Belfast memorial to Christian Zionist officer vandalized

In what is being treated as a hate crime, a Belfast mural honoring a local Christian citizen who led a historic Jewish legion in World War I and then advocated for the creation of the State of Israel was vandalized.

The memorial to Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson was damaged early Thursday morning after two containers were set ablaze nearby, the Irish News reported. Belfast is in northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

An officer in the British army, Patterson during World War I commanded the Zion Mule Corps, the first Jewish fighting force in nearly two millennia, which fought in the Gallipoli Campaign. He went on to become an ardent supporter of the creation of a Jewish state.

His remains were moved to Israel last year and buried alongside the Jewish soldiers, belatedly fulfilling a wish he had expressed before his death in 1947, one year before the establishment of the State of Israel. At the 2015 burial ceremony in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Patterson “can be called the godfather of the Israeli army.”

“In doing what we are doing today, we are repaying a great historical debt and a personal debt to a great friend of our people, a great champion of Zionism, and a great believer in the Jewish state and the Jewish people,” said Netanyahu, whose father was a personal friend of Patterson.

Netanyahu’s older brother, Yonatan, who was killed leading the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation, was named for Patterson, who was his godfather.

The Belfast memorial features a large star of David and  a quote from Netanyahu: “In all of Jewish history we have never had a Christian friend as understanding and devoted.”

In addition to recognizing Patterson, the Belfast memorial also honors Jewish soldiers in World War I and World War II.

Pastor Paul Burns, a local Christian leader, told the U.K.’s iTV he believed the attack was anti-Semitic and said it was particularly disturbing coming just hours after four Israelis were killed in a Tel Aviv terror attack.

William Humphrey, a Belfast elected official, told iTV the attack was “clearly designed to raise tensions.” The memorial was “welcomed in the community … but also by the Jewish community as it showed the historic links between Belfast and Israel.”

Britain’s Labour Party suspends member for saying Israel uses Holocaust as moneymaker

As part of its crackdown on anti-Semitism, Britain’s Labour Party suspended the party membership of a columnist from Ireland who apparently said Israel was using the Holocaust to receive money.

John McAuliffe, an international member of the British party, was suspended this week after allegedly posting on Facebook a message in which he described the genocide as “the most useful political tool of the Zionist government in Israel to establish a financial racket in the West, whereby Israel receives an unlimited sum for the duration of its existence,” The Jewish News reported Monday.

The newspaper learned of the suspension of McAuliffe, a columnist at Digital Journal and the Cambridge Globalist, by a Labour spokesperson.

It is the latest in a string of punitive measures against members who have made anti-Semitic hate speech.

Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected Labour’s chair in September, on April 11 told the BBC that anyone making anti-Semitic statements “is auto-excluded from the party.” The policy was announced amid intense media scrutiny of Labour in connection with several incidents of hate speech against Jews, which critics trace back to Corbyn’s past support for enemies of Israel, including Hamas and Hezbollah. He has called activists for both anti-Semitic terrorist groups his “friends.”

One of the six cases of anti-Semitism exposed within Labour since March involved Vicki Kirby, a party activist who suggested on social media that Adolf Hitler might be a “Zionist god” and that Jews have “big noses.” She was suspended. In another, Aysegul Gurbuz, a London-area politician, was suspended and later resigned after her Twitter account was found to feature praise for Hitler and for Iran’s plans to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Jonathan Arkush, the president of Britain Board of Jewish Deputies, said these cases, perceived inaction by Corbyn, and his failure to distance himself from Hamas and Hezbollah mean that most British Jews distrust Labour.

In his Facebook post, McAuliffe wrote: “The large level of poverty in Israel among Holocaust survivors shows they don’t care about the emotional impact they are trying to generate. It is about money and military technology. This further paints a clearer picture of the divide between Zionism and Judaism, and their incompatibility.”

The Jewish Labour Movement in the United Kingdom has put forward a proposal to change Labour rules to make it easier to permanently exclude those who express anti-Semitic or Islamophobic sentiment.

Labour is investigating claims of anti-Semitism at its Oxford University branch.

Irish government to accept motion to recognize Palestinian state

The Irish government will accept a motion to be proposed by the opposition on Tuesday calling on parliament to recognize Palestine as a state, echoing similar recent symbolic decisions in other European Union countries.

While most developing countries recognize Palestine as a state, most Western European countries do not, supporting the Israeli and U.S. position that an independent Palestinian state should emerge from negotiations with Israel.

European countries have grown frustrated with Israel, which since the collapse of the latest U.S.-sponsored talks in April has pressed on with building settlements in territory the Palestinians want for their state.

The government's decision comes after Sweden became the biggest Western European country to recognize Palestine, and parliaments in Spain, Britain and France held votes in which they backed non-binding resolutions in favor of recognition.

It also follows the passing of a motion in Ireland's upper house in October calling on the government to formally recognize Palestine.

Members of parliament in the lower house are due to discuss the motion proposed by the opposition Sinn Fein party later on Tuesday and on Wednesday. A government spokesman said it will not oppose the bill, meaning MPs will not be required to vote.

The motion calls on the government to “officially recognize the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, as established in UN resolutions, as a further positive contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

It also recognizes that “continued Israeli settlement construction and extension activities in the West Bank, is illegal and severely threatening the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.”

Belfast synagogue vandalized on back-to-back days

A window was smashed on successive days at a synagogue in Belfast, Ireland.

The vandalism at the Belfast Hebrew Congregation took place on Friday night and the following day, the BBC reported. In the latter incident, the replacement window was shattered.

Police are treating the vandalism as a religious hate crime.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said it was “totally unacceptable” for places of worship to be targeted, the BBC reported.

Gerry Kelly, a member of the legislative assembly, condemned the attack.

“There can be no place for attacks on any place of worship, regardless of the religion or denomination,” Kelly said, according to Belfast’s News Letter. “The local Jewish community makes a valuable contribution to our society and there is no justification for hate crimes.”

It was not clear whether the attack was related to Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip.

Ventura Film Fest remembers Sally Davis, celebrity journalist

The Ventura Jewish Film Festival, opening March 9, will range across the Jewish world, from Ireland to Israel, and, in time, from the 19th century to the present.

Now marking its 10th anniversary, the festival has become a popular weekend destination for many Angelenos. This year, the film fest is dedicated to the life and memory of Ventura resident Sally Davis, an internationally known broadcaster and journalist, as well as a founder of the festival, who died last December at 71.

Davis grew up in Northern Ireland and, appropriately, the festival’s closing presentation on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, will be “Shalom Ireland,” which chronicles the rich contributions of Jews to the country.

The kickoff event will be the March 9 opening night screening at 7 p.m. of “Hava Nagila” at the Regency Buena Ventura 6 Theatre in Ventura. The documentary depicts how the vibrant and universally popular song started in the Ukraine as a wordless Chassidic melody some150 years ago, before becoming a staple at every bar or bat mitzvah and wedding.

In more recent times, “Hava Nagila” has been performed by hundreds of ethnically diversified artists, from Harry Belafonte and Julie Andrews to Itzhak Perlman. A Q&A with producer Sophie Sartain will follow the film.

“55 Socks,” a short animated film by Oscar winning director Co Hoedeman, based on a poem by Marie Jacobs, will lead off a double feature on Sunday, March 10 at 4 p.m. at the Plaza Stadium Cinema 14 in Oxnard.

It will be followed by “Besa: The Promise,” which tells the little-known history of Albanian Muslims who saved many of their Jewish countrymen during the Holocaust. Producer Christine Romero will speak at a post-dinner reception.

On Tuesday, March 12, “Orchestra of Exiles” will screen at Oxnard’s Plaza Stadium Cinema 14, starting at 7 p.m. The film tells the dramatic story of the great Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman, who rescued some of Europe’s greatest musicians from Nazi persecution and established a world-class symphony orchestra in then mostly barren Palestine.

Danielle Spivak, West Coast representative of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, will comment on the film.

Another double feature is set for Thursday, March 14, starting at 7 p.m. at the Roxy Stadium 11 Theaters in Camarillo. Leading off is “Through the Eye of the Needle,” which focuses on the amazing needlework of a woman, who escaped from the Nazis by posing as a Polish farm girl, and later created 36 panels of fabric recounting her experiences. Director/writer Nina Perl will be the speaker.

Following will be “Violins in Wartime,” a documentary about an Israeli father and son who repair damaged violins and run a master class for young violinists while the second Lebanon War of 2006 rages nearby. Producer Ravit Markus will speak.

“Simon and the Oaks” will be featured on Saturday, March 16, at the Regency Buenaventura 6 Theatre in Ventura, starting at 7 p.m. The drama depicts the friendship over 15 years between two boys grown into men, one from a Swedish working class background, the other from an intellectual Jewish refugee family.

The closing presentation on Sunday, March 17, starting at 12 noons at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, will be “Shalom Ireland.” Introducing the film will be Ivor Davis, a former columnist for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Magazine, who collaborated with his wife Sally on numerous articles for the Jewish Journal and other publications.

In recalling his wife’s career and her contributions to the Jewish communities on two continents, Ivor Davis said that after graduating from Queens University in Belfast, she became the youngest anchor ever on the nightly BBC-TV news program in Northern Ireland.

After the young couple moved to California in 1967, Sally Davis became a correspondent for BBC television and an entertainment writer for magazines and newspapers around the world.

She became well-known for her celebrity interviews with the likes of Ronald Reagan, the Beatles, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire for the New York Times Magazine, London Sunday Times and Los Angeles Magazine.

For more than three decades she was a member of Ventura’s Temple Beth Torah, while also serving on the board of the Ventura Music Festival and of Planned Parenthood of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

“Sally was a driving force in getting our Jewish Film Festival off the ground,” noted Bobbi Swerdin, the festival’s chair and co-founder. “She was a sensitive and astute critic of movies and helped put us on the road to bringing dozens of world-class movies to Ventura County. Since then our festival has gone from strength to strength.”

For ticket and other information on the film festival, visit

Reviving Biblical blue

Blue and white are the traditional colors of the tallit, and, for that reason, the colors of the flag of Israel. And yet the ancient craft of making blue dyes for use in sacred garments was lost to the world for centuries. Just as the Jewish people longed for Zion, they also longed to reclaim the long-lost secret of the blue thread that the Bible commands us to wear on the corners of our garments.

So we learn in “The Rarest Blue: The Remarkable Story of an Ancient Color Lost to History and Rediscovered” by Baruch Sterman with Judy Taubes Sterman (Lyons Press: $24.95), which can be enjoyed as a mystery, a travelogue, an adventure story and a work of scholarship. Sterman embarked on a search through history and around the world for the secrets of the Murex trunculus, a marine snail whose entrails were used in antiquity to create a unique blue dye — “the sacred, rarest blue,” as they put it.

The mystery began in late antiquity, when the use of dyes in vivid colors, all produced with shellfish, began to fade. “By the fall of Constantinople in 1453,” the authors explain, “[t]he secrets of the highly developed art, its significance once immeasurable, were lost.” Another four centuries would pass before a French zoologist rediscovered the arcane uses of the Murex trunculus and other marine snails.

The mystery deepens because the ancients did not distinguish the color blue from a “whole range of colors from blue to red,” all of which were described by the same word — purple. We know that these colors were regarded as symbolic of royal rank and imperial power throughout the ancient world, but the Israelites reserved an even more exalted place for them: “To the ancient Israelites, however, these dyes possessed a holiness not by imperial fiat but because God Himself commanded their use in His worship.” 

The point was made in the biblical commandment that a single thread of blue — tekhelet is the Hebrew word — should be affixed to the corners of a garment, a passage that resulted in the wearing of the tallit in later centuries. “In the Roman world, the use of distinguishing colors became increasingly exclusive, reserved for the elite,” the authors explain, “whereas in Jewish culture, the tekhelet string bound people together, an expression of social equality.” Yet the loss of blue dyes meant that ritual fringes could conform with the biblical law. “And now we have only white,” the compiler of the Midrash complained in the eighth century, “for tekhelet has been hidden.”

Modern chemical dyes allowed the use of textile dyes in a fabulous array of colors, but Jewish purists still longed for the authentic color of blue that was mandated in the Torah. So, too, do the authors of “The Rarest Blue,” who explain in fascinating detail how colors were deployed throughout the ancient world as status symbols, expressions of political iconography and repositories of the sacred. They move forward in history, as they described how politics and archaeology were fused in the imperial ambitions of the Western powers and, of course, the Jewish people, and a thread of blue runs through the whole account.

The priests of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, for example, wore garments of tekhelet, including a 16-meter sash that was worn around the waist. Today, the pious Jews who look forward to the building of a Third Temple are fashioning the requisite tools, vessels and elaborate priestly vestments, all according to scriptural specifications. “The Temple Institute has made 120 full sets of these garments that hang today in the closets of Jews of priestly lineage around the world,” the authors report. “Those priests dream of the day when they will don the uniforms to perform their service in the Temple.”

Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Ireland and then of Israel, as another example, was among the founding fathers of the Jewish state, a man who was fully engaged in the politics and diplomacy of his era. But he was also a lifelong student of “Hebrew porphyrology — the term Herzog coined for the study of the ancient biblical dye tekhelet” — and conducted his own exacting investigations into contemporary efforts to reproduce it. “The dream of this modern, intellectually sophisticated, utterly devout rabbi,” the authors insist, “[was] to restore the possibility of fulfilling the ancient commandment of wearing tekhelet.”

The story in “The Rarest Blue” ends on a note of triumph that can be understood variously as an affirmation of piety or as the success of a scientific enterprise, or perhaps both. “For more than a millennium, no eye had seen threads of genuine tekhelet,” the authors conclude. “Today hundreds of thousands around the world wear the tekhelet strings on their prayer shawls. To paraphrase the words of the ancient Midrash: Now we no longer have only white string, for tekhelet once again has been revealed.”

U.S. wins re-election to U.N. Human Rights Council

The United States succeeded on Monday in its bid for re-election to the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, a Geneva-based watchdog that has been criticized by Washington and Israel for singling out the Jewish state for criticism.

The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly also elected 17 other countries for terms beginning in January. The United States won the most votes of the regional group “Western Europe and Others,” followed by Germany and Ireland.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice welcomed Washington's re-election, saying that the Human Rights Council “has delivered real results” since the United States first joined it in 2010 after running for a seat on it in 2009. She cited council action on Syria as a positive example of its work.

However, she criticized the rights council's “excessive and unbalanced focus on Israel.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Rice's comments.

“We pledge to continue to work closely with the international community to address urgent and serious human rights concerns worldwide and to strengthen the (rights) council,” Clinton said in a statement.

The United States had boycotted the Human Rights Council until 2009, when the administration of President Barack Obama reversed U.S. policy and ran for a seat on the body in an effort to reform it from within.

Greece and Sweden failed to secure spots on the council in the “Western Europe and Others” category, the only regional group that had a competitive slate. Other regional groups had uncompetitive slates that assured victory for those in the running as there were enough seats for all candidates.

Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, and Sierra Leone were elected from Africa, and Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates from the Asia Group.

Estonia and Monte negro were elected from Eastern Europe, while Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela secured seats on behalf of the Latin America and Caribbean Group.


New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the vote, saying it fell far short of a bona fide election.

“To call the vote in the General Assembly an 'election' gives this process way too much credit,” said Peggy Hicks of Human Rights Watch. “Until there is real competition for seats in the Human Rights Council, its membership standards will remain more rhetoric than reality.”

Votes for seats on U.N. bodies, including the Security Council, often have uncontested regional slates.

Freedom House, a Washington-based rights watchdog, said that seven of the countries that secured seats on the council – Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, UAE, and Venezuela- are unqualified for membership on a body that requires members to uphold the highest standards regarding human rights.

Freedom House said that the qualifications of three other new members – Brazil, Kenya, and Sierra Leone – were questionable.

Earlier this year, Sudan had announced plans to run for a seat on the Human Rights Council but withdrew after it was criticized by rights groups. Khartoum instead secured a seat on the U.N. Economic and Social Council, one of the world body's principal organs, which coordinates economic and social issues.

Syria had attempted to run for a seat on the rights council last year but withdrew due to pressure from Western and Arab states. Syrian President Basher al-Assad's government, which has led a 20-month mil itary cam paign against an increasingly militarized opposition, plans to run for a rights council seat next year.

Rights advocates have successfully mounted similar campaigns against previous candidates for the Human Rights Council, including Belarus, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan and Iran.

Irish broadcaster calls Israel a ‘cancer’

A popular Irish broadcaster and columnist said he is not anti-Semitic, after calling Israel “the cancer in foreign affairs” during a broadcast.

“Israel is the cancer in foreign affairs. It polarizes the Islamic community of the world against the rest of the world,” Vincent Browne said last week on his TV3 channel show, Tonight with Vincent Browne.

“Unless you deal with the problem of Israel and the Palestinians in that part of the world, there's going to be conflict and disharmony. It's a massive injustice — they stole the land from the Arabs,” he continued.

Browne said he would not apologize for the remarks, the Irish Independent reported, saying his criticism was justified, though he agreed his word choice was poor.

“What I resent is the suggestion that because you're critical of Israel, you're automatically anti-Semitic. I don't think that's acceptable,” he told the newspaper.

No complaints have been lodged against the broadcast, a TV3 spokesman told the Independent.

Israel’s deputy ambassador to Ireland Nurit Tinari-Modai told the Jewish Chronicle that the embassy had received calls and e-mails decrying the remarks.

“I would have never believed that the day would come when a presenter on Irish TV station would make racist, anti-Semitic remarks,” Tinari-Modai told the Chronicle.

Joyce fans celebrate Bloomsday in Westwood

More than 100 James Joyce enthusiasts, performance artists and Irish descendants gathered at Westwood’s Hammer Museum on June 16 to celebrate Bloomsday. Taken from the name of Leopold Bloom, the assimilated Jewish protagonist in Joyce’s monumental book, “Ulysses,” the event celebrates the life of the Irish writer and relives the events of the day the tale is set: June 16, 1904.

With plastic cups of Guinness in hand, attendees warmed to the sounds of traditional Irish music played by the Sweet Set as they waited for the festivities to begin.

Stanley Breitbard, organizer for Bloomsday at the Hammer, says the event draws a wide demographic. “We get a very mixed crowd every year,” he said. “Academics, veterans, actors and people of Irish descent.”

A worldwide celebration established in 1954, Breitbard said the appeal of Bloomsday was understandable.

“He was the greatest writer who ever lived, and clearly I’m not the only one who thinks that,” he said.

Phil Hendricks, a Jewish man in his 60s, said it had been 20 years since he last read “Ulysses,” adding that it felt like a completely different book as he read in the Hammer’s courtyard. A sign of a timeless classic. Hendricks also addressed why Joyce would choose to make his protagonist a Jew in a predominantly Catholic country.

“The Irish themselves were outcasts amongst the British, so I think there is a similarity between them and the Jews,” he said. “The juxtaposition between Jews and Irish Catholics are very well known. Bloom was definitely more Jewish than he was Catholic.”

The buoyancy of the late afternoon hushed when attendees were asked to enter the Billy Wilder Theater, where a reading was performed by a host of Irish and American actors, including Jonny O’Callaghan (narrator in “Gangs of New York”) and James Lancaster (“Pirates of the Carribean 2”).

The seventh episode of the book, “Aeolus,”  was chosen to be read in full by nine actors. Introduced by Breitbard, the story unfolded with the Irish accents of O’Callaghan and Lancaster, which eased the process of imagining an early 20th century Dublin. The reading gave beautiful insight into Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness style, taking the listener right into the minds of the characters. A difficult narrative to follow at first, the story was peppered with humorous intervals, provoking laugh-out-loud responses from the standing-room-only audience.

Margot Norris, author and former president of the James Joyce International Foundation, intervened during the readings, providing insights into Joyce’s choices of syntax and literary devices. One of the questions she raised: Why would Joyce reveal Leopold Bloom’s Jewish heritage so far into the book, in the seventh episode?

Actor O’Callaghan told The Journal that it had to do with counteracting the blatant anti-Semitism of that era.

“I think it was revealed so late to get people to like him,” O’Callaghan mused. “You got to know and like the character. Then, when someone states what people are thinking, it lets the readers heal and all their walls go down.”

Richard Levy, 52, said Joyce may have been inspired by friends to make his protagonist Jewish.

“Joyce actually had a lot of friends who were Jewish and I think they had a big influence on him,” he said.

Levy, who lived and worked in Ireland for a year, says “Ulysses” can act as more than a book.

“ ‘Ulysses’ is actually the perfect map of Dublin when you visit,” he said. “It’s amazing how you can catch every street the book is set upon.”

The reading concluded with an excerpt from the episode read by Joyce himself – a 1924 recording made at HMV studios in Paris at the insistence of Joyce’s publisher, Sylvia Beach.

After the event concluded, Breitbard weighed in with his own insights as to why Joyce made his main character a Jew.

“Joyce met Jews in Trieste, Italy, and they were the biggest role models and influences in creating characters for ‘Ulysses,’ ” he said. “I think he made Bloom Jewish to make him different from other Dubliners. He was the nicest character in the book, and a very sympathetic character.”

Police look into anti-Semitic bullying incident in Northern Ireland

Police in Northern Ireland are investigating claims of anti-Semitic bullying of a boy with Asperger syndrome.

Matthew Lough, 14, told the BBC that he had been bullied at his County Antrim school since revealing during a class on the Holocaust that his great-grandmother was Jewish.

He said one boy was suspended after Lough was hit in the head and knocked to the ground. Police told the BBC on Thursday that they are investigating a March 14 assault.

Others, Lough and his mother told the BBC, have attached swastikas to his school bags and have taunted him with anti-Semitic epithets.

His mother, Sharon Lough, credited the school, Carrickfergus College, with taking swift action, but was concerned at the persistence of the anti-Semitism.

“He has been very unsettled at night-time, having nightmares,” she told the broadcaster. “I would never, ever tell my children not to mention their heritage, because they are so proud of it. I would never deny my Jewish heritage, never.”

Bagels regain bread status in Ireland

Bagels were granted equal status with soda bread in Ireland following a government decision to reclassify the traditionally Jewish favorite as ordinary bread for the purposes of taxation.

Bagels and other ‘ethnic’ breads such as naan, pita and tortilla wraps now will be exempt from the 13.5 percent valued added tax on premium baked goods charged by the Irish revenue service.

Wednesday’s decision reverses a provision included in last November’s budget to slap new taxes on “value added” foods. Ordinary bread is exempt from tax in Ireland, but the Irish revenue service changed its determination on bagels late last year, saying they were not “sufficiently bread-like” to be exempt.

The revenue service was overruled by the finance minister, who changed the definition of bread “to reflect the breads currently available on the market, taking account of the development of bread for health, ethnic and other reasons.”

Bagels became widely popular in Ireland outside the Jewish community in the late 1990s as consumer tastes expanded with growing prosperity. Since late 2007 the country has been in a deep recession, culminating in a financial bailout that has forced the government to impose new taxes and cut many exemptions.

A fifth of Irish would bar Israelis from becoming citizens

More than one in five Irish people would bar Israelis from becoming naturalized Irish citizens, according to new research into ethnic and religious attitudes in Ireland.

The book-length study, “Pluralism and Diversity in Ireland,” found that 22.2% of Irish people would exclude Israelis from Irish citizenship, while 11.5% would deny it to all Jews.

Israelis as a group also had one of the lowest favorable ratings among Irish people, ranking 44th out of 51 categories.

“There is a real danger that the public image of ‘Israeli’ can lead to an increase in anti-Semitism,” the book’s author, Jesuit priest and sociologist Father Micheál Mac Gréil, told The Irish Catholic newspaper.

The research found prejudice against Jews was most prevalent among young adults in the 18-25 age group. Only 53.6% of this group would accept a Jewish person in their family, versus 60.7% for Irish people of all ages.

Israelis were considered less acceptable as kin, with only 47.9% of Irish people prepared to admit an Israeli into their family.

The Republic of Ireland’s Jewish population is less than 2,000 out of a total of 4.5 million.

Ireland’s Labor Party eyes Israel for economic inspiration

One of the parties expected to form part of Ireland’s next governing coalition is looking to Israel for economic inspiration.

The left-leaning Labor party, which is second in the polls and expected to be the junior partner in Ireland’s government following the Feb. 25 general election, has said Ireland should follow Israel’s example of technology-led growth and development to help regain the competitiveness it has lost since the dot-com bubble burst a decade ago.

In a policy paper published this week, Labor said Israel was “a clear model to follow” in driving productivity and employment through innovation. The document also pointed out Ireland was falling behind “competitor economies” such as Israel in technology absorption, research and development, and government procurement of advanced technology products.

Ireland and Israel have long seen each other as benchmark economies, as both countries rely heavily on the software, pharmaceutical, biotech and medical devices sectors. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu modeled his “economic peace” policy partly on Ireland’s experiences in the late 1990s, when rapid growth in the republic underpinned efforts to sign a final Northern Ireland peace treaty.

Labor’s positive economic view of Israel is especially noteworthy, as the party has long been highly critical of Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza.

Ireland upgrades Palestinian mission to embassy

Ireland became the first European Union member to upgrade its Palestinian diplomatic mission to an embassy.

The head of the Palestinian mission will become an ambassador in Dublin and will present his credentials to the Irish president, according to Ynet.

The upgrade reportedly does not mean that Ireland has recognized a Palestinian state.

Israeli officials are worried that other European countries will do the same. Spain, Belgium and several Scandinavian countries are expected to announce their unilateral recognition of an independent Palestinian state, as eight Latin Ameircan countries have done in the past six weeks.

“Israel expresses its regret over the step adopted by Ireland, although it is not surprised by it considering Ireland’s biased policy regarding the conflict over the years,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to Army Radio.

Ireland asks Israel to allow ship to Gaza

Ireland has asked Israel to allow an Irish-owned ship to break the blockade of Gaza.

The Rachel Corrie, named for the American pro-Palestinian activist who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, left Malta on Monday with 15 activists and humanitarian aid aboard.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told his parliament Wednesday that his government formally requested of Israel to allow the ship “to complete its journey unimpeded and discharge its humanitarian cargo in Gaza,” according to reports.

Activists on the ship include Northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire; Denis Halliday, an Irish former senior United Nations diplomat; and several other Irish citizens.

“We are an initiative to break Israel’s blockade of 1.5 million people in Gaza,” Free Gaza Movement activist Greta Berlin, based in Cyprus, told Reuters. “Our mission has not changed and this is not going to be the last flotilla.”

‘Emerald Isle’ beckons Jews

There is a saying that in Ireland there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet.

On our visit we experienced a tangible expression of this in Kenmare, where perfect strangers went out of their way to help us get our laundry done and then volunteered to drive us back to our hotel when we couldn’t find a taxi.

Encounters with ordinary folks are easy in Ireland, not only because there is no language barrier, but also because so many people have links to America and feel genuinely warm toward us.

Today, however, many of the people one meets in Ireland are not Irish. There are more than 300,000 Poles and countless thousands of other Continentals, many from Eastern Europe, in the country. A large number of these young men and women work in hotels and restaurants; being greeted by a receptionist with a Slavic accent becomes almost commonplace.

The reason for this influx of foreigners is, quite simply, the economic boom the country experienced after joining the European Union and adopting the euro as its currency. In Dublin and larger cities, construction cranes, new highways, industrial parks, as well as modern office and apartment buildings offer proof of Ireland’s standing as the Celtic Tiger.

This newfound prosperity has also had an effect on Ireland’s small Jewish community. For the past 50 years, the community had been shrinking from a high of more than 5,000 members to less than a thousand today. Where Dublin once had more than a dozen synagogues it has but three today, and those in Cork and Limerick are completely gone.

Now, however, the boom has stanched the outflow of Jews and the community is experiencing modest growth with the inflow of skilled computer scientists and construction engineers from Israel, Britain, South Africa and even Canada and the U.S.A.

The majority of these immigrants have young families, which has resulted in an increase in the enrollment at Dublin’s Jewish day school. Rabbi Zalman Lent, a Chabad rabbi from England, together with his wife, Rivki, is responsible for the community’s youth programs, school and summer camp, as well as for teen and young marrieds activities.

The rabbi says there is virtually no anti-Semitism in Dublin, and people have been respectful toward him. The only time he experienced any hostility, he said, was when someone called him “Osama bin Laden,” presumably because of his black beard.

The Terenure Hebrew Congregation, at 32a Rarthfarnham Road, is Ireland’s largest and most prominent synagogue; its spiritual leader, Dr. Yaakov Pearlman, is chief rabbi of Ireland, a position that gives him a degree of official recognition. The synagogue is Ashkenazi Orthodox in the manner of the British United Synagogue, and it holds regular Friday night and Shabbat morning services, as well as daily minyans. The congregation also provides study and communal programs and features a mikvah.

The Dublin Progressive Hebrew Congregation, at 7 Leicester Avenue, is an egalitarian community along the lines of the American Conservative movement. It has a visiting rabbi from England, Rabbi Charles Middlebergh, who conducts services weekly “in season.” According to Max Roitenberg, an immigrant to Ireland from Ottawa, Canada, services are held every Friday evening and most Saturdays and on all holidays. Roitenberg said the congregation has some 200 members, many of who are converts or in mixed marriages. In the absence of the rabbi, services are conducted by lay members.

The third synagogue is a small ultra-Orthodox stiebel, Machzikei Hadass, in the Terenure suburb.

Kosher food is readily available at the SuperValu market on Braemor Road in Churchtown, while kosher bread is available at the The Bretzel Bakery at 1a Lennox St. in Portobello. While Irish meat and dairy products are popular the world over, we were surprised to learn from Rabbi Lent that the preparation of kosher meat is a major industry in Ireland and that much of the kosher meat sold in Europe is imported from there.

Although it is a small institution located in two adjoining row houses in what was once a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, the Irish Jewish Museum is a “must see” for Jewish visitors. Upstairs is the former Walworth Road Synagogue, preserved much as it was during its heyday, complete with plaques honoring major donors. Several showcases with documents and memorabilia from the first half of the 20th century have been added. Possibly the saddest of these is the record of an Irish Jewish woman married to a Lithuanian citizen who became the only Irish citizen to be murdered by the Nazis.

Downstairs, the museum presents an overview of Irish Jewish history and features a plethora of memorabilia, including records and correspondence related to the family of Irish-born Chaim Herzog, who opened the museum in 1985 when he was president of Israel. Raphael Siev, a native Dubliner and retired barrister-at-law, is the museum’s curator and happily shares his memories with visitors. The museum is open Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is free.

Ireland is a country of significant historical and literary interest and exquisite natural beauty. It is truly an “emerald isle,” with a vast variety of wonderful places to stay, ranging from modest bed and breakfasts to magnificent country houses. The economic boom has also resulted in an influx of master chefs and the opening of gourmet restaurants in Dublin, as well as in the major tourist centers of the country.

Even though there are undoubtedly some bargains to be found, it’s important to remember that as long as the U.S. dollar remains weak against the euro, you must be prepared to have the Celtic Tiger bite you in the wallet. But, being Irish, he’ll do it with a smile.

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Could Tony Blair be the one?

There was one big question left unanswered when Tony Blair spoke last Monday evening at the opening of American Jewish University’s (AJU) 2007 lecture series.

A day after he stepped down as the British Prime Minister on June 27, 2007, Blair immediately became the Middle East envoy working on behalf of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together on a peace deal.

Since then, he has been meeting with all sides in the conflict, and logging more miles lining up support from various Middle Eastern and European leaders. Blair told the near-capacity crowd at the 6,000-seat Gibson Auditorium at Universal Studios that just before touching down in Los Angeles, he had been in Oman, Jerusalem, London and Paris.

“It was a week that was rather typical of the weeks I spend now,” he said.

The message was he’s trying, really trying.

But the 64,000 shekel (or dinar) question is this: What, oh what, makes him think he will succeed?

Google doesn’t have enough computers to store the names of all the “Special Mideast Envoys” sent out on the road to Jerusalem to bring peace to the Holy Land. My instant recall begins with Count Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish diplomat whom the United Nations chose as its first official mediator to bring the Arab and Jewish sides together in pre-state Palestine. On Sept. 17, 1948, the Jewish terrorist Lehi group gunned Bernadotte down in Jerusalem.

As the Monday evening appearance progressed, I tried to divine clues — hope, really — that Blair would be a bit more successful.

There is the force of his personality, for one. Not since former President Bill Clinton kicked off the AJU Lecture series six years ago has a series speaker displaying so much natural talent, humor, power and charisma stood at the podium. (True, Blair had less sex appeal, but he is, after all, English.)

Blair’s speech, in fact, echoed many of the points Clinton’s made about the challenges we face in the world: terrorism, poverty, global warming, trade and immigration. And his prescription to the world facing these ills was likewise Clintonesque. “Globalization is a fact,” he said, “but the values that guide us in facing it are a choice.”

In facing these crises, Blair called for a global perspective: “The key thing is that just as these problems arise from our interdependent world, so the solutions can’t come from any one nation or favor any one nation.”

That point of view makes sense for a globe-trotting Mideast envoy, but will it bring him any more success where so many have failed?

He is, on the plus side, a realist. Terrorism linked to a radical Islamic ideology is part of what Blair called, “a fundamental struggle going on.” On the one hand, the world has to give it no sanction, make no excuses for it.

“If the president of Iran says he wants to wipe Israel off the map, we have to take it seriously,” Blair said. “If this were being said about any other country, people would be saying, Now let’s think about that….”

Likewise, he understands that Israel can’t be expected to compromise with terror.

“You need to have a tough stand, because if you do, people are less likely to put your strength to the test,” he said.

For Israelis, the primary issue is security. “Even though we have a peace process, they’re firing rockets from Gaza to Sderot,” he said. “Why are they doing it? They don’t want us to succeed.”

For the Palestinians, Blair said, the issue is a viable state, free of the burdens of occupation. He said he is convinced that this is what the majority of Palestinians and Israelis want. Blair’s Israel defense received loud applause. His assertion that Palestinians want peace, on the other hand, landed with a thud: afterward, many audience members dismissed the idea of a settlement outright.

Blair has — also on the plus side — a track record for dealing with intractable historical problems. In 1998, he shepherded the Good Friday Agreements that brought together the antagonists in Northern Ireland. Catholics and Protestants are not Jews and Muslims — fine op-ed pieces can and have been written on the differences and similarities — but the basic storyline here is one of hard work and faith.

“That is something people said could not be done,” Blair said. “But we believed it, and we were relentlessly optimistic.”

That, I suppose, is the final impressive quality Blair displayed Monday night. After serving 10 years as prime minister, he is still, at the ripe age of 53, energetic and upbeat, “relentlessly optimistic.” Perhaps his legacy will be less Count Bernadotte and more Ralph Bunche, the African American diplomat who took over as Chief U.N. Mediator after Bernadotte was killed and successfully concluded the task with the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, work for which he received the Noble Peace Prize.

“If you want to get across an idea,” Bunche once said, “wrap it up in person.”

Maybe Tony Blair is that person. If only American Jews shared his optimism.

MUSIC VIDEO: North Strand Klezmer Band

Once you’ve seen and heard ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in Japanese, what’s left but klezmer from Ireland?

Traveling Through the Emerald Isle

Even if you grew up Jewish in America in the olden days, part of your musical repertoire was “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and Jimmy Cagney belting out George M. Cohan’s “H-A-double R-I-G-A-N Spells Harrigan.”

Thus a trip to the Emerald Isle, where folks go around kissing the Blarney Stone, has always been on our traveling wish list. So when our daughter, who lives in London with her husband and two young sons, suggested renting an Irish cottage for a week of transgenerational bonding, my wife and I went for it.

The Davillaun Cottage turned out to be a rather resplendent two-story house in County Mayo, on the northwest Irish coast on the outskirts of the harbor town of Westport.

It included four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a comfortable living room with a fireplace, an enclosed garden terrace, complete kitchen, and washing machine and dryer — room enough for four adults, plus 4-year-old Benjamin and 1-year-old Gabriel.