Israel tried to ban pro-BDS Dublin mayor, but failed, due to 'spelling error'


A tit-for-tat row has kicked off between Israeli ministries over the bureaucratic bungling

Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál Mac Donncha (Screengrab)
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Last update: 
Thursday 12 April 2018 12:17 UTC

Israel tried to bar Dublin's mayor Mícheál Mac Donncha from entering the country on Tuesday night but failed because it misspelt his name.

Both the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and the Ministry of Interior flagged Mac Donncha's name. But a typo led the Israeli immigration officers at Ben Gurion airport in Lod city to look for the wrong person. 

Aryeh Deri, Israel's minister of interior, called on Wednesday for an investigation on Mac Donncha's success at entering the country after admitting that "we made a mistake at the border crossing".

Deri said that he has also now ordered the immigration officers to give Mac Donncha a letter forbidding him from entering Israeli territory in the future, on his way back to Dublin.

Mac Donncha tweeted last night from his hotel room in Ramallah, saying that he arrived through Ben Gurion airport, despite news sites reporting that he was barred entry to attend a conference in Ramallah.

"I can confirm I am in Ramallah and preparing for tomorrow's conference," Mac Donncha said. 

A spokesperson at the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs told Middle East Eye that the decision regarding the Dublin mayor remaining in the country is still being deliberated on.

"We had heard about his entry last night. But his name will stay on the barring entry list in the future," he added.

The mayor's office told MEE that he is on a three-day-visit to Ramallah and Jerusalem and is due to return to Ireland on 13 April, and that he was invited by the Palestinian Authority to speak on the significance of the city of Jerusalem at the ninth International Bayt Al Maqdis Conference.

"The Lord Mayor travelled via Frankfurt and Tel Aviv Airports and encountered no difficulties during his journey," the office's statement to MEE said.

It added that Mac Donncha is going to meet Palestinian PA figures, including mayor of Ramallah, Musa Hadeed, and that he "expressed solidarity with the people of Palestine, as repeatedly expressed by the elected members of Dublin City Council."

Tit-for-tat row

Mac Donncha's ability to enter Israel, despite his name supposedly being on a "blacklist", has led to a tit-for-tat row between Israel's Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Strategic Affairs over the bureaucratic bungling.

A source at the Ministry of Interior told the Ynet news site that the Ministry of Strategic Affairs is responsible for the error.

The source said that details of Mac Donncha's ban were not sent alongside a copy of his passport.  

"The Ministry of Strategic Affairs misspelt the man's name in the document it gave to border control, and that's how it was entered into the system. If someone is barred from entering, the system should produce a warning as soon as the name is entered, but when someone arrives with a passport bearing a different name, there's no way of knowing about the ban," he told Ynet.

But the Ministry of Strategic Affairs claimed that they gave the Ministry of  Interior the Dublin mayor's full and correct name "as it is spelt on his official website [of Dublin city]."

The official also provided a screenshot from the website that it says was sent to the Ministry of Interior through WhatsApp, according to Ynet.

It appears the mayor's surname was written with spaces on his passport, and without a period on the official city website.

A screenshot provided by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs to the Ministry of Interior with Mac Donncha's name spelt wrong according to Ynet (Screenshot)

'Good friend of Palestinians'

Mac Donncha was elected in June 2017 as the Lord Mayor of Dublin.

He is a member of the leftist Sinn Féin party, one of the main political parties in Ireland.

Sinn Féin is known for its support for the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Irish Republic Army (IRA), which is historically linked to Sinn Fein, shared close relations since the 1970s.

Recently, Dublin’s city council passed two resolutions in support of Palestine.

One endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a global campaign that "works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law," according to BDS' official website.

The second, proposed by Mac Donncha, called on the Irish national government to expel Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Ze’ev Boker, which has yet to go to a vote.

Willie Howard, an organiser in the Irish Unite the Union, told MEE that Mac Donncha "is a good friend of the Palestinians."  

"He went there to visit the Palestinians on their invitation, and it is not an Israeli decision to make and bar him entry. He is not there to visit Israelis," Howard said.

He added that Dublin city council is very active in supporting Palestinians and that it replaced Irish flags with Palestinian flags in 2017, to mark the 50th anniversary of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. 

"Israel's decision is a disgrace. He is an elected politician and no democratic country would do that," Howard added. 

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Blacklisted: Why I will not allow Israel defeat me

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs is a body that was founded in 2006, designed to coordinate with the Ministry of Interior to work against the BDS movement.

Last January, it issued a list that included almost 20 international NGOs whose their members will be denied entry into Israel.

Also, last January, an inquiry in the Seventh Eye, an independent Israeli website, revealed that through the ministry, the Israeli government allocated more than $100m in support of “hidden propaganda” against the BDS movement and its sympathisers. 

Gilad Erdan, the minister of strategic affairs, said the policy of the ministry is "clear".

"The policy I set is clear: he who works consistently to boycott Israel will not enter here," he said.