DUBLIN — The campaign by Senator David Norris to become Ireland’s — and the world’s — first openly gay elected president is in danger of imploding, with the resignation of leaders of his campaign team for not being open with them about a controversial event in his past.
It emerged this weekend that Norris wrote to the Jerusalem High Court fourteen years ago asking for leniency for his former partner, Ezra Yizhak Nawi, who had been convicted of abuse of a minor after admitting to sex with a 15-year-old Palestinian boy.
This came to light after a 22-year-old law student, John Connolly, published details of Norris’s intervention on Nawi's behalf on his blog.
Connolly, who describes himself as a “pro-Israeli blogger,” wrote that his main problem with Norris was “his outspoken criticism of Israel.”
Seven members of the senator’s fifteen-strong campaign force, including his director of elections and director of communications, resigned Saturday on the grounds that Norris had not made them aware of this potentially damaging episode when they joined his team.
A leading Joycean scholar and radio commentator, Norris admitted that his chances of contesting October’s presidential election were now “slim” and that his campaign is in “serious trouble.”
Though he has consistently topped opinion polls, Norris needs the backing of twenty members of the Irish Parliament or four county councils to stand as a candidate.
Despite intensive lobbying the independent senator has to date secured the backing of only one of Ireland’s thirty-one city and county councils, and fifteen of the 226 members of Parliament.
(More from GlobalPost: Norris' first controversy)
Some of the group of fifteen parliamentarians said they stood by Norris but others said their decision was on hold until they heard from Norris personally.
Norris complained to supporters that this was the sixth time an attempt had been made to destroy his election campaign.
He told the Sunday Independent, “I was appalled by what I heard about Ezra’s behavior. My position still remains that I abhor any abuse of children, whether it is psychological, physical or sexual.”
Norris’s action in providing a character reference for a man accused of statutory rape comes just weeks after a controversy about his views on homosexual relations between men and boys threatened to derail his campaign.
Opponents unearthed an interview he gave Magill Magazine in 2002 in which he said he did not find children sexually attractive but “where it is an elder man introducing a younger man to adult life, there can be something said for it.”
As the latest controversy blew up, Norris supplied the Sunday Independent with the text of the 1997 appeal he wrote to the judges of the Israeli Supreme Court, describing himself as a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament .
In it he described Nawi, who worked as a plumber in Jerusalem and had been Norris’s friend for twenty-three years, as an “intelligent, honest, trustworthy, good and moral person for whom the present difficulty is uncharacteristic.”
Norris, who has been outspoken about human rights abuses against Palestinians, described himself as a strong supporter of Israel.
(More from GlobalPost: Norris the James Joyce scholar)
Without giving details, he told the Israeli court that the arrest “took place in a curious and troubling manner” and he claimed that Nawi, also outspoken in the Palestinian cause, had been “lured into a carefully prepared trap.”
Norris claimed to the Sunday Independent that he had not known the full details of the charge at the time he wrote the character reference, and that he was “shattered” when the full truth emerged.
He said of Nawi, with whom he has remained in close contact, “I loved him. But it has been many people’s fate to love people who have defects.”
In a recent interview with GlobalPost, Norris said that conservative opponents have been sending emails to councilors around the country, denouncing him for the remarks he made in the Magill interview.
“I don’t believe there is any personal hatred against me but if I can be taken down, that will help to roll back the liberal agenda,” he said.
Referring to Ireland’s current and former presidents, he added, “They think that Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson have pushed things too far and they want to go back to the pre-Robinson days [the 1980s].”
Though the office carries no executive powers, the President of Ireland is head of state and supreme commander of Ireland’s tiny defense forces. He or she is required to act as the nation’s top ambassador, to be a national comforter in times of crisis and to provide a regal presence on state occasions.