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

    Tuesday, October 6th, 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.

    Israel as a node-state: redefining the diaspora relationship

    Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

    Israel can be conceptualised as a ‘node-state’ at the centre of a diasporic network, according to an article on Ariel Beery notes that Israel differs from the typical nation state, in which a government brings together a variety of ethnic groups living within its borders:

    The State of Israel, in this way, was doubly special – first because it claimed to be the state of the Jews even as the majority of the Jewish nation still lived outside its boundaries, and second because it had no desire to integrate other, non-Jewish groups among its citizenry into the Jewish nation. Israel has thus been criticized for not behaving like a classic nation-state. But it might also be wrestling with a challenge a bit ahead of its time: the separation of citizenship and residency, of state and nation.

    If Israel is no nation-state, it might be more useful to think of it as a node-state – that is, as the sovereign element chosen by narrative and collective will at the center of a global network. Whereas the entire network is interdependent its center is currently restricted by our theory to operate as a nation-state. That is to say, the State of Israel might benefit from the global network, but in its functioning, most of its focus has been on basic domestic operations only, which affect only a small set of nodes on this network, and it permits only a minority of its network members to elect representatives whose decisions will affect the network as a whole. For example, even though Israel’s financial health depends just as much on foreign investment as it does on domestic production, it is the residents that determine the economic policy that affects the return on those investments – and thereby the network’s overall health. As populations shift, this same network effect facing Israel will face other nations as well.

    Beery notes the importance of new thinking to deal with the reality of the need for a transformed relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora. He quotes Ehud Olmert’s vision of the relationship: “We must stop talking in terms of big brother and little brother, and instead speak in terms of two brothers marching hand in hand and supporting each other.”

    This new thinking is being addressed by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which has been charged with the development of a new strategy for fiscal and programme relations with the diaspora, with the goal of strengthening Jewish identity.

    This idea of the nation-state giving way to a node-state has implications for a country like Ireland, which says in its constitution, “the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.” With millions of Irish citizens living abroad, and with efforts to enhance the relationship between Ireland and the diaspora and Ireland on the increase, it could be argued that Ireland, too, may be moving toward a node-state (albeit, I hope, a more inclusive one than Israel’s, which excludes some in its territory from citizenship).

    Could Ireland be reconceived as a node-state including all on the island of Ireland, plus the 1.2 million Irish-born abroad, and the 70 million in the diaspora? And what would that mean in practical terms?

    Related websites:

    DFA working to assist Irish in Gaza

    Thursday, January 8th, 2009

    The Department of Foreign Affairs is working to ensure Irish citizens in Gaza can depart safely from the bombarded region.

    The Irish Times is reporting that as many as 40 people with Irish connections are in the territory, and the Irish embassy has been working to secure exits for a number of these. Among them is an Irish-born child and his family; five-year-old Basil Nateel moved to Gaza with his Palestinian mother and his three sisters in 2007.

    The newspaper reports that a DFA spokesperson said:

    “There are a number of Irish citizens and individuals with Irish connections in Gaza at the moment and all are being provided with consular assistance through our embassy in Tel Aviv. They are in constant contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs and an exit plan is in place to allow them to leave Gaza when it is safe to do so.

    See the entire article on the Irish Times website.