The Irish Government has 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.
Sinn Fein and People Before Profit (PBP) both laid that charge to Finance Minister Michael McGrath during sometimes heated scenes in the Dail on Thursday.
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 Wednesday evening.
Proposals for Ireland to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) were also voted down.
While the Government did not expel Russia’s ambassador after the invasion of Ukraine, it did back EU sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime and also referred its actions to the ICC.
Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty asked why Ireland was not making a similar referral about Israel. He accused Mr McGrath of “double standards”.
“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.”
Mr McGrath insisted the situation in Ukraine was “fundamentally different”.
“Ireland did refer to the ICC prosecutor because in that case Ukraine was not a party to the ICC statute, and a prosecutor could not therefore begin an immediate investigation without a state party referral,” he explained.
He said 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.
Earlier, during Leaders’ Questions, PBP 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.
Mr Boyd Barrett added: “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?”
Mr McGrath reiterated the Government’s view that maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel was important.
He said such relations were particularly vital given ongoing efforts to secure safe passage through the Rafah crossing into Egypt for Irish citizens who remained in Gaza, and in regard to attempts to secure the release of Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand, eight, 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,” Mr 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.
“And we have about 400 (UN) peacekeepers, Irish men and women in the region.
“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.”