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Israel's Ambassador to Ireland, Dana Erlich (file photo) Alamy Stock Photo
national famine commemoration

Israeli ambassador at Irish famine event sparks criticism as govt pledges to maintain 'pressure'

Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the Government will “use every opportunity” to “put pressure” on Israeli officials over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.


MINISTER RODERIC O’GORMAN has defended the presence of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland at the National Famine Commemoration in Co Longford yesterday, saying the Government will continue to “put pressure” on Israeli officials. 

Opposition TDs including People Before Profit-Solidarity TD Mick Barry have criticised the fact Dana Erlich was invited to the event, given the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The United Nations has repeatedly warned about a “looming famine” there.

Speaking at the event in Edgeworthstown yesterday, Taoiseach Simon Harris noted the “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in Gaza and called on Israel to “ensure the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid”.

One million people died during the Great Famine, An Gorta Mór, in Ireland from 1845 to 1852. 

A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy told The Journal Ambassador Erlich was “honoured to be a guest” at the commemoration “along with many colleagues in the diplomatic community”.

“She wished to express her sympathy and solidarity with the Irish nation which suffered the greatest tragedy in its history in the 1840s,” a statement noted.

“There are some parallels with the Holocaust which occurred a century later, the greatest tragedy in the history of the Jewish people.

“It is wrong and misleading to equate the Irish famine, in which a million people died, with what is happening in Gaza.”

Erlich was not invited to the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil ard fheiseanna last month.

All ambassadors invited bar Russian

A spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media said a number of departments were involved in planning yesterday’s event.

All ambassadors were invited bar the Russian ambassador, they confirmed.

A statement noted: “In coordination with the Department of the Taoiseach and other relevant Government Departments and authorities, the Department of Foreign Affairs coordinates attendance by members of the foreign diplomatic corps at certain State events, including the National Famine Commemoration.

“In line with the agreed EU position in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation is not invited to official State events in Ireland.

“All other resident Heads of Mission were invited to the National Famine Commemoration.”

‘Put pressure’ on officials 

When asked by The Journal today if Erlich’s presence at the commemoration was appropriate, O’Gorman said the Irish Government will continue to engage with the ambassador and other Israeli officials to “put pressure” on them.

“I think it’s appropriate that we use every opportunity where we meet a member of the Israeli Government to continue to put on pressure to make changes,” O’Gorman told reporters in Dublin.

He said the Irish Government and civil society have “taken every opportunity to engage with Israel at every level”, noting Taoiseach Simon Harris’ recent conversation with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

I’ve always been of the view that engagement and pressure is a better approach than, I suppose, absolute isolation.

O’Gorman said people are “acutely aware of what’s happening in Gaza right now – both the attacks, but also the consequences of the denial of food, the denial of basic humanitarian supplies”.

Taoiseach at annual Famine Commemoration_05 Taoiseach Simon Harris spoke at the annual National Famine Commemoration Government Information Service Government Information Service

Some opposition TDs have called for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled, but the Government has said this is not the right approach.

O’Gorman today stated: 

I have always believed in the context of the ambassador, that it is better that we have the Israeli ambassador here, that we can engage and continue to put pressure on whoever holds that particular role.

“Let them be in no doubt of the view of the Irish Government and, I think, the vast majority in terms of the Irish people in terms of the importance of A. An immediate ceasefire; B. Allowing humanitarian supplies enter Gaza; and C. Something the Government is taking a really important step on now – the ultimate two-state solution involving the recognition of the Palestinian state.”

O’Gorman added that Ireland will “hopefully in the next number of days” take “a major step internationally in terms of the recognition of Palestinian statehood”.

‘Looming famine’

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’ unprecedented 7 October attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians.

Hamas also took about 250 hostages during the October attack, of whom 124 remain held in Gaza including 37 people the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,456 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Israel has imposed a siege on the long-blockaded Gaza Strip, depriving its 2.4 million people of normal access to clean water, food, medicines and fuel, the suffering eased only by sporadic aid shipments by land, air and sea.

The head of the UN agency helping Palestinians said that “despite all the calls by the international community not to launch an offensive in Rafah, in reality an offensive started” on 6 May. 

Since then, “we have again about half of the population of Gaza being on the road forced to flee” for safety once more, though “we keep saying there is absolutely nowhere to go”, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said. 

Lazzarini said that because of the fighting, “almost nothing in terms of aid is crossing” into Gaza, raising fears that recent gains made “to prevent a looming famine … might quickly be reversed”.

The Israeli embassy in Dublin said there is “no limit to the amount of aid” that can get into Gaza, but claimed Hamas is causing issues with its distribution.

“It is important to remember that what is happening in Gaza is the result of Hamas’ unprecedented and brutal attacks launched on Israel, and the cynical modus-operandi of Hamas against its own population,” a statement noted. 

Contains reporting from © AFP 2024  

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