In the wake of last Saturday’s enormous Palestine solidarity march, Conor Reddy assesses the growth of movement, the challenges it faces and the strategies we need to bring about full Palestinian liberation.
Saturday’s march for Palestine in Dublin was enormous. Perhaps the biggest seen since the peak of the water charges movement almost a decade ago. Between 70 to 100,000 people took to the streets demanding action to stop the genocide in Gaza and to hold the Zionist state to account for its crimes. The march marks a high point for a movement that has been mobilising consistently at local and national levels since Israel’s offensive began after October 7th and demonstrates the depth of Irish solidarity with Palestine in spite of Irish Government inaction, British and EU complicity and the conservatism of sections of the broad left at times.
It is entirely appropriate that such large numbers demonstrated when they did. Atrocities continue unabated in Gaza as the effects of destruction so far visited upon the Strip amplify horror and tragedy. At this point, Occupation forces have dropped over 65,000 tonnes of bombs on Gaza killing over 24,000 people (including 10,000 children) and maiming tens of thousands more. 33% of all buildings in the strip have been destroyed. Entire residential neighbourhoods have been levelled. Critical infrastructure including hospitals, sanitation facilities and schools have been demolished. And now, the spectre of famine haunts those who remain as the Occupation tightly controls the passage of aid into Gaza, using hunger as a weapon of war. According to the U.N. one in four people are now starving and nine out of ten families in some areas go a day and night without eating. Over 60,000 people are wounded and Gaza’s medical system has been almost completely destroyed. Only a third of Gaza’s hospitals are in any way functional. Only six ambulances are still functioning – for a population of over 2.4 million. At this stage of Israel’s genocidal campaign, hunger and disease could very well claim more lives than bombs, bullets or shells if it is allowed to continue.
Facing this dark vista, South Africa acted as the conscience of the world, launching their Genocide Convention case against the Zionist state at the International Court of Justice in the week before Saturday’s protests. Irish lawyer, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, who is part of the prosecution, was celebrated internationally and seen locally as more representative than any figure in the Irish Government. Leo Varadkar’s remarks on the case were particularly shameful. Refusing to offer state support for the prosecution, he drew equivalence between Israel’s genocide and the events of October 7th before questioning the appropriateness of levelling charges of genocide against Israel given the Jewish experience of genocide in the Holocaust.
More subdued but equally shameful was Mícheál Martin’s suggestion that those calling for Ireland to join the case were trying to “create division”. For his part, Transport Minister and Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan, said there were “irrefutable” points in the genocide case, but refused to be drawn on the question of Irish support because, “The court case is one standing effectively first between South Africa and Israel”. If you’ve been wondering what it might take for the Green Party to take down the Government, don’t hold your breath now.
Despite government opposition to joining the ICJ case, the first days of hearings spurred on the movement and will now become a key focus here in Ireland and around the world. This was evident on Saturday in speeches and chanting but it must go much further.
Shifting the Terrain
While Saturday marked a high point for the movement, it is far from the only success we have had to date. In the weeks after October 7th, Varadkar and Martin were both vocal in condemnation of Palestinian resistance and staunch in their support of “Israel’s right to self defence”. Martin, in particular, was ridiculed when he travelled to Occupied Palestine in November, posing in a house supposedly hit by a “Hamas Rocket” while the local regime gave him a guided tour. Since these early days, Varadkar, Martin and the Government have been forced rhetorically to the left, abandoning their earlier defence of Israel and making comments that have drawn ire in the Zionist state, to the point that the Irish ambassador was summoned for a dressing down by Israeli officials in December. Now, they are under serious pressure as they cling to their line that they support a ceasefire – while doing nothing to bring it about. All of this is happening in the context of a serious push by the Government to do away with Irish neutrality and row in behind NATO. But now we are a far cry away from the stage-managed consultative forums the Government ran last June – the credibility of the US-led NATO and EU PESCO forces has been obliterated by US, British and EU support for Zionism.
A harder won victory for the movement came when Sinn Féin was forced into changing its position on the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador (for a second time, back to its historically held support for expulsion). Sinn Féin’s initial refusal to support expulsion (and full-throated condemnations of Hamas) was met with confusion, shock and then anger. Large sections of Sinn Féin’s base could not accept such a sharp turn from a position that the party had strongly endorsed just two years prior, in 2021. Pressure mounted on local reps ahead of important votes on support for expulsion on councils in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere but the party forced abstentions, meaning the narrow defeat of a Pro-Palestine motion in Belfast. Arguments raged online and in SF strongholds in response to these votes, with SF public reps and the well-known Felons’ Club jumping into the fray on opposite sides of the argument. Days later, Sinn Féin correctly made a U-turn with a statement calling the position of the Ambassador to the South “untenable”. Mary Lou McDonald asserted that this decision had nothing to do with a fear of being outflanked, but this is hard to believe, given that she had been arguing the opposite position with people online only the day before her statement.
The victory for the movement highlights the need for concrete political demands that can be put on the Government to shame them into taking action. The result of Sinn Féin’s initial fence-sitting was that the Government had six weeks at the beginning of the war on Gaza where they had cover to hide behind nebulous calls of ceasefire without action.
Today, as the whole world, with the notable exception of Israel, the United States and its vassals support the call for a ceasefire. The question is, how do we achieve one? Who will bring it about? In this context, calls for the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador (particularly in “the West”) and for sanctions on Israel must be at the forefront of our demands. Likewise, we must keep the pressure on Ireland to support South Africa’s case at the ICJ.
White House Visit
The St Patrick’s Day visit to the White House is emerging as another key pressure point for the movement in Ireland. Biden’s paddy-whackery and self-professed “Irishness”, combined with his militant support for Israel and denial of atrocities make the visit an important target for protest. Without his political assent and billions in financial support, Israel’s campaign would have ended long ago. Varadkar, Martin and the forelock-tugging gombeens of the Irish establishment see their “special relationship” with the US as sacrosanct, critical to their economic model which is reliant on “investment” from US companies and funds. This in part explains their desire for Ireland to draw closer to NATO and US leadership. In these circumstances, where the US President is a direct accomplice to genocide, however, they are politically vulnerable and there is an opening to attack, by demanding they boycott the visit.
A boycott would be a propaganda coup over US imperialism, much more than a gesture or a moral victory. Snubbing Biden in an election year and the US in general would reverberate globally, further undermining American imperialism and potentially inspiring others to take aim at Israel’s most loyal patron. In addition to $3.8 billion of military aid the US gives to Israel annually, Biden bypassed congress to provide another $14.5 billion in military aid in November. Since he was first elected, Biden has been among the most rabid supporters of Zionism in American politics. Now he risks a catastrophic regional war, having authorised military strikes on Yemen without congressional approval after the Yemeni blockade on Red Sea shipping to and from the Zionist entity.
For peace and justice to reign in Palestine and across the Middle East, Biden must be tackled as hard as Netanyahu and the Zionists – he too should stand before the Hague. Anyone who shakes hands with him in the White House on St Patrick’s Day will struggle to wipe the blood from their own hands afterwards. Saturday’s march made their feelings on this very clear, with chants of “No shamrocks for Genocide Joe”. Bernadette McAliskey got a huge response from the crowd when she said:
“Weigh up the corpses of Gaza and a jolly to the US. Nobody here should give a single vote to anyone whose backside is in Washington.”
We have two months to pile the pressure on Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government not to go to the White House. Once again, Sinn Féin also need to be pressured on this – the last we heard from Mary Lou McDonald on this was that she was not in favour of a St Patrick’s Day boycott. We’ve shamed her into doing the right thing once – we can do it again as a movement.
As well as pushing for a White House boycott, the use of Shannon Airport by the US military must be hauled back onto the agenda. Particularly now as the US increases its aggression in the Middle East with air strikes on Yemen and the threat of further aggression in the wider region, the Irish state is once again complicit in the war crimes of US imperialism.
Building a Movement for Palestinian Liberation
While the immediate task here and around the globe is to build forces sufficient to stop the slaughter of Gaza, a larger task now looms. The question of “the day after” and what follows such a shocking series of crimes is growing in importance and the numbers of people asking deeper questions about the oppression of Palestinians has grown exponentially. The Palestinian struggle has reached a turning point, one it has been approaching for years, driven forward by the dialectic between the arrival of End Stage Zionism (the total elimination of Palestine and Palestinian national ambitions) and the changing dynamics of Palestinian resistance that led to October 7th. Nothing in Palestine can ever be the same, there is no returning to the pre-October 7th reality and there is no hope that the West could impose a “two-state” scenario that would be supported or sustained for any length of time. In this moment our task becomes to sustain the movement for an end to genocide but also to deepen its politics and channel its energy in support of Palestinian liberation.
How do we do this? Mass mobilisation has been and will continue to be hugely important, in forcing demands on government, but also in consolidating the enthusiastic support of tens of thousands of Irish people. Socialists must continue to push for large scale national and regional marches, and to work with others in this task. Mass platforms, as Bernadette McAliskey showed last Saturday, open the way to mass support for radical demands.
Direct action has also helped to keep the momentum up over the past few months, particularly across the few (strictly relative) lulls we have seen since October. This must continue. Action for Palestine Ireland, Saoirse don Phalaistín and Dublin for Gaza have all at various times sustained the movement and sharpened its focus. Occupations at the Zionist Embassy, blockades of bridges, a dinner at the US Ambassador’s residence and dynamic BDS-themed moving protests have focused minds across the broader movement on important political and economic targets.
This has also allowed for a concentration of militants, where politics is discussed, developed and deepened. To date, direct actions have not veered towards small-group clandestine action, which in other instances has proven counterproductive, intensifying state repression on activists and shifting focus away from mass participation.
Another important tactic has been the boycott. Many people are boycotting key Israeli-linked businesses on an individual level, which has some effect, but the most effective strategy is to build a collective campaign in the community to pressurise local shops and businesses from stocking Israeli goods in the first place. There have been a number of successful examples of this kind of campaigning. For example, in Derry activists mobilised on a grassroots level and were successful in pressuring O’Neill’s into removing Puma products from their stores and in forcing the local branch of Home Bargains to remove Israeli goods they stocked. Going back to 2014, Kinvara in Galway was the first place in Ireland to become completely free of Israeli goods. This can be done elsewhere by petitioning local people and then campaigning against any shops that stock Israeli goods. Local solidarity groups and political activists should band together and make this a focus of their activity outside of demonstrating and mobilising together for marches.
As local campaigns grow, pressure should also be brought to bear on councils to end contracts with companies on the Global BDS list, especially HP, who have contracts for printers and computer equipment with local authorities North and South. In the run up to Local Elections in the South, Left candidates should commit to making their wards “Apartheid Free Zones” and to advancing positive solidarity initiatives, twinning with Palestinian towns and villages, flying the Palestinian flag, engaging in cultural and economic exchanges.
Outside of protest, boycotts and direct action, one of the most striking elements of this movement has been its cultural wing. While in other Western countries, many artists and musicians have either shamelessly backed Israel or remained silent, there has been a wave of support from those in Ireland. Thousands attended the Gig for Gaza at the 3 Arena back in November, after the gig was moved from Vicar Street due to popular demand. Countless other solidarity gigs have taken place across the island.
All of this is overwhelmingly positive, but there are a few things to say about it. Firstly, we should approach these events as acts of solidarity and not charity. There has been, in any case, a basic problem with fundraising since the beginning – very little aid is being allowed into Gaza. What is primarily required, therefore, is not a charitable solution, but a political one. There was outrage, for example, at Green Party TD Patrick Costello when he put on a fundraiser to raise money for Medical Aid to Palestine, after voting against expelling the Israeli Ambassador and sanctions on Israel.
Nevertheless, these fundraisers can also be used to educate people and to inspire them to take other actions to build the movement. On the other end of the spectrum from Costello, That Social Centre in Phibsborough ran a series solidarity nights for Palestine where, as well as music and poetry, there were political speakers who could help deepen people’s understanding of what is happening, lay out a strategy, and explain to people what else they can do to build the movement.
Art can move peoples’ hearts and minds, but ultimately if we are to change things, we must act on that inspiration in the form of concrete political action.
Sadly, there is one key area where we have been sorely lacking – the trade unions and our workplaces. Despite overwhelming solidarity across the population and an Irish Congress of Trade Unions mandate to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and the BDS Campaign, we have seen precious little from trade union leaders. SIPTU dropped a banner on Liberty Hall calling for “Ceasefire Now”. They were lauded in some quarters for doing this, but this is less than the bare minimum. The call for a ceasefire is in lockstep with the Government – what are they going to do to make it happen? Ireland has a proud history of trade union action to draw on when it comes to tackling Apartheid – the Dunnes Stores workers who refused to handle South African goods and created a tidal wave of support for the anti-Apartheid movement, for example. Crucially, they were supported by their union in doing so.
Unfortunately, we cannot expect much from trade union leadership in this regard. Therefore, the fight must be built from the ground up by rank-and-file members in their branches. We urgently need another Mary Manning moment, where workers refuse to handle Israeli goods. If and when this happens, the pressure must be put on trade union leadership to back their workers regardless of the legality of political strikes under the repressive, 1990 Industrial Relations Act. The emergence of workplace campaigns like Teachers for Palestine and the flying of union flags by activists on Saturday are a start. The movement now needs people to dedicate themselves to drawing together groups of workers across sectors to build general solidarity in their workplaces and to fight for a more active stance of solidarity as we approach union conference season.
Ireland can be a leader in the West
Intensifying activity locally, in our workplaces and in the cultural sphere will root the Palestine solidarity movement more deeply, creating a vehicle capable of taking on the longer and more substantial task of supporting liberation whilst maximising pressure for an end to genocide in the short term. In this task the movement must remain connected politically, led by a united front and the voices of Palestinians in Ireland. There must be space for education and politics as well as activism. Socialists have an important role to play in this regard and should continue to host meetings and educational forums to equip greater numbers with the clarity and confidence to lead the movement on its various fronts. Campaign groups like the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be the glue that holds the movement together and should begin to expand to include workers, students and to coordinate with those taking part locally or in direct action.
Saturday 13th January was a high point but it must not be the highest point. With huge numbers actively standing in solidarity with Palestine now, there is every opportunity to make Ireland truly exceptional and to give a lead to others across the West. Winning a victory against the Irish establishment on behalf of Palestine and against imperialism would be a light to a universal struggle, here and around the world. Offering hope to Palestinians and indeed everyone else.