Why Unionists tend to Support Israel…

No-one can have missed the Israeli flags that have been flying over Loyalist areas of N. Ireland in recent months. On Slugger at the weekend there were comments on this issue. Over the past few months, on Twitter and on Slugger, I have been asked to explain why unionists predominantly side with Israel despite the horror that is being inflicted on Gaza. I have previously tried to answer this question briefly, but it deserves a longer response.

Unionists are not dinosaurs, despite the abusive comments from some of our detractors, but much of our political thinking and emotional energy does from the patriotic and nationalist zeal that was common at the start of the 20th century. This can be seen in the way the Battle of the Somme 1916/17 is celebrated so fervently across N. Ireland. Our Carson and Craig were contemporaries of Padraig Pearse and were active in the run up to the 1917 Balfour declaration which announced Britain’s support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

Unionism was never entirely united in supporting a ‘Protestant state for a Protestant People’ – a phrase not used until 1934 in response to De Valera’s boast of taking charge of a Catholic state – but following on from the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empires, unionism did believe in the idea that each state served one ethnic or religio-ethnic group. Consequently, the idea of a Jewish State for a Jewish People does not seem so strange to us.

After the horrors of WW2 and the Holocaust, many were sympathetic to the idea of Jews having their own state. Unionists in particular, with our focus on reading the Bible and its definition of the Jews as being God’s Chosen People, were sympathetic to the setting up of Israel.

Israeli Terrorism

We seem to have blotted from our minds the acts of terrorism carried out by supporters of Israel in the late-1940s which killed many British soldiers, such as the bombing of the King David Hotel which killed over 90.

Years later, at the same time as Israel was experiencing terrorist attacks such as the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) attack on the Israeli Olympics team in 1972, we in N. Ireland were having our own experience of terrorism from the IRA, UVF and UDA. As our Troubles continued there were mutually supportive links established between Irish republicans and the PLO.

Consequently, it is not surprising that within N. Ireland unionists traditionally support Israel and republicans traditionally support Palestine.

One of the oddities about this is that the Israeli state creation myth relies on the idea of the ‘Aliyah’, an ascent or return of Jewish people to their historical homeland based on events almost 2000 years ago. That this Israeli viewpoint might align with the Irish right to control the lands of Ireland, based on its Irish ownership before the English invasions from 900 years ago, has seemingly not registered with many unionists. But a feature of this conflict is that once you see the horror inflicted by one side or the other, you instinctively demonise them and become immune to their suffering. It is hard to remember that there is suffering on both sides.

I may have grown up supporting Israel, from a family background that detested the PLO etc, but what I see on my screen today is Israel, a powerful country supported and armed by the USA and the UK, dropping bombs daily on Gaza, killing thousands of children, supposedly in self-defence.

Apart from the ugliness of these actions, their stupidity offends me, there is no logical conclusion.

We unionists once feared a communal conflict of the kind that Israel and Palestine now suffer but we found peace through having the courage to talk to each other and pursue a political, rather than a military settlement. I do not support what Israel is doing today, I am appalled that we unionists are we not encouraging Israel to follow the path that we now follow, the path that allows us to share this country with people we once considered potential enemies.

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