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    Commentator: Irish don’t get it – Israel gives back to diaspora

    By Noreen Bowden | October 6, 2009

    Here’s an interesting perspective on recent Irish outreach to the diaspora – in an article on the Jerusalem Post, commentator Rob Brown  says Ireland doesn’t get what makes the Israeli diaspora different.

    The central distinction, says the former media editor of The Independent in London, is that Ireland simply isn’t the hub for its diaspora in the way that Israel is for the global Jewish community:

    Since the foundation of the Free State in 1922, there has been no great ingathering of the sons and daughters of Erin – not even after Ireland got rich in recent decades and could no longer plead poverty as an excuse. A recent head of state, Mary Robinson, kept a light burning for emigrants in a window of the presidential palace in Phoenix Park, but that was a purely symbolic gesture. There have been no dramatic airlifts of frightened Irish emigrants out of Africa or anywhere else, and generations of Irishmen have never prayed: “Next year in Dublin!”

    Sure, if they’ve downed a few too many whiskeys, they might refer fondly to the “oul’ sod.” But they don’t regard Ireland as the center, the spring, the source from whence they came. The Republic of Ireland isn’t their Promised Land.

    He says the Global Irish Economic Forum seems “a smart business move”, but adds “there’s a whole lot more to the Israeli relationship with Jews around the globe than just that”. Jews have a real home in Israel:

    The Jewish state is every Jew’s guaranteed place of refuge, and seeks to serve as the center of a revived Jewish civilization. This state doesn’t yell at Jews, as Bob Geldof famously yelled at the whole world during the first Band Aid telethon: “Just give us your f***ing money!”

    The Jewish state doesn’t simply get from, but gives to, Jews around the world. If the Irish don’t get that, even they don’t really get Israel.

    Brown is touching on a painful truth here: for most of its history, Ireland turned its back on our emigrants.  It was always happy to take the money – whether it was from remittances, Irish-American-influenced foreign investment, or tourist dollars – but traditionally Irish people in Ireland didn’t seem to be that interested in discovering what the Irish abroad might like to get back from “the old country”.

    When it achieved prosperity, the government did make an attempt to assist emigrants in dire straits around the world, particularly in Britain; the 2002 Task Force on Policy Regarding Emigrants was a serious new departure as Ireland took responsibility for the welfare of its citizens abroad. But Ireland has never seriously posited itself as a homeland for the diaspora, and the relationship between Ireland and those who live abroad is fraught with tension.

    Many in Ireland seem uninterested in the experience of the Irish abroad, and it’s not unusual for returning emigrants or visiting Irish-Americans to pick up on less-than-warm undertones to the welcome. Recent newspaper articles by Terry Prone and Kevin Meyers highlight the way the Irish elite often responds to Irish communities abroad with gaping incomprehension.

    In recent decades Ireland has even tightened the ability of the global Irish to live and work in Ireland: it was only in the 1980s that the right to claim Irish citizenship was taken from most of those whose ancestry stretched back to great-grandparents – I don’t know why this was done, but it’s ironic that it was around the same time that Irish politicians were coming to the US looking for American visas for the Irish undocumented – a mission that was greatly assisted by the Irish-American community.

    There has been a lot of great thinking about redefining the relationship between Ireland and the global Irish lately, but Brown’s point about the importance of giving to the diaspora is a good reminder of how much more effective our efforts could be if we think more about what Ireland can offer to the diaspora.

    Read Brown’s full article at  Calling All Countrymen.

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