace with the Palestinians, and allow them a homeland free from occupation,” he said. “Until they stop with this occupation we shouldn’t be playing their game and giving them political cover under the ‘Irish Peace Process’”, he said.
Mr Hurson said that if it was known that Likud representatives were visiting the north protests would have been organised.
Professor Eid praised Irish activists for their strong support of Palestine: “Our ties with the Irish people are an example of what true solidarity means. Irish civil society sectors including trade unions have heeded our call for BDS.”
That solidarity has always gone both ways. Eid said: “Irish people had our support when they needed it. Sinn Féin leaders know this very well.”
In response to the controversy, Sinn Fein announced it was sending a delegation to visit Palestine to meet with members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
“Sinn Féin has long established links with the Palestinian people in their quest to achieve freedom and statehood,” said Sinn Fein Assembly member Fra McCann.
“We have used our influence to highlight the many injustices inflicted on our Palestinian brothers and sisters by the Israeli government.”