Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Faulty judgment and anti-Israeli bias leave Norris unfit for Aras run

It remains a singular example of Norris's lack of judgment that we did not know about Ezra Nawi's life and career from the beginning of his candidacy

David Norris is not a suitable person to stand for election to the office of President of this country. He has poor judgment. He has not been completely upfront about his personal relationship with his one-time lover, Ezra Nawi, or his presentation of Nawi to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Oireachtas in respect of criminal charges against him.

He gained their support without being fully transparent on criminal charges against Nawi. Outside the two Houses of the Oireachtas he has clearly not confided fully in his electoral team nor with the public at large.

These errors have become a woeful embarrassment, compounded now by his determination to continue campaigning. The electorate has shown a singular blindness about him, including the extraordinary arguments put forward in support of consensual sexual activity between older men and boys.

Poor judgment, however, is of much more serious remit. It concerns, in particular, the serious set of world problems that have as their axis and focus the Middle East conflict between Israel and the surrounding Muslim Palestinian people.

This was so last year over the Rachel Corrie Irish relief vessel stopped by the Israeli blockade. Two years ago, it was the Hamas bombardment, also an occasion when Micheal Martin, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, gave a decidedly prejudiced view on the issue.

Irish involvement in Israeli issues is disproportionate. There is no particular political justification in terms of national self-interest. Human rights issues should be more evenly spread. Israel, a democracy surrounded by dictatorships, should be less our concern than Syria, Saudi Arabia or Libya.

The relief campaigns for Gaza are part of active support for human rights campaigning and are specific to countries opposed to Israel.

By adopting this approach, often with shallow understanding of the politics involved, Ireland has become a tool of left-wing agitation, rendering us one the three most militantly anti-Israel EU states, possibly justified in Greece or Cyprus but not here.

A major contributor to the disproportion is Senator David Norris. His partisanship borders on the disgraceful by demonising Israel and defending Israel's neighbours.

Some examples. At the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs meeting (October 8, 2023), when Colonel Travers of the Goldstone Mission on the Gaza Conflict appeared, Norris gave a misleading account of Hamas rockets into Israel having ceased. They had not. He claimed: "I receive much information, include briefings from the Israeli embassy; and if anything is intemperate, it is the comments from the Israeli embassy.''

At the November 13 meeting, Norris described Operation Cast Lead (the Israeli military move into Gaza) as falsely justified. Hamas rocket attacks on Israel had "all but ceased'' at the end of the previous year, he said.

Yet in the 44 days between November 5 and December 18, Hamas launched 203 rockets and 133 mortars at southern Israel, eight attacks per day, escalated up to Christmas Eve to 66 rockets and 81 mortars, 18 attacks per day. Israeli went into Gaza on December 27.

At this point, Ezra Nawi appeared in Norris's testimony as having being "persecuted and stifled by the Israeli authorities''.

The reality was that charges against Nawi had been rejected by two judges, a third judge being "more accommodating'' to the police. In Gaza and in Syria, such human rights niceties as court appearance, evidence and defence pleadings are altogether different.

On February 11, 2010, David Norris labelled information sent from the Israeli embassy as a "propaganda effort''. Ambassador Zion Evrony had sought greater balance in testimony on Operation Cast Lead from Col Richard Kemp, former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan. Norris described him as "a deranged propagandist for Israel;'.

Norris was recorded last November, in a private note, describing Gaza as "not the Warsaw Ghetto, but there are some parallels to the Warsaw Ghetto''. He added: "If this stings the consciences of Israelis, that can only be a good thing.''

It is unthinkable that such a biased view of this most intractable and long-lasting of world problems -- the legitimate place of the democratic State of Israel between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea -- should become the official and highly public view of Ireland's head of state.

This consistent and disproportionate view of Israel's place in the Middle East can be better understood now that we know more about Norris's former partner and friend for over 30 years, Nawi.

The mention of Nawi by Norris at the last meeting of the committee was a gratuitous one. He told members: "Mr Ezra Yitzhak Nawi is in jail at the moment. It is his birthday today. He will be in for a few days, but he is well. He has been in contact with me and he appreciates the support of this committee.'' It was as if Nawi had gone on holiday.

Norris could have told more about Nawi and in so doing made plain his own views on this man -- important then, but much more important now, given his presidential aspirations.

Anyone who knows Norris would know how openly and frequently he would express his views as President. Fortunately, not everyone who listens to him agrees with him.

Nawi's life and career need no further comment after the past weekend. It remains a singular example of Norris's lack of judgment that we did not know them from the beginning of his candidacy.

Nawi took the law into his own hands on the issue of consent in under-age sexual acts. Norris argued it as a democrat and has always argued the same way.

In addition to the 'Magill' interview and the much more recent interview in the 'Daily Mail', he expressed himself in 2001 in the Senate debate on the Sexual Offences Bill, as strongly in favour of the principle of 'consent'. Others, equally strongly, pursued the principle of legal control. The latter prevailed.

Norris is an honourable man. His record is honourable on the issue of adult same-sex relationships, playing a significant part in the decriminalisation of adult homosexuality.

There is, however, a degree of self-obsession that relates directly to his own sexuality. Presented overtly in interviews, statements and speeches, it raises questions about the suitability of his candidacy.

Two exceptional Presidencies have extended the role's political remit. This cannot be withdrawn.

The Constitution is very restrictive, requiring government approval for presidential statements. But custom and practice have changed things. How do we imagine that Norris will respond to restraint over his tongue?

And do we want personal sexuality and an, arguably, very biased interpretation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict added to the presidential agenda? I think not.