Michael Davitt has a message from the past for today’s Holocaust Remembrance Weekend refugee protests
We forgot Michael Davitt. So it’s hard to imagine that he would be relevant today.
A century ago, the founder of the Land League brilliantly put those who supported the persecution of Jews in Limerick to the point – and exposed their hypocrisy. His outrageous words should shame those groups and provocateurs who are demonizing refugees in Ireland today.
Protests and demonstrations have spread to shelters for refugees and asylum seekers. But some are being manipulated by those with an us-and-them agenda. Fostering resentment and actively creating division, some far-right agitators would love nothing more than violence and even bloodshed.
Remarkably, something similar happened a century ago. But jealousy and arguments were short-lived, in part because of Davitt’s intervention.
We see him today as the organizer of rent strikes for land reform, almost a kind of indefatigable office boy, acting on behalf of the true leader, Charles Stewart Parnell.
Some even know that Davitt lost an arm in an accident at work in England’s cotton mills, but that only seems to reinforce the idea that he was an uneducated nerd at best. But Davitt possessed a first-class brain, even if he had to study by candlelight at night and honed his intellect through voracious literary consumption.
And he used all his skill and rhetoric when a local dispute led to a fast-spreading boycott of Limerick’s Jews, actions expressly encouraged by some churchmen.
In January 1904, Davitt wrote to The Freeman Journal to the disturbances. His arguments not only reflect the current refugee crisis, but also speak to the need for perpetual vigilance against anti-Semitism this Holocaust memorial weekend.
“Sir – I would ask for some leeway to deal with a matter of public interest to all who love and revere the Catholic religion and who have no less affection for the name and honor of Ireland,” he wrote .
“It was the singular glory of our country that its original conquest for the cause of Christianity was without bloodshed, while the sons of St. Patrick have truly upheld that reputation from then to now.
“Irish Catholics have suffered every possible form of religious oppression known to the perverse ingenuity of the authors of the Penal Code, but they proudly boast that neither in Ireland, nor in any country to which English rule has compelled them to flee, has this the case was they always resort to counter-religious persecution. A few years ago, maybe a dozen, the Chief Rabbi of London, on a visit to Dublin, stated that when he set foot on Irish soil he found himself in the only country in Europe where his race had never suffered persecution.”
He criticized a sermon delivered in Limerick which claimed that the Jews had “St. Stephen the First Martyr and St. James the Apostle and since then has not hesitated to shed Christian blood whenever the opportunity arose”.
The same pulpit-beater continued repellently: “Today they dare not abduct and kill Christian children, but they will not hesitate to subject them to a longer and more cruel martyrdom, stripping their clothes from their backs and their dentures from their mouths … they sucked the blood of other nations, but these nations rose up and drove them out. And they came to our land to cling to us like leeches.”
It was cruel language like this that led to heinous crimes and pogroms, Davitt warned. “There is not a grain of truth in the horrific accusation of ritual murder leveled here against this persecuted race.”
It was an “invention of filthy intent or blind hatred,” untrue, unchristian, and reprehensible. “I protest, as an Irishman and as a Catholic, against this spirit of barbaric wickedness being introduced into Ireland under the pretended form of a material regard for the welfare of our workers,” he said.
“The venerable gentleman complained of the rags and poverty of the children of Limerick compared to the prosperity of the Jews, and for this reason purposely instigated the people to drive the Jews out of their midst.
“Let me suggest a field for his reformatory energies that does not require the invocation of a poisonous sense of racial enmity or unchristian hatred.
“Let him attack the English rule of Ireland which levies £12 million in taxes on our lives and industries every year, not for the good of our country but for its detriment.
“Let him try to get the people of this country to save a few of the millions that are needlessly spent on intoxicating drinks.
“Let him do this kind of work for the good of Limerick and the progress of Ireland, and the rags he complains about and the poverty he complains about will go away far more effectively and sooner than if he were to take a cowardly anti-Semitic revenge.” preach prejudice.”
He urged the Bishop of Limerick not to allow Ireland’s fair name to be besmirched by an anti-Jewish crusade “to the detriment and shame of a city of which every Irishman is historically proud”. The protests soon fizzled out.
Davitt’s scathing criticism could be applied in some other context today, but where are the public figures with the courage and fire to publicly follow his example?
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/michael-davitt-has-a-message-from-the-past-for-todays-refugee-protests-on-holocaust-memorial-weekend-42316736.html Michael Davitt has a message from the past for today’s Holocaust Remembrance Weekend refugee protests