Press review North by Northwest

Solidarity with the Middle East, for better or worse

This month's carefully curated selection of articles from the Northwest European independent press looks at the response in Ireland to the Israel-Hamas conflict, as well as a plea from French journalists on behalf of colleagues in the war zone. Also: the environmental impact of Artificial Intelligence, and what a departure from the political centre might mean for the UK.

Published on 8 November 2023 at 16:12

More than any other recent international conflict, that between Israel and Hamas has become a prism through which various national dramas are reflected. In France and Germany especially, politicians find themselves confronting a fresh wave of anti-semitism, while also needing to ensure that political expression is not unfairly repressed.  

Ireland’s post-colonial status, as well as its recent relationship with terrorism, means that local responses to the Israel-Palestine conflict differ significantly from responses in other EU countries. When Ursula Von Der Leyen expressed what appeared to be unreserved solidarity with Israel in the wake of the 7 October Hamas attacks that killed more than 1400 people, Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins was quick to call the European Commission President’s actions “thoughtless and even reckless”, while Prime Minister Leo Varadkar felt that Von Der Leyen’s comments “lacked balance”. In Dublin, EU offices were briefly occupied by protestors claiming that the European Commission had given “full support” to Israel’s attacks which have already taken the lives of thousands of Palestinian civilians. According to Politico Europe, such sentiments are in fact shared by many EU foreign ministers and other officials, concerned with Israel’s potential infringement of international law.

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As Finn McRedmond points out in The New Statesman, in Northern Ireland “the lines are starkly drawn: wandering through a unionist area you will see Israeli flags alongside Union Jacks; in nationalist areas the tricolour hangs comfortably beside the Palestinian flag”. Irish Republicans have long seen parallels between the British colonial exploitation of Ireland and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Polls in the Republic of Ireland suggest that Sinn Féin, the political wing of the now disbanded Irish Republican Army, will win a comfortable majority in the country’s next general election. As they prepare to assume power, Sinn Féin’s leaders have generally been careful to clean up the party’s image, formerly associated with terrorist atrocities. This includes toning down their more militant language regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, one can still find the occasional SF councillor shouting militant Republican slogans at Palestine solidarity protests. For McRedmond, this tension could have serious implications for Ireland’s long-standing neutrality, which the author characterises as “wanting to be a member of the club with special permission to deviate”, and “expecting protection but offering little in return”. 

All the above may seem rather trifling when compared to the human catastrophe currently unfolding in the Middle-East. In fact, there are many in Ireland who are all too directly affected.

As the streets of Europe and beyond fill with expressions of solidarity with either side of the conflict, life in Gaza war zone is not easy for journalists either. In an open Letter, “Laissez-nous entrer dans la bande de Gaza faire notre métier” (Let us enter the Gaza Strip and do our job), published in the French magazine Politis, journalists in France are pleading for the protection of their colleagues in the war zone, and demanding the ability to do their job.According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 31 journalists have been killed during the latest outbreak of violence: 26 Palestinians, four Israelis, and one Lebanese journalist. Eight journalists have been reportedly injured, and nine are missing or detained. Politis, Libération and more than a hundred other French media outlets and journalists have published an open letter imploring both Hamas and the Israeli authorities to provide adequate protection to international journalists and allow them to access the Gaza strip.

The text highlights several cases of journalists who have been killed while covering recent events, such as Ibrahim Lafi, who was killed on October 7 while reporting on an attack by Hamas at the Erez crossing, as well as journalists from international agencies including Agence France Presse, Reuters, and Al-Jazeera who were hit by Israeli artillery fire.

More picks

Artificial intelligence does enormous damage to the climate. Is it worth it?

Ilyaz Nasrullah | Trouw | NL (Paywall)

Ilyaz Nasrullah discusses the environmental impact associated with artificial intelligence technologies. The training of AI models like ChatGPT, for example, requires enormous amounts of energy and produces significant CO2 emissions. For instance, the GPT-3 language model, which serves as the basis for ChatGPT, consumed 1287 MWh of energy during its training, equivalent to the energy usage of 5500 households for a month, resulting in an emission of 502 tons of CO2. With newer models like GPT-4 becoming larger and more resource-intensive, the environmental footprint of the tech industry, which is already responsible for 2-4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, is projected to grow further.

Rishi Sunak is demolishing the centre he once embodied

John Gray | New Statesman | EN

Philosopher John Gray invokes the fin-de-siècle pessimism of William Butler Yeats to argue that British politics, with Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman at the helm, is bidding farewell to the political centrism that characterised the last few decades. For Gray, this is the “return of politics”, once thought dead by the hands of “technocratic pragmatism”. Even if Sunak’s Conservatives seem destined to lose the next election, Starmer’s Labour Party will struggle to survive the rough waters ahead if they “cling to an orthodoxy history has passed by”.    

Reception of migrants: the far-right gains ground in the countryside

Thierry Vincent | Blast | FR

Thierry Vincent reports on the rising influence of far-right groups in rural areas of France, and their militant strategies to oppose the accommodation of migrants. In one case described by the author, in Rezé, a meeting to discuss a modest project hosting around twenty Romani people, primarily elderly or disabled, descended into chaos. Insults were hurled at the Romani people, and there were threats of violence if they settled in the area. Meanwhile, in St-Brevin-les-Pins, the mayor's house was set on fire after weeks of threats and intimidation by groups opposing the opening of an accommodation center for asylum seekers. Around the country, opposition movements involving activists and political parties such as Reconquête have managed to force local mayors to abandon projects aiming to accommodate migrants. 

The onerous and endless battle against the business of people smuggling in the Channel

Elisa Perrigueur | Alternatives Economiques | FR

In 2023, over 28,900 people attempted this perilous journey across the English Channel towards the UK on small boats, with 3,800 ending up rescued and returned to France. The low-quality boats made in China are usually overloaded with 70-80 people, making the journeys far more dangerous. Elisa Perrigueur provides a richly detailed account of the UK government’s “onerous and endless” efforts to curb the flow of migrants, and stop the business of people smuggling in the Channel.

In partnership with Display Europe, cofunded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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