On Trump and Palestine solidarity, Ireland leads the way

On Trump and Palestine solidarity, Ireland leads the way
Comment: The Irish people's commitment to solidarity with Palestine, women's rights and social justice, has been demonstrated again and again, writes Malia Bouattia.
5 min read
17 Sep, 2018
Ireland officially endorsed boycotting Israeli settlement goods this summer [Getty]
Donald Trump's visit to Ireland, which was expected to take place in November, has been cancelled due to 'a scheduling problem', according to the Irish government

Since the official trip was announced back in August, it has been reported that growing fears of counter-demonstrations were making it likely the US president would change his mind. "Clearly the outpouring of objections to this visit has had the desired effect, as President Trump has decided not to come to Ireland. Mr Trump is the face of hate, racism and division," explained Labour Senator Aodhán O Ríordáin.

The Green Party and Labour leaders Eamon Ryan and Brendan Howlin intended to organise a rally 'for democracy, decency and international solidarity against Trump' in order to highlight their opposition to his views on a number of issues from migration to climate change and Palestine.

Different groups and organisations were expecting to take part in the action, including the Latin America Solidarity Centre, and Comhlamh - Action for Global Justice. Oisin Coghlan from Friends of the Earth Ireland - which formed part of the coalition against Trump - said that it would have been an opportunity "for all of us to reject the nihilistic vision that he has".

Even the Trump baby blimp was going to make an appearance in Dublin, following its debut at the London demonstration a few months ago.

The news that the whole affair was cancelled was, however welcomed by demonstrators and progressive forces in Ireland. "We are glad he is not coming. Trump's positions and demeanour on every issue of the day, from climate to women's rights, from international relations to political decency, represent the opposite of Green and indeed Irish values," stated Eamon Ryan.

The people of Ireland have shown that there is an alternative, an antidote, to hatred that is built in the streets

In particular, tension has been mounting in light of Trump's recent decision to cut US$350 million of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which provides support to over 5 million refugees across Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. This will have a catastrophic impact on one of the largest refugee populations in the world.

Ireland has played a significant role in international solidarity for Palestine. Just earlier this summer, the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill was voted through the Irish Seanad. The bill will enforce a boycott/ban on settlement goods in Ireland - a groundbreaking position for a western government and a huge victory for the BDS movement both in Ireland and internationally.

This decision followed Ireland's rejection of Trump's attempt to lead the UN to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the vocal national condemnation over the US embassy being relocated.

Read more: Could UNRWA closure actually benefit Palestinian refugees?

While it is clear that there are strong disparities between 'Irish values' and the politics of Trump, given the historical role of Irish migration to the US, there is an obvious need to maintain relations between the countries.

The Irish are demonstrating that it will be maintained on their terms, as Comhlamh spokesperson
Mark Malone puts it, the "special relationship" means "standing with the people in the US that are living under this administration".

A demonstration is held outside Dublin's Central Bank in support of undocumented persons in the USA [Getty]

The White House press office isn't confirming the trip as cancelled, saying that they are "still finalising whether Ireland will be a stop".

But whatever the final decision, Irish opposition will be the central story of either Trump's visit or his cancellation.

This is also an important lesson in political organising for progressive movements, trade unionists, and campaigners across the world. Indeed, the pressure built by the grassroots across Ireland has not emerged in a vacuum. For several years now, the Irish people on both sides of the border have built, sustained, and developed impressive social movements in the face of bigotry, inequality, and injustice.

The people of Ireland have demonstrated the possibility of a different kind of politics in a time of social and economic turmoil

From the impressive electoral victories of radical left-wing organisations such as People Before Profit, to the mass social movements that have rocked the country opposing water charges, defending equal marriage, as well as the successful campaign to repeal the eighth – the people of Ireland have demonstrated the possibility of a different kind of politics in a time of social and economic turmoil.

They have shown, in practice, that it is not automatic for people to accept, when put under pressure by austerity and growing poverty, to turn on others and succumb to the rule of hate and division.

In addition, the Irish people's commitment to international solidarity has been demonstrated again and again, of which the republic's official endorsement of boycotting Israeli settlement goods was the latest expression.

In this context, the mounting opposition to Trump's official visit is not an isolated march, or a focus on an easy-to-hate foreign politician divorced from local political processes.

It is instead a confrontation between two visions of how societies can respond to the challenges and the difficulties of the early 21
st century. Trump represents many of the worst aspects of our world - racism, sexism, homophobia, warmongering, and support to the rich and powerful.

But the people of Ireland have shown that there is an alternative, an antidote, to hatred that is built in the streets, in the workplaces, in the communities of the vast majority in society.

It is fitting that the 'most powerful man in the world' is set to lose this confrontation. It should also serve as a clear reminder to all of us that another world is possible, but that it needs to be fought for.

In the words of James Baldwin, which ring particularly true in this context, "Those who say it cannot be done, are usually interrupted by others doing it." Long may the people of Ireland continue to serve as an example to all of us on how to keep interrupting, over and over again.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.