Monday, 2 May 2016


I was having a cuppa with an excellent friend, when I stumbled across a realisation that shocked me to my nether regions. We’d been talking about the launch of the Galway Anti-Racism Network, and my mate explained how he was proud to live in Galway, because we’re open-minded and friendly and embrace different cultures.

I understood where he was coming from but suggested that his experience of every day life might be very different to an Algerian living in Doughiska, or a Romanian in Salthill.

Then he asked me if I’d ever experienced antisemitism in Galway, which precipitated a rambling response from me that finally had me goggle-eyed on the inside of my soul.

As my friends will attest with weary sighs, during those disastrous conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians I become an agnonised screwed-up beast, lost between my desire for Israel to exist alongside a free Palestine, those family members who fall out with me when I criticise Israeli military actions, and Irish friends who perceive the combination of my silence and Jewish identity as a sign that I support all the tactics of the IDF.

I completely believed that this was my truth, but when my friend asked me about antisemitism, he’d unwittingly spun me around until I stumbled upon a new path.

“No!” I told him, “Not in any way. Back when I arrived here there was a lot of anti-English feeling, but ever since the arrival of Africans and northern Europeans, we’ve dropped down a few places in the Irish Racism League.

“But well, y’know, during those wars, when I walk down`Shop Street and see yer man standing with his giant Palestinian flag, I feel…”
and there I trailed off, because I realised I was about to sound ridiculous.

“Are you okay?” asked my friend, perhaps worried to see my head go down, my arms wrap themselves around my chest in a bracing hug.

His concern was not misplaced, as inside my brainbox cogs were whirring, balls rolling, down chutes until finally, I looked up at him and smiled.

“Yeh mate, phwooh, just realised something that’s shaken me up. S’gonna sound really stupid this, but I think I’ve just sussed out what makes me go crazy during those Israeli wars.”


“Well, there I was rationalising it all, saying it’s about me feeling lost between being seen as an anti-Israel self-hating Jew and a Zionist warmonger, while actually it’s not any of that. Well, it is, partly, but now I know there’s another feeling. Deeper.

“Look, I know I’m safe in Galway. I chose the West of Ireland, it wasn’t imposed upon me, but apparently I don’t feel as safe as I thought. I’ve just discovered that sometimes I feel threatened. Threatened, yeh, that’s the word. Powerful word, but then it was a strong feeling.

“I know, I know it’s stupid, irrational, illogical and stupid, but I just tried to describe how I feel when I walk down the road and see that flag and feel at that moment how much anti-Israeli outrage and hatred is being displayed in so many ways around lreland, and then I wonder how far has that bile got to go before it’s aimed at me as a Jew and - kapow! - I feel threatened.

“See, I was raised by someone who was raised by someone who fled the Nazis. My Dad used to tell me all the time how we were guests in England and one day we might have to move on.

“What I didn’t realise until now was the influence of my formative years of as a child, in synagogue and at home. Those rivers still run deep and strong within me.”

Very understandably, my mate reckoned I was overreacting; being a mite melodramatic. 

“No mate,  I’m deadly serious here. I know yer man with the flag is a lovely guy, and I know that nobody is ever going to harm me for being Jewish in Ireland, but that counts for little, when you’ve been cut through with indoctrination. Hardly have to illustrate the effects of it on young people to an Irishman, eh?”

It’s far too easy to assume that racism doesn’t exist in the West of Ireland. Indoctrination’s evil cousin is socialisation and I’ve felt the effects of that here too. Growing up in England I was vehemently anti-racist, loving the multi-cultural mix of food, music, philosophies and attitudes to life.

Imagine my horror then when I moved in 1995 from an all-white West of Ireland to San Francisco, only to discover that I suddenly felt scared when black people got on the bus. 

After a mere four years of seeing no black people beyond the TV and cinema screen, I was dismayed and appalled by my own reactions. I’d changed beyond self-recognition.

Deeply ashamed of myself, I didn’t have a good night’s sleep until that vile streak of bigotry was erased from me.

Made me wonder, though. If my core feelings and values could change that much in a few bleached-skin years, what might it be like to be born here?

You might feel threatened by the changes going on in Ireland, but I’m still learning about myself as I near 56, so long may your life education continue too.

Remember though: self-knowledge is utterly useless, until you do something about it. We can all make sure nobody, whether white Irish or any other shade of human in our society has reason to feel threatened.

We’re walking bundles of socialisation and indoctrination, but it’s our duty as sentient adults to overcome those barriers and our ignorance.

©Charlie Adley

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