Israel and Unionism

One thing that raises tensions on Slugger more than the ‘traditional route’ of the Orange/Green debate is anything to do with Israel and the West Bank/Gaza. There have been several comments in the past month which have questioned the reasons behind the linkage, perceived or otherwise, between NI Unionists and the state of Israel. Yesterday [Friday 2nd] Turkey expelled the Israeli Ambassador following the leaking of a UN report concerning the boarding of the  ‘Mavi Marmara’ in May 2010. So I thought it might be useful to tease out some of thinking behind Unionist support for the state of Israel.  This thread is, by the way, not apologetics but informational.

Support can be separated into two distinct categories which I have chosen to call – ‘Religious Beliefs’ and the ‘Parallelists’ [yes I think I’ve made up that word]. In previous posts the argument has been put forward that it’s the evangelical bible thumping Prods of Ulster that support the Israelis – but this I think is a rather narrow perspective.

Dodrade in a good thread a while ago  stated,

I believe the roots of Unionist solidarity with Israel lie in evangelical Protestantism. As a people brought up in a bible-centred, old testament-heavy tradition, hearing at church, home, Sunday school, and via the loyal orders the tales of Moses visiting the ten plagues upon Egypt and freeing the Hebrews from slavery, Joshua leading his people to the promised land and tearing down the walls of Jericho with a blast of trumpets, Gideon defeating the Midianites with a mere 300 men, of David slaying Goliath, and of how against the odds Jehovah would repeatedly deliver his chosen people from the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, and Philistines, it is little wonder that god-fearing unionists would naturally favour the modern-day state of Israel against the descendants of its ancient enemies

Whilst this is a reasonable argument [and in some circles not incorrect] I feel it is a little simplistic. In my research for this article I would conclude that some members of The Royal Black Preceptory, which is steeped in Old Testament theology and imagery, would seem to fit Dodrades assessment fairly well.

Religious Belief

Within the Protestant church it is primarily the one branch of Dispensationalists who would show complete theological solidarity with Israel. The theology of dispensationalism usually argues that the progress of revelation, including New Testament revelation, does not cancel Old Testament promises made with national Israel. Dispensationalists argue that national Israel will see the literal fulfilment of the promises made with her in the Old Testament. One of these includes the provision of the land of their birth. Most Protestant churches would not in essence be Dispensational.

Also included within this heading are those who believe in British Israelism; the belief that people of Western European descent, particularly those in Great Britain, are the direct lineal descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

The final grouping [outside those previously discussed] would be those Christians who believe that the Israelites remains ‘in a state of Grace’ with God. As they are His divinely chosen people, [2 Samuel 7:23]

And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?

and they as such should be supported by Christians around the world for this reason if no other. There are those within this grouping who would mitigate this support in certain circumstances, immoral or unjustifiable actions by the Israeli government would be examples of these.

The Parallelists

Forget religion. For many in the Unionist communities there were clear similarities in the struggle between the Security Forces [in NI] and the IRA;  and in Israel – the IDF and PLO /Hamas /Hezbollah.  I’m sure those who supported [s] the IRA would see the struggle in exactly the same way [from a different perspective] and actually welcome such a parallel, believing themselves to be freedom fighters trying to liberate the land of their birth from invaders.  People purporting these views could be non religious or wholly secular Unionists. The IRAs links with Middle Eastern terror groups are well established. Gaddafi’s terror sponsoring regime began supplying the IRA with the financial, military and logistical assistance it required to prosecute its ‘campaign’ in Northern Ireland following visits by Joe Cahill to Libya in 1972. We also know that the IRA, PLO, ETA, Hezbollah, FARC, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all trained and shared information and resources together at various times during their respective campaigns. There were also support networks [to a greater or lesser extent] between these organisations.

The ‘Unionists’ who fall outside these boundaries.

Those Unionists / Loyalists who would have sympathy with the putrid Combat 18 [C18] wholeheartedly agree with the Republican assessment of the Zionists and their allies.

In the past some Loyalist terror groups have had contact and reciprocal support from C18 but this ceased about 5 years ago according to ‘Searchlights’ assessment.

Many Liberal and  Socialist Unionists [I use NEITHER of those in a disparaging way] would also refuse to support Israel and their sympathies lie more clearly with the Palestinians.  Within the political Unionist community Fred Cobain would be the obvious example.


Some writers have marvelled at why Unionists would support a country [Israel] who targeted and killed many British soldiers and support workers in the immediate post war years in Palestine.  For Unionists who tend towards pragmatism, the Troubles and the interdependence between the IRA and similar terrorist organisations in the Middle East at the time seemed to be the key factor in overlooking Israel’s past skirmishes with the Brits in favour of empathy with a new ally.

In summary I would say, and it is a qualitative statement, that more Unionists fall into the ‘parallelists’ camp than any other – although that’s just my assessment. It might be interesting for someone to write a comparative study on Republican / Nationalist support for the Palestinians. Fitz, MV…can’t tempt anyone?

Born and living in Northern Ireland, I’m a Lecturer by trade and a pragmatic Unionist by design. Interests include Middle Eastern / African politics, British cinema and sea fishing!