Does Sinn Féin fully support a boycott of Israel ?

Ordinary members of Sinn Féin have opposed its discussions with Israeli political representatives (Henry Nicholls - Reuters)

David Cronin

The Electronic Intifada  /  October 26, 2021

Sinn Féin has a solid record of supporting the Palestinian struggle for justice and equality.

That record does not remove the need to scrutinize the Irish political party – now riding high in opinion polls – and its activities.

Last month, a London-based organization called Forward Thinking published a one-paragraph report of a trip it took to Belfast and Dublin. The visit allowed the organization to plan “forthcoming delegations of Israeli and Palestinian political and community leaders,” the report stated.

Forward Thinking met “special advisers” from Sinn Féin and two other political parties during the trip, the report added.

Despite its brevity, the report is disturbing.

When Benjamin Netanyahu was Israel’s prime minister, Sinn Féin took part in discussions with his Likud party over a number of years.

Those discussions – arranged by the aforementioned Forward Thinking – have been opposed by Sinn Féin’s rank and file.

Because of that opposition, Sinn Féin made a formal pledge at its 2018 annual conference to “fully support” the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions. As part of that pledge, Sinn Féin would not meet any “Israeli government grouping” until “Palestinian representatives” requested or approved such discussions.

I contacted Sinn Féin, enquiring if the party accepted the accuracy of the recent one-paragraph report from Forward Thinking. If so, I asked Sinn Féin to explain why it took part in preparations for a visit to Ireland by Israeli “community and political leaders.”

Sinn Féin’s press office declined to answer those simple questions. Instead, it forwarded me a letter that Declan Kearney, Sinn Féin’s chair, had sent to the Derry branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Kearney’s letter – see below – stated that “Sinn Féin will not be meeting any Israeli delegations which may be part of upcoming visits organized by Forward Thinking.”

Broken promise

While Kearney’s assurance seems to be encouraging, the party cannot be excused for evading simple questions.

As Sinn Féin has not provided any contradictory information, we must assume that the one-paragraph report by Forward Thinking is correct.

That means Sinn Féin took part last month in preparations for an Irish visit by Israeli “community and political leaders.” By doing so, Sinn Féin broke its 2018 conference pledge to “fully support” the BDS call.

Forward Thinking’s whole agenda is at odds with the principles spelled out in the 2005 Palestinian appeal for a boycott of Israel.

Inspired by the international mobilization against white minority rule in South Africa, the BDS movement seeks to isolate Israel as abundant evidence shows it is an apartheid state.

Forward Thinking, on the other hand, seeks to “engage all groups in a constructive dialogue.”

That sounds eerily similar to the “constructive engagement” policy adopted by Ronald Reagan’s administration and other opponents of sanctions on apartheid South Africa during the 1980s.

The word “apartheid” does not even figure in Forward Thinking’s publications, as far as I can see. Instead, the organization refers deceptively to a “conflict” and to how the “question of Palestine” is “divisive” for Israelis.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel denounces those who try and make a grotesque situation appear normal. This includes organizations active on the issue of Palestine which do not make clear demands to end Israel’s racism and land theft.

As Forward Thinking’s staff cannot even bring themselves to utter the word “apartheid,” they are helping the normalization of oppression.

The academics Elaine Bradley and Brendan Ciarán Browne have coined the term “plastic peace-making” to describe how Ireland’s experience with “conflict resolution” is being sold as a model for Palestine. The term encapsulates the agenda pursued by Forward Thinking.

Achieving a just and durable solution necessitates moving beyond facile prescriptions of “constructive dialogue.”

Facile twaddle

If a London-based think tank like Forward Thinking wants to do something useful, it could tackle Britain’s baleful influence in both Ireland and Palestine.

Oliver McTernan, Forward Thinking’s director, has criticized the 1917 Balfour Declaration – Britain’s promise to support the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. Yet his analysis of present-day British politics is deeply flawed.

For the past 11 years, Britain has been ruled by the Conservatives, the same party to which Arthur James Balfour belonged when he issued his eponymous declaration.

The Conservatives and many in the rival Labour Party have preserved their imperial mindsets. Supporting Israel and Zionism – an ideology arising from a toxic notion of racial supremacy – is central to those mindsets.

Yet McTernan has argued that because Britain nominally supports the establishment of a Palestinian state “we may be beginning to rediscover our values.”

Since he made that comment in 2017, Britain has proven exactly what kind of values matter to its ruling elite. Britain is pushing for a major increase in the value of its commercial relations with Israel.

Boris Johnson, the prime minister, and his colleagues have proven, meanwhile, that they wish to conceal the truth about Britain’s often sinister activities in Ireland. Johnson’s government is introducing an amnesty on prosecutions for crimes committed in the north of Ireland before 1998.

The amnesty is mainly designed to shield the British state from accountability, illustrating that British justice is an oxymoron.

You are unlikely to hear such views expressed by Forward Thinking. Facing up to unpalatable realities would mean binning its facile twaddle about “constructive dialogue.”

Forward Thinking does not deserve a helping hand from activists determined to stand in solidarity with Palestinians. Sinn Féin risks flunking the solidarity test if it has any more dealings with this dodgy outfit.

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada; his books include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel and Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation