Irish dancing schools from around the world were invited to travel to Israel to compete, with promises of sunshine, live music and crucially, the backing of the Irish Dancing Commission An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG).
The event received little attention in Ireland until this month with limited coverage of the controversy to date in the Irish press. But after the O’Shea School of Irish Dance in Saint Paul, Minnesota announced on their Facebook page (now scrubbed) their delight at their affiliate school in Dublin, the renowned Scoil Rince ui She, being asked to adjudicate the event, everything suddenly kicked off.
The Irish Palestinian Activist Collective launched a petition and a strongly worded Open Appeal to the organizers of the 1st Israeli Feis to cancel the event, to the Irish national body CLRG to revoke their backing, and to the entire Irish Dancing community to boycott the Feis:
The Palestinian activist community based in Ireland has recently learned of your intentions to hold the ‘First Israeli Feis’ in Tel Aviv on 15th August 2015.
To say that we, and all other right thinking people, are deeply troubled by this decision is an understatement.
In 1948, the state of Israel was established by methodically dispossessing and ethnically cleansing more than 750,000 native Palestinian people in order to create an exclusivist Jewish state.
To this day, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees, currently exceeding more than 7 million people, their internationally recognized right to return to their homes.
Israel continues unabated and with impunity with its colonial and apartheid designs to further dispossess, oppress, and ultimately ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their homeland and still on a daily basis, they expel native Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem and the Negev.
The letter continues, enumerating a catalogue of violent offenses that are sadly only too familiar to Mondoweiss readers, although always shocking to see printed in black and white.
The O’Shea Schools in Minnesota and Dublin found themselves on the receiving end of a deluge of outrage and disappointment from supporters of Palestine across Ireland.
The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) made contact with CLRG. After some encouraging private dialogue between the two, CLRG’s public response was ultimately disappointing:
An Coimisiún does not and will not make any comment on national or international political matters.
An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha and a number of persons registered with An Coimisiún have received emails in relation to the above matter.
The objective of An Coimisiún is to preserve and promote Irish Dancing, including step dancing, céilí dancing and other team dancing, and also to promote the use of the Irish Language.
An Coimisiún will not be making any further comment on the matter.
However, it seems unlikely that CLRG – The Irish Dancing Commission – can claim to be entirely impartial as to whether Israel is a suitable destination for the promotion of Irish culture, given that both adjudicators of the 1st Israeli Feis: husband and wife Seamus O’Sé and Aine Uí Shé, directors of Dublin’s O’Shea (and parents of Cormac O’Se of “Riverdance” fame who is the director of Minnesota’s O’Shea School of Irish Dancing) are also members of CLRG’s Executive Committee and Seamus is a Vice-Chair of the organization.
The facebook page and twitter account of O’Shea’s in Minnesota became inundated with messages and the owners opted to close down access to both as well as scrub the “About” page on their website (archived here) linking the parentage of their director to the 1st Israeli Feis adjudicators.
The finale of The Irish Palestinian Activist Collective’s Open Appeal concludes:
We could tell you more. But will you listen? Or will you go ahead with your performance in Israel, the moral equivalent to performing in South Africa during the apartheid era.
Will you be the voice for the Palestinian people who have asked the world to boycott Israel in an effort to bring pressure upon this rotten, apartheid, criminal state?
Please don’t stand on the wrong side of history.
Don’t Dance for Israel. Don’t Shame Our Name.
Irish Palestinian Activist Collective
A well-known musician who had been billed to support the 1st Israeli Feis has pulled out of his engagement there, following a flood of complaints about the event from Irish activists. He declined to comment on his reasons for canceling.
The activist community in Ireland is diverse, consisting of a large number of loosely connected groups and unaffiliated individuals. But this issue—the misappropriation of Irish culture as a propaganda tool to normalize Israeli apartheid—has clearly awoken a unity of purpose amongst all, out of which great things might yet be achieved.
Check out this great performance by O’Shea dancers at the annual Irish Fair in Saint Paul, Minnesota last summer:
It’s easy to imagine how they’d not want to affiliate themselves with Israeli apartheid.
There is a strong sense that this campaign is just getting into gear.