Thursday, June 17, 2010

When the IRA was fab

Not so long ago we noted the anger being displayed by American pro-Israel commentators against Ireland, most recently in connection with broad Irish support for the blockade-busting Gaza flotilla. So it's only fair to note a post by Commentary's Jonathan Tobin, who seems genuinely troubled by the falling out between the two countries. He goes through the version of Irish history known to all, where Liam Neeson, ably assisted by Julia Roberts, took on the Empire before being done in by a skulking Alan Rickman (the most mischievous piece of Neil Jordan casting ever, but that's another story).

But seriously --

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances.

Three points. First, we really don't know what Collins' ultimate plan was. But it seems clear that he viewed the specific border between the Free State and the Six Counties as being up for grabs, and there was indeed a "border war" to change it. In fact, this forgotten episode resulted in a relatively recent frisson in the British media, when it was discovered that once-rising Labour star Ruth Kelly was the granddaughter of a man who was interned on a prison ship for participating in that campaign.

Second, Liam Neeson notwithstanding, Michael Collins was a terrorist. As far as Britain was concerned. So in embracing Collins, Tobin needs to take on the question of terrorism in the foundation of Israel and by extension how today's terrorists might be tomorrow's you-know-what. You're on the slope already.

But third, this Partition business. It's a fair point. One of many recent bust-ups in the blogosphere was over Jeffrey Goldberg's assertion that the critical Palestinian error was not taking partition in 1948. And it's true -- it's not what the Collins "stepping stone" logic would have recommended. 62 years later, it's not clear what the upside to that decision has been. So maybe the Michael Collins moment for the Palestinians has passed, although he never seems to go out of style.

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