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Heated Dáil exchanges as government accused of ‘double standards’ on Israel and Russia

Finance Minister Michael McGrath says the ICC is already carrying out an investigation into Israeli actions.

The Journal / YouTube

THERE WERE HEATED exchanges in the Dáil today as Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty hit out at the government for not supporting his party’s motion for Ireland to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

During questions on promised legislation, Doherty accused Mr McGrath of “double standards”, questioning why Ireland referred Russia to the ICC over Ukraine, but not Israel over its recent actions.

“So last year, this government rightly joined with others in referring Russia to the International Criminal Court for war crimes,” he said.

“Palestinian lives, minister, are just as worthy of our attention as Ukrainian lives.

“In the pursuit of justice and accountability for the Palestinian people, will this government now change direction and join with South Africa and refer Israel to the ICC for the crimes, that you say are difficult to watch in the news, but war crimes we see before our eyes every single day.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed today that South Africa filed a referral to the ICC for an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza

The move comes as South African lawmakers are to debate a motion calling for the closure of the Israeli Embassy in South Africa and the cutting of all diplomatic ties with the country until it agrees to a cease-fire.

‘Fundamental differences’

McGrath insisted the situation in Ukraine was “fundamentally different”, explaining to Doherty that the ICC prosecutor has publicly stated that Israel was already under investigation.

The office of the prosecutor of the ICC said last week its mandate applies to the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The prosecutor’s office has said the ICC has had an ongoing investigation into “the situation in the State of Palestine” for alleged war crimes committed since 13 June 2014.

“This mandate is ongoing and applies to crimes committed in the current context,” the prosecutors said.

McGrath said Ireland did refer Russia to the ICC prosecutor because in that case Ukraine was not a party to the ICC statute. “A prosecutor could not therefore begin an immediate investigation without a state party referral,” he explained.

He reiterated that the chief prosecutor for the ICC had already confirmed that an ongoing investigation in the Middle East covered the events of recent weeks in Israel and Gaza.

McGrath said he was stating the “facts” to Doherty, though the minister said the Sinn Féin deputy might not like them.

Screenshot (18) Pearse Doherty on his feet in the Dáil today accusing the government of double standards.

The government also faced claims of double standards on Israel and Russia after it voted down calls for sanctions against the Israeli state over its actions in Gaza.

Opposition motions calling for a range of economic and diplomatic sanctions, including the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador in Dublin Dana Erlich, were defeated in the Dail on yesterday evening.

Proposals for Ireland to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) were also voted down.

Earlier, during Leaders’ Questions, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett also drew a comparison with the government’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Setting aside the ambassador, why sanctions on Putin for his war crimes, but nothing, no sanction whatsoever ever, ever imposed on Israel, even when they’re slaughtering thousands and thousands of children?” he asked.

“Last night, 55 deputies in here voted to expel the Israeli ambassador, to sanction Israel, to refer them for war crimes and for genocide, but still you voted against.

“Now could you please explain to me what level of atrocity Israel has to commit, how many babies they have to murder, how many hospitals they have to bomb, how many houses they have to bomb, how many people they have to ethnically cleanse before you think it would be time to impose the sorts of sanctions that you were very quick to impose on Russia, for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Are Palestinian babies and lives less valuable than those of Ukrainians that you don’t feel it is justified in the face of the slaughter to sanction them for the crimes they are committing?” asked Boyd Barrett.

“Why do you continue to peddle the notion that Israel is interested in peace?” Boyd Barrett asked the minister. 

“Why sanctions on Putin for his war crimes, but nothing, no sanction whatsoever, ever, imposed on Israel, even when they’re slaughtering thousands and thousands of children,” he said. 

McGrath said it was difficult to watch the news lately, given the horrifying scenes coming out of Gaza, but he reiterated the government’s view that maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel was important.

Keeping diplomatic channels open is vital given ongoing efforts to secure safe passage through the Rafah crossing into Egypt for Irish citizens who remained in Gaza, he told the Dáil.

He also spoke of the attempts to secure the release of Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand, who is believed to be being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.

“International diplomacy and maintaining channels of communication is not about staying close to your friends or about endorsing policies, it’s about keeping channels open for when you need them,” McGrath said.

“And we need them because in trying to secure the safe access out of Gaza of the remaining of our citizens there, and in trying to be heard in advocating for peace, it’s important that we continue to communicate and we continue to have dialogue with all of those in the region.

McGrath also highlighted that there are over close to 400 UN Irish peacekeepers in the region.

McGrath said the only way to achieve peace is through dialogue.

“We know our history, and Ireland is a respected voice on this issue because of our own historical experience on this island. So we are continuing to work through all of those channels,” he said.

“So Ireland has to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel. But we also will call out when we see it, the level of force that has been used in our view is completely disproportionate.

“Civilians should be protected. Gaza and Hamas are not the same thing, the civilians in Gaza should not be the subject of collective punishment by the Israeli Defence Force.

“So Ireland is an important actor. We have a voice, we are being listened to.”