Last month, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, had an instructive piece in the International Herald Tribune. In it, he makes an argument that Israeli ambassadors to the Emerald Isle have likely long had to make to well-intentioned Irish observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict: “Hamas is not the IRA.” Evrony writes:
One of the main differences between Hamas and the IRA is the role played by religion in their ideologies. While most IRA members were Catholic and religion was a factor, its political platform and vision was the unification of the island of Ireland, not defined in religious terms. The religious beliefs of its members did not block the way to a political compromise.
By contrast, the ideology of Hamas is defined in absolutist religious terms, that of a radical version of Islam, which is not open to influence or change. The political vision and religious belief of Hamas are one and the same; therefore, change is unlikely.
Democratic engagement and disarmament—while taking decades to achieve—nonetheless eventually succeeded in Northern Ireland because neither the IRA nor the loyalist elements adhered to the type of fascist dogma which is an inherent feature of Islamism. While the IRA set as its ultimate goal an autonomous, united Ireland, and Hamas a “Palestine” without Israel, the former has made a good-faith effort to see that goal achieved through democratic processes, while Article 13 of the Hamas Charter states that such processes “are no more than a means to appoint the unbelievers as arbitrators in the lands of Islam.” Moreover, a united Ireland would not expel its Protestants. The same cannot be said for the “bi-national” Palestinian state, where Jews would be left to the tender mercies of Hamas.
The burgeoning field of “conflict resolution studies,” taught at prestigious educational institutions around the world, seeks to apply the lessons of political and ethno-religious strife in one region—sometimes wholly devoid of cultural context or time period—to disputes in other parts of the world. Attempts to compare the Northern Ireland peace process (as well as the negotiated end to apartheid in South Africa) to the Arab-Israeli conflict are ultimately wrongheaded: they consciously downplay the existence of religious fanaticism. And such fanaticism, though it played next to no role in The Troubles or in South Africa, is the the central feature of the Muslim world’s long rejection of Jews in its midst.