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Robert Briscoe

Sinn Féin Revolutionary, Fianna Fáil Nationalist and Revisionist Zionist

Kevin McCarthy

This biography reveals the full significance of Robert Briscoe’s influence within the contentious political culture of the early Irish state, as well as reinforcing his importance to the global Zionist rescue effort of the 1930s. Drawing on a wealth of previously unavailable archival material, the book charts Briscoe’s evolution from a fringe Sinn Féin activist in 1917 to a member of Michael Collins’s personal staff in 1921. It also analyses his agonizing decision to abandon Collins and support the anti-Treaty stance of his close friend and political hero, Éamon de Valera, before becoming a founding member of Fianna Fáil in 1926. Most importantly of all, the book investigates Briscoe’s evolving Jewish awareness, looking at his involvement in a traumatic immigration endeavour and also at his engagement with Ze’ev Jabotinsky and the New Zionist Organisation, under whose auspices he led political rescue missions to Poland, America and South Africa.
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Chapter 7: 1938–1939 - Political Dichotomy, Parochial Anti-Semitism and Revisionist Apex: Dublin Exclusionism and Missions to Poland, America and South Africa


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1938–1939 Political Dichotomy, Parochial Anti-Semitism and Revisionist Apex: Dublin Exclusionism and Missions to Poland, America and South Africa

The fact that Briscoe had apparently found an ideologically compatible Zionist organization should have ensured he did not experience the same frustrations that resulted from his brief alliance with the BDBJ. This certainly appeared to be the case after his first meeting with Jabotinsky, which seemed to have laid the foundations for a perfect working relationship where the Irish republican Jew could channel all his energies into saving his co-religionists through the revisionist template of Jabotinsky’s Zionism. Briscoe’s complex dual commitment manifested almost immediately when Jabotinsky wasted no time in exploiting Briscoe’s personal connection to de Valera to facilitate an introduction.1

Securing a meeting with de Valera had been a priority for Jabotinsky since de Valera’s anti-partitionist speech in September 1937; he believed that the Irish leader was the perfect man to highlight conceptual objections to partition not just in Ireland, but also the potential plan for co-existing, coterminous Jewish and Arab states in Palestine2 The plan was abhorrent to Jabotinsky, who believed that if it was implemented it would completely ruin the revisionist plan for a mass Jewish emigration to Palestine.3 He was ← 121 | 122 → desperate to foil the recommendation to terminate ‘the present Mandate on the basis of partition’, and refocus attention on the creation of a Jewish National Home as defined by the Balfour Declaration.4

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