Irish Anger Over Gaza Overshadows White House St. Patrick Celebration

White House — U.S. President Joe Biden is hosting Taoiseach of Ireland Leo Varadkar on Friday for the annual St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House, amid calls to boycott the event by many in Ireland who are outraged by staunch U.S. support of Israel in its war against Hamas.

Speaking earlier this week in Boston, where almost a quarter of the city’s population claims Irish descent, Varadkar cited Ireland’s “own painful history,” and renewed calls for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza, a step that goes beyond the six-week halt in fighting that Biden is pushing for. 

The Irish prime minister said he intends to warn Biden and congressional leaders that if the West does not “see and respect the equal value of a child of Israel and a child of Palestine,” the rest of the world, particularly the Global South, will ignore calls to uphold “rules and institutions that are the bedrock of the civilized world.” 

Polls show Ireland, a Catholic-majority European country, is one of the most pro-Palestinian nations in the world. Many Irish cite their own resistance against British rule as the reason for their support of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.

Varadkar’s visit comes amid shifting public sentiment among Biden’s Democratic Party on the war in Gaza. On Thursday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the U.S. and an avid supporter of Israel, stunned Israelis by condemning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an “obstacle to peace” and calling for new elections in Israel.


Biden and Varadkar also are set to discuss support for Ukraine’s push against Russian aggression amid a deadlock in the U.S. Congress over funding for Kyiv. The Irish leader is expected to add his voice to the chorus of European leaders urging House Republicans to pass the aid package.

Northern Ireland

First Minister of Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly of the Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, are also in Washington to take part in St. Patrick celebrations.  

The two aim to deliver the message that Northern Ireland is open for business following the recently restored power-sharing deal in Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly, after two years of political infighting between DUP, which favors continued governance with London, and Sinn Fein, which broadly supports reunification with Ireland. 

Biden, who often cites his Irish heritage, has long advocated for the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 peace deal that helped end 30 years of bloody conflict over whether Northern Ireland should unify with Ireland or remain part of the United Kingdom. 

In his visit to Northern Ireland last year, the president promised that American businesses are ready to invest once power-sharing and stability is returned.

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