Ireland – The False Analogy

There’s a growing body of literature on the shared history of Zionism and Irish nationalism.[1] I’ve been exploring this comparison in my own work (here, here, here, and here). Recently, Guido Franzinetti at the University of Eastern Piedmont, who has written on Irish connections to Eastern Europe, contacted me to tell me about a useful primary source for this comparative historiography: a 1945 essay entitled Ireland – The False Analogy, by Richard Koebner. Its an interesting interrogation of the Ireland-Israel comparison and I’ve transcribed it with some brief notes below.

Richard Koebner (1885-1958) was a founding member of the history department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was born in Breslau [Wroclaw] and left Nazi Germany for British Palestine in 1934. In Palestine, he became involved in Ihud [Union] a dovish Zionist group who advocated a shared Jewish-Arab homeland in Palestine. His article on Ireland was published in Ba’ayoth [Issues], Ihud’s Hebrew-language monthly publication and was republished in a 1972 edited English-language collection of works by members of Ihud; this is the version I reproduced below.

By the later 1930s and into the 1940s, comparisons between the extant situation in Palestine and that in Ireland two decades earlier were common currency. As Tom Segev notes in his famous book, One Palestine, Complete, the years of the Arab Revolt (1936-39) was the period of “Ireland in Palestine,” when British police and troops (many of whom had served in Hugh Tudor’s Black and Tans) felt a sense of déjà vu when a popular guerrilla campaign caused the British to lose control of much of the country. Many Zionists also saw parallels with Ireland and believed that guerrilla warfare was the only means for expelling the British and achieving a Jewish homeland. Some of these latter forces coalesced around Avraham Stern, and became known as LEHI (Lochamei Herut Yisrael, Israel Freedom Fighters). The parallels with Ireland during the previous world war would seem to have been clear enough for Stern to translate P.S. O’Hegarty’s The Victory of Sinn Féin into Hebrew.  O’Hegarty’s unwitting influence on Zionists is perhaps best hinted at by the fact that Yitzhak Shamir, a future Israeli prime minister but an underground LEHI activist in the 1940s, chose the nom de guerre “Michael”, in homage to Michael Collins  Similarly, Avsahlom Haviv, a member of ETZEL (Irgun Tzvai Leumi, The National Military Organisation), a slightly less extreme group than LEHI, quoted George Bernard Shaw during his trial for violent anti-British actions, and accused the British of “drowning the Irish Uprising in rivers of blood… yet Ireland rose free in spite of you.”

This comparison, though, was not universally accepted by all Zionists. The Marxist-Zionists of HaShomer HaTzair [The Young Guard], who sought to unite Jewish and Palestinian workers against their common enemies (Jewish capitalists and Arab feudal landlords), had little time for analogies with Ireland. HaShomer HaTzair made their views clear in this 1945 handbill condemning the “fascist terror” of the Zionist far-right:

DDI 5447

Central Zionist Archives, DDI 5447

And it is precisely this kind of Irish-Zionist militant comparison, and the political actions derived from it, that Koebner condemns in his short essay. The essay is divided into two main parts – first, a discussion of Irish nationalist history, from the Tudor period to World War Two; second, a critical discussion of the comparison with Zionism and Palestine. In a brief concluding section, he engages in a rapid-fire critique of Eamon de Valera. The version published in 1972 also includes two postscripts, from July and December 1946, that add to the argument and comment on contemporary developments.

Koebner’s central argument is that comparisons between Irish nationalism and Zionism are selective at best, fatuous at worst. He also points out that Zionism has as much in common with Ulster Unionism, foreshadowing a popular later comparison; as the great British conservative historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, stated in 1962, “Jewish history is part of European history and should be studied as such, even though, in recent times, by a brilliant operation of inspired colonization and successful war, the Jews have occupied and gained political control of a small part of Asia, an Ulster in the great Ireland of Arabia.”[2] This is a point of identification that Ian Lustick has also examined.

Nonetheless, Koebner’s essay does adopt a number of familiar Irish nationalist tropes – his description of Cromwell, for instance, seems to be borrowed directly from Irish nationalist narratives. And as with a lot of early 20th century nationalist writing, women are totally absent from his narrative of Irish nationalists and “Ulstermen”. There’s also a kind of great man view of history running through the whole essay; the Treatyite divide, for instance, is viewed as a division between de Valera, on one side, and Griffith and Collins on the other, with the Treatyites presented as those who have been heroically formed into shape by the latter.   Moderates opposed to violence are the heroes in Koebner’s narrative; John Redmond, Michael Collins (whose violent activities go unmentioned), Arthur Griffith, Parnell. The last of these he compares to Chaim Weizmann; Parnell’s revulsion at the Phoenix Park murder is equated with Weizmann’s views of the murder of Lord Moyne (a scion of the Anglo-Irish Guinness family) in Cairo in 1944.   Koebner has an overly positive view of John Redmond as a benevolent unifier of the nation, perhaps a projection of the idea that the Jewish nation in Palestine should unite around David Ben-Gurion and not extremists like Menachem Begin or Avraham Stern. And oddly, the Easter Rising is never mentioned. It’s hard to believe that any survey of 19th and 20th century Irish history could overlook such a seminal event; it’s probably the case that it didn’t fit with Koebner’s arguments against the use of political violence and so was duly ignored.

As a further example of his Zionist politics shining through into his discussion of Irish history, Koebner subsumes religion into ethnicity, and speaks in very broad brush strokes about the demographics of Ireland; all “Celts” are Catholics and all Protestants are “English” or “Scottish”. This is a telling assumption for a mid-century Jewish nationalist to make, reflecting his own political milieu where religion collapsed into ethnicity. Finally, given the role that the “ingathering of the exiles” played for Zionists, Koebner’s observations about the continuation of out-migration under de Valera seems intended to discredit him as well as any idea that Zionists should emulate his politics.

Koebner also places Ireland in a intriguing (and sometimes off-kilter) European context, comparing Anglo-Irish relations to Czech-German relations. Later in the essay, he places Ireland in a global British imperial context and also puts the British relinquishment of the Treaty Ports in the same frame as Chamberlain’s abandonment of the Sudetenland to Germany, as if both were acts of appeasement of extremists. Much of this is presumably derived from Koebner’s own training as a German historian as well as his direct experiences of Nazism. Indeed, in the concluding passage he directly compares the ascension to power of de Valera in 1932 with that of Hitler a year later. He also describes the Ulster Volunteer Force as “the first example” in the twentieth century “of an organised private army ready to oppose law and order”, thus suggesting that they were a prototype of continental fascism. His own comparisons here are certainly over-done.


Ireland – The False Analogy

Richard Koebner

(December, 1945)

The drawing of analogies is an extremely common feature when attempts are made to strengthen one’s case. This proneness is particularly characteristic when Palestine forms the subject of discussion. The analogy drawn in this connection is Ireland – but, it is a wrong one.

I do not know to what extent our activist extremists argue along these lines, since I am not personally acquainted with them; but what I do know is that a great number of people condone, or at least, do not condemn acts of violence, because they think that, in the long run, they will further the Zionist cause. Ireland provides these speculative patriots with an argument. In that country, a relatively small people has, by acts of violence, forced the mighty hand of Britain, so the argument runs. Jews are by no means the first or only ones to base their arguments on this analogy. To note the nearest example – those Arabs who have supported acts of violence in their midst, are adepts of this Irish theory. The mere fact that our real opponents make use of the self-same argument ought to give pause to those of us who advocate it, but we will not go into that at the moment.

We will not press the point that no analogy is absolutely correct and that nothing ever repeats itself completely in history. After all, why should not the causal nexus, on which our theorists insist, repeat itself? Again, we shall disregard the fact that the question of terror and armed resistance is not solely one of cause and effect, but has a moral angle to it. Finally, we do not wish to enter into a theoretical argument as to what extent and in what circumstances a small nation like ours is in a position to impose its will upon a great power by force or by the threat of force. We shall do our utmost to be “Real-historiker,” examining the validity of the Irish “parallel,” and to meet our “Realpolitiker” on their own ground. The Irish National Movement has, at times, employed violent methods and it did end up by realising some of its aims. This much is common knowledge. But whereas the “post hoc” is clear, the “propter hoc” stands in need of further elucidation. What have been the gains; by what means have they been achieved; and to what extent have acts of violence really benefited the Irish nation?


The history of the Irish National Movement is complex in the extreme. We do not wish to simplify it here as crassly as our “Realpolitker” are wont to do (those to whom we are addressing ourselves). yet, a certain amount of simplification is necessary to bring out the meaning features, which make a checking on the analogy possible.

The Irish National Movement has its origins in the violent repression and expropriation of the Irish people, which began under the Tudors and was continued with the utmost ruthlessness during the revolutionary epochs of the 17th century; under Cromwell, after the triumph of the Puritan rebellion; and under William III, after the Glorious Revolution. The two latter waves of repression already constituted a reaction to the liberation movement. The early history of the Irish National Movement, then, was unfortunate in the extreme and cannot serve as an argument. The same applies to the period of the French Revolution; the rebellion of the United Irishmen, 1798, which followed the attempt at reconciliation between the English and Irish – between Protestants and Catholics. The result of this rebellion, resented by all Irish patriots, was the constitutional union of Ireland and Great Britain, which existed until 1921.

Our “Realpoltiker” cannot consider these early days of Anglo-Irish conflict as constituting a precedent. The object of comparison is Ireland since the union, in January 1801; more especially, the development of Anglo-Irish relations since the rise of the Irish National Movement under Parnell, which dates from 1878 onwards.

The problem confronting the Irish National Movement was how to get the English out of Ireland. England was ruling the country in two ways:

  • Irish lands were the property of English land-lords, whether directly or indirectly. The Irish peasant had sunk to the position of a tenant with stiff rental conditions.
  • Ireland’s parliamentary representatives were condemned to a permanent minority status, which made it impossible for them to forget their past national independence.

With regard to both these forms of rule, the Irish fought against a powerfully-established system of vested interests. This system belonged only to a narrow social stratum, as far as the former point was concerned; as to the latter, it was a case of conflict between the interests of the state and a national principle comparable to the problems of the German border provinces and those within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

The latter analogy becomes even more apparent in view of another aspect, only very gradually discovered, of the modern Irish national problem. There were two kinds of Irishmen: Catholic Celts, and the Protestant offspring of English and Scots settlers. The Anglo-Irish, for the greater part, occupied the northern province of the Island – namely – Ulster. But there was no clear and rigid geographical division, any more than there was between Germans and Czechs in Bohemia. Anglo-Irish negotiations had been disastrously affected by the existing antagonism between the Celtic Irishmen and the Orangemen (as the Scots-Irish were then called). Since the time of the union this antagonism had not made itself felt much until the end of the 19th century. In varying degrees, Catholic and Protestant peasants had the same interests. Only when Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill of 1886 brought the immediate possibility of the rule of the Catholic-Celtic majority over the Ulster minority within reach – rule by Dublin over Belfast – only then did this antagonism flare up.

Home Rule was not granted, however. Gladstone had been defeated twice, in 1886 and in 1893. By degrees, however, the land law in Ireland was amended to the advantage of the Irish peasantry. The last and decisive step was taken by Lord Balfour’s Conservative Government, through the Land Purchase Law of 1903, which enabled the peasants to buy their land cheaply from the landowners by means of Government subventions.

This reform was welcomed by the Irish, and its financial stipulations were loyally carried out until 1932. But there was a catch in it: It did away with the main interest shared both by Irish Nationalists and Ulstermen. When the Liberal Party, which was again in power since 1905[3] [sic], wanted to fulfil its promise of Home Rule and tabled the third Home Rule Bill of 1912, Ulster prepared for armed resistance, thus affording the 20th century the first example of an organised private army ready to oppose law and order. The Ulstermen were encouraged by the Conservatives and the House of Lords. Proposals to solve the problem by partition of the country were rejected by both sides. The Home Rule Bill was passed by Parliament, but it had not yet become law when England entered the war against Germany in August 1914. In view of the need for unity in the face of the enemy, the Southern Irish under the leadership of John Redmond agreed to a postponement of the solution.

Meanwhile, however, the Ulster movement and the Government’s attitude towards it had given rise to new developments in the Irish camp. The Irish Parliamentary party had lost ground, and the radical national party, the Sinn Fein [sic] – till then insignificant – had gained followers. They, too, had organised and armed. The decisive point in this development was that the Government apparently did not feel strong enough to suppress the Ulster movement and mobilize all efforts to put Home Rule into effect.

During the war, the radical national Celtic movement which demanded more than Home Rule gained momentum. While reform on the Gladstonian basis still envisaged a union with Britain in matters of foreign policy and trade, Sinn Fein aimed at nothing less than complete independence and the institution of a republic. The new national trend was towards complete severance of cultural relations, too, by means of a return to the old Gaelic tongue.

When the Home Rule Bill finally became law in 1920, the Southern Irish turned it down. A revolutionary Government was set up which broke off relations with the existing bodies representing the Government. Now Ulster was prepared to accept partition, which was effected. Since then, Northern Ireland forms an annexe [sic] to the United Kingdom, with a parliament of its own, with conditions such as the Liberals had desired for the whole of Ireland. Meanwhile, however, Civil War[4] was raging in the South, as well as war with the English police. The English police force – called the “Black and Tans” – met the terrorism of the Irish rebels with counter-terrorism no less cruel; but they were not strong enough to put an end to their opponents. This could only have been done by employing a regular army.

Under these circumstances, Lloyd George and his Coalition Cabinet decided to try a compromise, which had been advocated before the war by the Premier’s ex-liberal colleague, now his opponent, Lord Asquith. Lloyd George had declined to make this attempt so far. The constitutional basis of this compromise was the concept, as yet new, of “Dominion Status”. The large overseas settlers’ colonies of the British Empire, the “Dominions”, had gradually arrived at the status of independent states within the framework of the Empire during the last 70 years. The latest and most far-reaching concession that had been made to them was the recognition of their right to independent decisions in matters of foreign policy, – ratified at the Imperial Conference of 1917. Consequently, the Dominions sent their own representatives to the Peace Conference. The new solution of the Irish question was to amount to this that the new Free State[5] [sic], erected by revolutionary methods, was to receive the same status which the Dominions had attained gradually and by separate laws and agreements. This offer went much further than mere Home Rule; it did away with all that remained of Dublin’s dependence on Westminster. But at the same time it left unsatisfied the most extreme aspirations of the Sinn Feiners. The Republic, with de Valera at its head, was not recognized and the King’s suzerainty was once more acknowledged; furthermore, Northern Ireland was not incorporated in the new Free State, but was to retain its constitution of 1920.

Consequently, a strong faction within the Sinn Fein, led by de Valera, violently protested against the Treaty. On the other hand, Arthur Griffith, the founder of the Movement, as well as his collaborator, Michael Collins, agreed to the compromise, and succeeded in winning over the majority to their side. So the Treaty was put into effect. The resistance of the radical Republicans, however, did not subside, but now began to assume the proportions of ruthless terror against the representatives of the majority; Griffith and Collins themselves fell victim to this conflict, along with many others. But the treaty party emerged victorious, and until 1932, Anglo-Irish relations remained peaceful on the basis of the agreements reached by them.

In that year, however, de Valera came into power again and embarked on a policy of severance from England, in particular, and the Empire, in general. This policy, however, was no longer pursued by means of physical violence. For a number of years, there was a tariff-war between Eire[6] [sic] and Great Britain. By means of one-sided legislation, de Valera changed certain clauses of the treaty, for instance the one regarding the oath of loyalty to the King. During the appeasement period, the government of Neville Chamberlain renounced its right of garrisoning the Irish treaty ports. Finally, de Valera declared Eire neutral in the war against Hitler.


We have outlined some stages of the modern phase of the history of the Anglo-Irish conflict. The question now arises whether we, the Yishuv[7] of Palestine and the Zionist movement, have something to learn from it and if so, what. First, we must make up our minds which of the national parties of Ireland we are going to liken to ourselves, the “Irish” Irishmen, the Celts of the South, or the Ulstermen, the Anglo-Irish who predominate in the Northern counties. Our nationalist interpreters of history are only thinking of the former, who now have their independent state. Bernard Shaw, however, once complained that the Balfour Declaration created a new Ulster. The truth of the matter is that both these comparisons are accurate in some minor points only,. With the Ulster Irish we have this much in common that we constitute an enclave in a world of different nationality, and that we are interested in British protection of our national existence. But the conditions which ensure such protection in the case of the Ulster Irish, are lacking in ours. We are not a kindred people to the English [sic, British], and our country is separate from theirs, not by mere narrow straits, but by the whole Mediterranean and Continental Europe.

With the Celtic Irish we have this in common that like them we are striving to achieve an independent national life, but unlike them we do not enjoy a majority status in any geographically definable territory. True, official Zionist policy aims at such status and demands English and American assistance in order to attain it. Now the adepts of the Ireland theory consider that this assistance can be secured by force, arguing that England has been yielding to violence in the case of Eire. But, as a matter of fact, Irish violence, if it attained anything at all, arrived exactly at the opposite of want we want to get the English to do in Palestine: the English left Ireland and abandoned Ireland to themselves. Paradox is too polite a word for this particular brand of drawing analogies.

We shall now proceed to the question what methods were employed and what measure of success attended them. To begin with, let us put an end to an idea the absurdity of which should be obvious to all, but which is still playing a regrettably large part in the imagination of many Palestinian Jews, viz. that the English suffered military defeat at the hands of the Irish and were driven to capitulation by sheer physical force. The truth of the matter is that the first epoch of the conflict, the epoch of Parnell, ended with the renunciation of methods of physical violence on the part of the Irish National movement. Instead it was now waiting for the political moment when Gladstone’s slogan of Home Rule for Ireland would have a chance of realisation with his party’s return to power. No doubt, during the later epochs of the conflict, since 1912, the Irish were cruelly disappointed in this hope, and physical violence, first by the Ulster Irish, then by Sinn Fein, dominated the political scene. But there was no final trial of strength. Asquith postponed it from 1912 to 1914, until the outbreak of war spared him the trouble. In 1921, Lloyd George broke off the wear and tried the method of negotiation, before really decisive forces were thrown into the struggle by the English. In the words of Michael Collins: “We had not beaten the enemy out of our country by force of arms.”

Irish methods of violence assumed a great variety of different forms. For the first epoch, the time of Parnell, the following methods were characteristic: acts of sabotage on country-seats, attempts on the lives of estate owners, refusal to pay rent, boycott of land-lords who had driven out their tenants. Only the last-named had Parnell’s unqualified approval. The political struggle was not yet militarily organized. The acts of violence were for the most part perpetrated by oppressed peasants, inspired by hate and vindictiveness, with the support of individual fanatics. After the interval from 1887-1912, the new phenomenon of irregular armies sprang up, accompanied by acts of terrorism from ambushes.

There can be no doubt whatever that these various types of violence had a moral effect on the English. But this effect assumed two contradictory forms: on the one hand, a desire to appease the embittered Irish and to find a way out of a disastrous situation by means of compromise: on the other, a stiffening of resistance in the English camp, a determination not to yield to violence. During all phases of the struggle, both tendencies existed side by side. The former tendency found expression in the gradual concessions of Gladstone and finally in his conversion to the principle of Home Rule. But his efforts were paralysed by the fact that the terror has assumed proportions which made the majority of his fellow-countrymen unamenable to the idea of concessions. The murder of the Chief Secretary and his Under-Secretary in 1882 in Dublin (the so-called Phoenix Park murders) had a particularly disastrous effect; Parnell was no less appalled by this senseless act of cruelty than the English; his reaction was identical with that of Dr Weizmann after the assassination of Lord Moyne in November 1944. He felt this incident to be a stab in the back. Events vindicated his attitude when in 1886, Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill met with embittered resistance in England. After the rejection of the Home Rule Bill the acts of sabotage continued, but they did not intimidate the English any more. They ceased entirely when Balfour (then Chief Secretary for Ireland) intervened with a strong hand. The Irish found themselves reduced to parliamentary forms of resistance.

In the fight for the third Home Rule Bill, Asquith, like the Irish leader Redmond, at first under-estimated the danger of an armed Ulster. Later the pro-Ulster attitude, adopted by the Conservative party leaders and by numerous army officers, forced upon him a realisation of the true situation. The danger confronting him was simply that of civil war, not only in Ireland, but in England too. Hence his hesitation and evasions, which could not inspire confidence in his determination to carry the Bill through. Now we cannot by any stretch of the imagination conceive of a situation in which the Palestine question could in any way lead to civil war in England; here, too, the analogy fails.

Finally, there remains Lloyd George’s change of heart in 1921: instead of a real war a compromise on the basis of Dominion Status. If there is anything in this that calls for explanation, it is the fact that Lloyd George turned to this solution only after the counter-terrorism of the Black and Tans had greatly increased the bitterness of the victims. The solution itself corresponded to the world situation. The war against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian anarchy [sic, monarchy?] and Turkey had been brought to a successful conclusion under the slogan of “the self-determination of peoples”. It was impossible to threaten an autonomous organisation of the Irish with a war of annihilation after similar autonomy had been recognised in the case of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. It was equally impossible to refuse the application of the concept of Dominion Status in the case of Ireland, after having not only accepted it for the overseas settlers’ colonies, but also having admitted it into the official future programme for India. So there were the strongest moral reasons for avoiding war and striving for a compromise, provided Ireland was ready to accept it.

In our present situation, we too may look forward to all sorts of compromise proposals, not only from England, but from the U.S.A. as well. But the example of Ireland cannot lead us to expect that the Western Powers will seek compromise in a direction which involves the renunciation of force where we are concerned and at the same time the use of force against the Arab countries. Moreover, Winston Churchill put the point well when he said that in 1920-21 the British government found themselves in a situation which admitted of only two possibilities: “War with the utmost violence or peace with the utmost patience.” The British Government in the end took the risk of choosing the latter alternative. But we can hardly apply this choice of alternatives to our case. We certainly do not wish to experience “war with the utmost violence” at the hands of the British; but will “utmost patience” serve our purpose and further our aims?

To sum up: the example of Ireland cannot give rise to speculative hopes. But it can, and does, give rise to apprehensions. The constant conflicts between Unionists and Home Rulers, between Irishmen and Ulstermen, have again and again resulted in the postponement of a solution, and this postponement, so far from improving the situation has aggravated it. The same applies to the repeated rejections of compromise solutions on the part of the various parties.


We may ask, however, whether de Valera was not right after all in refusing to resign himself to the compromise of the 1921 treaty and in embarking on a more radical course in restoring the independence of the Irish Free State? The question would appear to be beyond the scope of our present enquiry, seeing that de Valera’s policy since 1932 has never resorted either to armed violence or to terrorism. In fact, the Irish President was himself threatened by a yet more radical group.[8] However, the causes and consequences of de Valera’s policy in the thirties may give us occasion to touch on the last aspect of the Irish question which is of direct interest to us, viz. the results of a radical national movement for the people whose future it claims to work for. The motives which brought de Valera to power in 1932 were largely economic in nature. The Irish people were feeling the effects of the world-crisis; but just as Hitler taught the Germans to seek the root cause of their troubles in political conditions, so did de Valera the Irish. The Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 played a similar role in his propaganda to that of the treaty of Versailles in Hitler’s. He then attempted to establish a system of economic autarchy calculated to make Ireland independent of the English market, “reversing that policy which made us simply the kitchen garden for supplying the British with cheap food”. This policy turned out to be a failure; geographical circumstances proved stronger than economic nationalism in Eire.

What else has he achieved? The symbols of Royal power were removed; but this measure was itself of no more than symbolic value. Of deeper significance was the fact that Ireland was being wrenched out of the British defence system: first by the withdrawal of the British garrison from the Irish treaty ports, and then by de Valera’s declaration of neutrality after Great Britain had declared war on Germany. In both cases it may be doubted whether a different attitude would have been possible: the vast majority of the population approved of the policy of its leader. But in each case this policy has served to promote a line of development which was diametrically opposed to the natural tendencies of Irish national consciousness: viz. the alienation of wide and important sections of men of Irish descent from the national cause of the Irish state. The gulf between Ulster and Eire has been widened. There has been a perceptible cooling off in the attitude of Americans of Irish extraction towards their ancient homeland. Nor is that all. Emigration from Eire to the United Kingdom has once more increased. For a hundred years, the population of Eire has suffered continual losses through emigration. At first it was possible to explain the downward trend which began with the great famine of 1846 as the result of the bad living conditions of the Irish country people. But emigration and decline of population did not come to a standstill when the agricultural reforms of Gladstone and Balfour removed this cause. Not only America and other overseas countries, but also the country of the “oppressors”, England, continued to attract Irish immigrants. It was only when the economic world crisis of 1929 began to counteract this attraction, that Irish emigration was temporarily reduced to a fairly low figure. After the outbreak of war, however, there has been a fresh increase. Large numbers of Irishmen left the country which enjoyed the safety of neutrality and linked their fate with that of Great Britain. They entered the British Army where, like many descendants of Irish immigrants before them, they greatly distinguished themselves; or they accepted work in the British armament industries.

Does not this fact convey a warning to us? The national agitator, acclaimed by the masses and able to inspire many individuals to sacrifices of various kinds, may easily jump to the conclusion that the strongest and most progressive attractiveness of his people is embodied in his person and his slogans. But this confidence is not solidly based. Telegrams of admirers can be counted; disaffected fellow-countrymen cannot; but they are none the less real as potential forces and potential losses for being for being beyond the reach of statistical enquiry. The main point, however, is this: national agitation is neither directly nor indirectly the most important means of creating sound economic and cultural conditions for the people it wants to build up. For this task of upbuilding, work of quite a different kind is required.


POSTSCRIPT 1 – July, 1946

Recent voices from England are calculated to convey the impression that I have been mistaken. On the occasion of the events at the end of June 1946[9],various Englishmen both of the Right and the Left got up to draw the attention of their Government to the warning example of Ireland. But what is the real truth of the matter? The warning was given to Great Britain, and it must not be construed as meaning that the warners wanted to encourage our armed “fighters for freedom”[10]. They got up and warned the British Government against pursuing a policy which must inevitably lead to bloodshed and unspeakable bitterness. But it does not follow from this that bloodshed and acts of despair will be crowned with our victory. Neither did the warners mean to say that the British Government must accept the radical claims officially put forward by us in order to prevent a repetition of the bloodshed in Ireland and of the Irish wrath incurred. In part, the warners pleaded for a political solution in accordance with the recommendations of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry: neither a Jewish nor an Arab State, i.e. nothing that might be said to correspond to the Irish example. Other warners pleaded for partition and it was precisely in this sense that they quoted the Irish example. Partition on the Irish model would mean a kind of Jewish Ulster. I trust I have succeeded in showing in the course of my essay that this is the very example that does not bear transplantation. Tel-Aviv never can hope to take the place of Belfast.


POSTSCRIPT 2 – December, 1946

The liquidation of the Mandate, still a remote issue when this article was written a year ago – though already envisaged by the Peel Report in 1937 and more seriously by the White Paper of 1939 – has meanwhile, in consequence of the incessant outrages of Jewish terrorists, gained ground in English public opinion, and doubtlessly is eagerly wished for by a large proportion of the English people.   Leaders of Zionist public opinion have been quick to adapt themselves to the new situation, and just as they have changed front in the question of partition, so they have professed acquiescence in the British leaving Palestine at an early date. It seems by no means impossible that impending negotiations are to lead to a solution which comes near this demand. If so, they way is prepared for the advocates of terrorism to boast of having helped the Zionist cause, and that the Irish analogy has proved right in spite of all dissimilarities.   But that will be a fallacy again. When Irish nationalism went to extremes in the policy of separation, it could, consciously or unconsciously, rely on the English retaining an interest in the island in general and Ulster in particular. If the English quit Palestine – or, for that matter, Jewish Palestine – no residue of interest is to be expected. Palestinian Jews will be thought a people better to be forgotten than to be remembered. Is that outcome to be wished for?

When the Irish Home Rule movement was still in its infancy, Punch voiced a warning which may not have attracted much attention in its days, but is certainly worth being unearthed to-day and adapted to our situation. The warning runs (vol. 74, p.46):

“To teach Home-Rulers than England’s difficulty is not Ireland’s opportunity, however Ireland’s importunity may be England’s difficulty”

Say “Eretz-Yisrael 1946” instead of “Ireland 1877”, and you have the real analogy.


[1] I compiled what I think is a complete list of this literature for a recent article for Israel Studies: Donald Akenson. God’s Peoples: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel, and Ulster (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1992); Aidan Beatty. Masculinity and Power in Irish Nationalism, 1884-1938 (London: Palgrave, 2016); Hedva Ben-Israel. ‘The Role of Religion in Nationalism: Some Comparative Remarks on Irish Nationalism and Zionism’. In Religion, Ideology, and Nationalism in Europe and America: Essays Presented in Honor of Yehoshua Arieli (Jerusalem: Historical Society of Israel/Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 1986) 331-340; Abby Bender. Israelites in Erin: Exodus, Revolution, and the Irish Revival (Syracuse NY, Syracuse University Press, 2015); Joe Cleary. Literature, Partition and the Nation State: Culture and Conflict in Ireland, Israel and Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Shulamit Eliash. The Harp and the Shield of David: Ireland, Zionism and the State of Israel (New York: Routledge, 2007); Dan Lainer-Vos. Sinews of the Nation: Constructing Irish and Zionist Bonds in the United States (Cambridge: Polity, 2012); John Maher. Slouching Towards Jerusalem: Reactive Nationalism in the Irish, Israeli and Palestinian Novel, 1985-2005 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2012); Kevin McCarthy. Robert Briscoe: Sinn Féin Revolutionary, Fianna Fáil Nationalist and Revisionist Zionist (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2016); Rory Miller. Ireland and the Palestine Question, 1948-2004 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2005); Muiris Ó Laoire, Athbheochan na hEabhraise: Ceacht don Ghaeilge? [The Hebrew Revival: A Lesson for the Irish Language?] (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar, 1999).

[2] Hugh Trevor-Roper. Jewish and Other Nationalism (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1962) 15.

[3] The Liberals won a landslide victory in 1906, strong enough to not need Irish Parliamentary Party votes. In 1910, they were re-elected on a slimmer mandate and did need the IPP and introduced the Third Home Rule Bill. Koebner seems to confuse the two elections, and his date is off by a year.

[4] Koebner appears here to not be referring to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, but to the War of Independence, which was, of course, a civil war of the United Kingdom,

[5] Koebner’s vocabulary muddies matters, since he uses the term “Free State” to refer to the Republic declared by the Dáil of 1919, when the “Irish Free State” was not established until the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922.

[6] The Economic War began in 1932 and lasted until 1938, but “Éire” was not used as the official name of the Irish state until de Valera’s constitution of 1937.

[7] From the verb Leyashev, to sit or to settle, Yishuv is the term commonly used in Zionist discourse to denote the Jewish population, and is often delineated into the Old (non-Zionist) Yishuv and the new (Zionist) Yishuv.

[8] Koebner does not say who the “yet more radical group” were, but presumably this is a reference either to the fascist Blueshirts or the anti-Treaty rump of the IRA.

[9] The 1972 translation of the article gives the following explanatory footnote: “The sudden searches of the premises of the Jewish Agency and other public institutions and of numerous agricultural settlements, the arrest of several leading Jewish Agency members as well as several thousand citizens in the communal settlements and in the towns.”

[10] This is a reference to LEHI [Lochamei Herut Israel, Fighters for the Freedom of Israel] a right-wing Zionist terrorist militia also known as the “Stern Gang”, after their leader, Avraham Stern.