On 12th October 2023, Micheál Martin as the Tánaiste, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence, responded to questions in the Dáil about the appalling massacre of innocent Israelis by Hamas just a few days beforehand. As more than a thousand dead Jews were still being buried, Mr Martin was asked about potential responses from Israel and stated as follows:
“We don’t need an Old Testament approach to this, rather a New Testament approach. Ultimately, we need to move on a pathway to peace and reconciliation. It cannot be an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth approach, would be my view.”Micheál Martin TD speaking in the Dáil
Addressing a region where a “my religion is superior to yours” attitude has contributed to so much bloodshed, Mr Martin admonished Israeli Jews with exactly this sentiment. Addressing a circumstance where a belief in religious supremacy had just been a motivation for the slaughter of babies in their cots, Mr Martin thought it appropriate to respond with some religious supremacy of his own.
It is utterly appalling that Mr Martin’s message to the Jews whose families had just been slain for their religion, was to chastise them about his religion being superior to theirs. How exactly did Mr Martin imagine that Jewish people would perceive these comments? At a moment when their community was being attacked by terrorists who believed that a person’s Judaism justified their murder, Mr Martin decided that this was an opportune moment for him to offer his own criticism of their Jewish faith.
In the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, there has long been a compelling argument that religion has been part of the problem and not part of the solution. A key difficulty over many generations, has been that both sides claim divine title to the same land.
In this context, arguing that a solution to the current crisis can be found by privileging one religious text over another, is both hopelessly impolitic and plain flat wrong. It is just not the case, as Mr Martin suggests, that Judaism insists on “an eye-for-an-eye” whereas Christianity replaces this teaching with “peace and reconciliation”. Hillel the Great was a famous Rabbi who lived in Jerusalem a few decades before the events described in the Gospels. He is said to have once been challenged by a boy to explain the entire Pentateuch in the short length of time during which the boy could stand on only one leg. Rabbi Hillel began by quoting Leviticus as teaching that, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. He then continued with the following now famous quotation:
It is a false and harmful stereotype of the Jews, to depict their worldview as insisting on “an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth”. Conversely, many Christians would also accept that at times adherents to their faith have used ideas of what is sanctified and holy to justify bloodshed. Mr Martin might even have heard about some of them.
“Blood is a cleansing and sanctifying thing, and the nation that regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood.”Pádraig Pearse
The book that Mr Martin recommended to Israel as a model of “peace and reconciliation”, has in fact been used to justify anti-Semitic teaching from the pulpit for centuries. For example, the Jewish Deicide canard originated in the New Testament and motivated centuries of Christian anti-Semitism. This includes a Roman Catholic Liturgy that referred to the “Perfidious Jews” until 1955. Very many Jews will remain all too familiar with the long history of anti-Semitism within various Christian denominations. After the most recent crisis was precipitated by religiously-inspired genocidal anti-Semitism, it was despicable to then reprimand the surviving Jews about converting to new scriptures, which have also given the world no small measure of religiously-inspired anti-Semitism.
This was not the first instance in which Mr Martin has demonstrated a tendency towards Christian chauvinism either. On 1st March 2023, an adjudication was published finding that the Minister for Defence had unlawfully discriminated against me in the appointment of chaplaincy roles within our military. During the hearing, the Department of Defence argued that they were objectively justified in requiring that all chaplains should be appointed only by Christian bishops, because chaplains played an important “force multiplier” role when moving armour through areas controlled by Hezbollah. When this argument was rejected and the adjudication found against his Department, I wrote to Micheál Martin as the Minister for Defence and asked him to change the offending Defence Forces Regulations. I also asked him to apologise to the non-Christian members of our Defence Forces, since he had insisted that they may only receive chaplaincy counsel from a Christian votary. Mr Martin did neither.
Our military consists of people from many faiths and none. They risk their lives on peacekeeping missions in regions where much of the bloodshed is motivated by ideas about religious supremacy. Perhaps while our Defence Forces continue to be sent to such regions, we should also think about the sectarian and religiously chauvinistic attitudes of the politicians who order soldiers into these conflicts?