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Israel’s treatment of Ireland’s ambassador was a macabre, medieval circus

Should Israeli ambassadors around the world now be forced to watch footage of entire families slaughtered, patients dying in shattered hospitals, children condemned to starve? Of course not

The recent treatment of the Irish Ambassador to Israel, along with her Spanish and Norwegian colleagues, was a deplorable breach of all diplomatic norms.

As is the practice when a host government wishes to convey a rebuke to one or more other governments, the three relevant ambassadors were summoned to the Israeli foreign ministry following their countries’ decision to join the overwhelming majority of the international community in recognising the Palestinian state.

However, in an unprecedented breach of protocol, courtesy and normal humanity, the three ambassadors were forced to watch footage of the Hamas barbarity on October 7th. The presence of the Israeli media to observe and take photographs of the spectacle was brazen and outrageous.

While the impact on the three diplomats cannot in any way be compared with the suffering of the many innocent victims of Hamas and the Israeli military in recent months, I have enormous personal sympathy for them, including for my former ambassadorial colleague, Sonya McGuinness.


Tánaiste Micheál Martin rightly described the Israeli foreign ministry’s behaviour as totally unacceptable and outside the norms by which diplomats are treated everywhere in the world.

There are at least six reasons why the Tánaiste’s forceful condemnation is correct.

First, diplomats posted abroad are conduits for conveying messages between governments. They are the channels for communication, not the target of the messages being conveyed. It is essential for the conduct of international diplomacy that ambassadors around the world are treated with courtesy, even when the messages they are asked to pass on to their authorities may be extremely tough. If the channel for straightforward and relatively discreet communication between governments is damaged, it would constitute a dangerous precedent.

Second, every reasonable person would recognise that the gruesome show inflicted by the Israeli foreign ministry last week was abusive. The Tánaiste, like the foreign ministers of Spain and Norway, has a duty of care to all members of his staff.

Third, the orchestrated involvement of the Israeli media, complete with cameras, at the meeting aggravated the shameful treatment of the ambassadors and was entirely out of keeping with the effective and appropriate use of diplomatic channels. It added a further macabre and almost medieval dimension to the grisly circus.

Fourth, if the recent treatment of the three Tel Aviv-based ambassadors were for a moment to be considered acceptable, the logical corollary would be that Israeli ambassadors around the world should not only be summoned by their host governments, as they are from time to time, to convey strong messages home about the Netanyahu government’s disproportionate brutality against Palestinian civilians; they should also be forced to watch footage of entire families slaughtered by indiscriminate bombing, patients dying in shattered hospitals, and children, often with no surviving guardians, condemned to starve. Such treatment of Israeli diplomats will not, of course, and should never happen. Ireland and the other countries would never sink so low, but it is important to reflect on the self-evident theoretical parallel.

Fifth, the implied motive behind the recent Israeli violation of diplomatic convention was entirely misguided. On the face of it, it would appear to be based on a false assumption that Ireland, Norway and Spain do not condemn the Hamas atrocities – which of course they do, strongly and repeatedly. The fundamental Israeli objection, even if they don’t acknowledge it to themselves, is to the fact that the three governments equally condemn some of Israel’s behaviour over recent months. Forcing ambassadors to watch atrocities that their governments already unreservedly condemn is showing the wrong film to the wrong audience.

Sixth, Israel’s ongoing behaviour in both Gaza and the West Bank is increasingly out of line with the rulings of the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, even if the judgments of those courts cannot, at least at the moment, be enforced. The random abuse of ambassadors that we witnessed last week, however minor in the grand scale of things, will contribute to Israel continuing to lose the argument in that other court, the rulings of which require no legal enforcement, namely the court of international public opinion.

Ireland has no wish to see Israel being isolated, either by itself or by others. Our Government rightly resisted strong domestic pressure to expel the Israeli ambassador. It was the Israeli government itself that recently recalled her for consultations. The Tánaiste emphasised in the last few days that the Israeli ambassador would be welcome to return to Dublin. If she does so, she will be treated with normal diplomatic courtesy.

Ireland has long been a strong supporter of a two-state solution, which, however difficult to achieve, is the only conceivable alternative to permanent bloodshed and suffering for the people of the region. Our recent decision to recognise Palestine is a small but significant contribution towards the overdue emergence of one of those two states. At the same time, our equal commitment to the other state, Israel, and to its equal right to security, remains unchanged.

Bobby McDonagh is a former ambassador of Ireland to London, Rome and Brussels