Revealed: US pressure on Ireland over Israeli settlements bill

Published: 18 May, 2019

US politicians and lobbyists applied pressure on the Irish government before it passed a bill banning goods from illegal Israel settlements, including threatening the immigration status of Irish people in the US.

Documents obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request by the reveal lobby groups and US politicians sought to influence the Irish government to stop the passage of the Occupied Territories Bill, banning the sale of goods from illegal Israeli settlements. The bill passed in both houses of Ireland’s parliament in December and January.

Republican Massachusetts Rep. Steven S. Howitt wrote to Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and leader of the opposition Fianna Fail party Micheal Martin in January, warning that the bill “threatens to jail citizens of Irish origin and sanction Irish based companies in Massachusetts who engage in commercial activity with the State of Israel.”

The Irish bill makes it an offence for a person to import or sell goods or services or extract resources originating in an occupied territory. US law prevents companies from taking part in boycotts against Israel.

Howitt claimed this would force Irish citizens to “make an impossible choice, whether to return to Ireland to face prosecution or stay [and] violate the terms of their immigration status in the United States.”

Indiana Secretary of Commerce James A. Schellinger also wrote to Coveney and Martin explaining that while he “respects the autonomy of the Irish government,” Indiana has a “strong relationship with the State of Israel.” He said he was concerned that the bill could impact companies operating in Indiana, and affect the state’s economy.

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Meanwhile, the Jewish Voice group wrote to Israel’s ambassador to Ireland in January, saying the Irish bill “singles out Israel” and “sets a dangerous precedent which is detrimental to the relations between our countries.”

The letter said that because Irish people do not understand “the intricate minutiae of the territorial conflict,” the legislation would mean people would conclude “it’s open season on Israel.”