Again on unionism and Israel


The other day I pointed out unionism’s more or less uncritical identification with the Israeli state in its offensive on Gaza. This continues unabated, and has even intensified somewhat. In particular, there’s been quite a bit of smoke-blowing around last Saturday’s peace march organised by NIC-ICTU, which I’ll come to presently.

But the Herrenvolk instinct continues to run strong in public discourse. The polite version of this is that “We identify with Israel because of our shared experience with terrorism.” The less polite version identifies Israel as an example of best practice when it comes to putting down uppity minorities – the Palestinians, in this schema, being the substitute fenians. (And, since South Africa went over to the dark side, the unionists are a bit short of examples.) These days, in fact, I’m finding it almost impossible to listen to Talk Back, the comments from the punters are so rancid. It isn’t quite “The settlers are beating the shit out of the natives! Yo!”, but it isn’t far off.

So it is that, for a look at the more polite version, I turn to the Telegraph’s comment pages. I’ve had a bit of a pop at Eric Waugh, at the high end of the market, and Gail Walker at the low end, but I would propose that Lindy McDowell has quite possibly been the worst of the lot. The mounting horror in Gaza over the last couple of weeks has done absolutely nothing to diminish her enthusiasm for Operation Cast Lead, although she is now resorting to smoke-blowing.

This centres around what Lindy terms “last Saturday’s so called ‘peace march’”, and the actions of the small republican group éirígí. First, let’s talk organisation. For all Lindy’s bluster, the march was organised by NIC-ICTU. The platform consisted of union officials and clergymen, plus Lord Mayor Tom Hartley. (I suppose, for balance, there should have been a unionist politician, but you’d have to find a willing volunteer first.) All speakers made remarks about the desirability of peace, and the platform were scrupulous in calling for a diplomatic solution and a ceasefire on both sides. Not exactly the festival of anti-Semitic hatred that Lindy would like us to believe it was.

Secondly, there’s the question of numbers. The organisers claimed 5000, which looked to me to be not far off the actual number. By my reckoning, better than 99% were well behaved. Some people did some chanting about “from the river to the sea” that may have upset those types who would prefer their chants to come with 500-word footnotes about the desirability of a two-state solution and the settlement of the 1948 refugees question. They fail to realise that, on a fairly large rally, there will be all sorts of people with all sorts of views that you don’t necessarily agree with. The bloke pictured above was attending Sunday’s pro-Israel rally in London. By a judicious application of Lindy McDowell logic, one might assume that the Chief Rabbi and the Jewish Board of Deputies agree with his sentiments. Admittedly, I haven’t heard any such statement from them, but what’s sauce for the goose…

So then there’s the question of éirígí, who made a ham-fisted attempt to introduce some West Belfast agitprop into the rally. This involved Lindy’s main criticism, the chivvying of the young Israelis who run a Dead Sea cosmetics stand in CastleCourt. They also, I believe, threw some produce about in Marks and Sparks. But let’s stick to the CastleCourt incident. Shorter Lindy: “It’s Kristallnacht all over again! It’s just like the Nazis!” Frankly, this is even more offensive than placards comparing the Gaza slaughter, horrible as it is, to the Holocaust.

In my view, it shouldn’t have happened. If I had any influence with éirígí – which, perhaps fortunately, I don’t – I would have warned them off any such action. In the first instance, because I don’t agree with targeting individual Israelis solely on the basis of their nationality, because it would have been very unpleasant for a small group of young people whose views on Gaza I don’t know. In the second place, because it was bound to look extremely bad. The Zionists and their fellow travellers would accuse any demonstration critical of Israel of being anti-Semitic; you have to be very very careful not to give them any ammunition. I hope those involved are feeling very embarrassed.

As it is, although I think some people are not nearly careful enough about giving the impression of anti-Semitism, I don’t consider anti-Jewish prejudice as such to be a motivating factor for more than a tiny minority. As far as I could see, apart from political activists with their own particular positions, most people were there for basic humanitarian motives, because they don’t like what they’re seeing on their TV screens.

And this really is crucial. There are plenty of other conflicts going on that deserve our attention. There is at the moment absolute mayhem in Sri Lanka, with few people seeming to take any notice. But if Sri Lanka was leading the news bulletins night after night for three weeks, I guarantee you that there would be a peace rally with union officials and clergy on the platform; that the Socialist Workers Party would be rehearsing “Free Tamil Eelam” chants; and that éirígí would be looking for some Buddhists to throw things at. It’s the way of practical organising, for what little that’s worth.

Rud eile: While we’re on the Telegraph, the inimitable Gail Walker does a piece on Prince Harry’s racist gaffe. Yeah, she calls him a dimwit, but it’s also an excuse for Gail to do battle with the “PC brigade” in her head. And check out this gem:

British culture still, on a day-to-day basis, considers Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Jamaicans and everyone else who isn’t a honky, as odd, not quite one-of-us, not quite part of the British package, and so open to off-hand, cartoon-like reference.

I know the Tele like their columnists to be provocative, but could they maybe shell out for some racial sensitivity training?


  1. Andy Newman said,

    January 16, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    “British …. not quite one-of-us,”

    The lack of self -awareness is funny.

    Gail should look at a map of the british Isles, there are two big islands, and the one on the right is Great Britain, and most people on it consider all of the people to live on the smaller more Westerly Island to be Irish, whatever colour their passport, and not “quite one of us” either.

    As the sign used to say, “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish”

  2. WorldbyStorm said,

    January 16, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    In a way what you reference there from McDowell is an echo of the sort of faux-existential struggle rhetoric that the Israeli government and its spokespeople keep putting out. And I think that has done them no favours this time. The eirigi stuff is typical of their MO – big on presentation (one has to admire their graphic designer(s)), and a small cynical part of me can’t help but feel it was deliberately intended to be atypical of the march as a whole. But feck it, if they wanted to make a splash there are other issues which require less – shall we say – diplomacy and care in negotiating them.

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    January 17, 2009 at 10:52 am

    I would like eirigi more if they were an artistic outfit, like the republican street theatre group Martin Meehan used to run. For a small group they’re great at making a splash, but yeah, they don’t really do diplomacy and care, do they?

  4. Garibaldy said,

    January 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I think the tenor of their activities – and the stress on more traditional nationalist concerns – has altered as they expanded within the north. At the start, they were seen as socialist challengers to the direction of PSF in the south; now they seem like the dissidents without the violence.

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    January 17, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Politically their profile seems to be North Dublin PSF of maybe five ardfheiseanna ago… but it all depends who they’ve been recruiting in the north. The South Derry people don’t seem all that socialist to me.

  6. Pat Smythe said,

    January 17, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Given that Ireland is a racist and hypocritical country I don’t think the Irish have any reason to be criticizing anybody, except maybe Robert Mugabe, who, despite the starvation and misery he is imposing on his own people, does not appear to have ever been the subject of any serious Irish criticism, much less a Dublin or Belfast rally. Perhaps this is because he is still viewed positively as an anti-British avatar or because his victims are as black as he is.

  7. Garibaldy said,

    January 18, 2009 at 12:22 am

    I think the way the flags were used in south Derry a while back showed what was going on there, and I’m not sure the Lurgan people ever had a great reputation for radical socialism either. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, whether they’ll do a better job of balancing the two than say the IRPs.

  8. Freshly Squeezed Cynic said,

    January 19, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Given that Ireland is a racist and hypocritical country I don’t think the Irish have any reason to be criticizing anybody

    But, of course, you hate to generalise.

  9. Pat Smythe said,

    January 20, 2009 at 3:42 am

    I have had enough contact with the Irish indirectly to know that they overwhelmingly support the Palestinians over the Israelis (excluding Northern Irish Unionists and Protestants, of course). Irish history is similar in some respects to what is happening in Gaza. The Gazan people chose Hamas, over the more moderate Fatah, despite knowing the consequences, just as the Irish in December 1918 allegedly chose Sinn Fein over the IPP (although I have read data that indicates that SF got 48% of the vote that fateful election, so maybe it was just in the counting of ballots at gunpoint in the hinterlands).

    Anyway the Palestinians are like the Irish – they do what they want knowing the consequences, and when those consequences come about they act like martyrs, and indeed consider their dead (the coldest-blooded killers in particular) as martyrs and manipulate and bully the rest of the people.

    The only difference is that the Irish nationalists as almost exclusively Catholic (to this day) wouldn’t intentionally blow themselves up as that would be a form of suicide and prohibited by their faith. Indeed when the hunger strikers died, the Papal Nuncio to Britain, Bruno Heim and Basil Cardinal Hume, Archbishop of England and Wales, neither one a Norn Ireland Unionist or supporter, both declared the deaths to be suicide, but Irish prelates enabling the IRA, as they have since the early 20th century, gave the funeral masses anyway.

    Does that sound like a generalization? Maybe. Will this comment be published?Questionable, but we’ll see.

  10. Garibaldy said,

    January 20, 2009 at 10:24 am


    25 seats were uncontested, so overwhelming would the vote for independence have been there. Therefore the figure of 48 or 49% (people give different figures) is not a true representation of opinion, which was overwhelmingly behind the party of independence. How dare people vote for independence and them be unhappy about it when their wishes are ignored. Shocking, isn’t it? BTW, allegedly chose SF over the IPP. You mean in so far as one got 70 more seats than the other?

    And if you think that Basil Hume – or any of the elite in the Catholic church in England – wasn’t a unionist, then you need to think about these things a bit more carefully.

    As for your comments on Gaza, beneath contempt.

  11. Ciarán said,

    January 20, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    It seems that the Boycott Israeli Goods protests have become more militant around the country since éirígí kicked things off at Castle Court last week. And their ‘ham-fisted attempt to introduce some West Belfast agitprop’ for right or wrong has done more to get the issue of Palestine into the media than ICTU’s forgettable peace rally. (And was anyone else unsurprised that it’d be the representatives of the workers’ movement that would invite the great and good up on their stage?) Even though the level of media discourse does leave you wishing that we’d have a Robert Fisk-style journalist here in the colonial backwater instead of just hearing from him through the paper owners in the metropolis.

    btw, I don’t think the Castle Court protest was just an attempt to target an Israeli-run business. I know the Belfast IPSC have considered doing something there in the past. The reason that Sea Salt is especially odious is that its cosmetic products come from the Dea Sea, and even at its West Bank corner Palestinians can’t get anywhere near the beaches (hell, even the roads leading to the beaches at the West Bank corner are settler-only roads). It’s the shameless profiteering from the occupation that sticks in many people’s craw.

  12. Pat Smythe said,

    January 21, 2009 at 4:38 am

    It’s interesting that someone calling himself “Garibaldy” is apparently unaware that the treal Garibaldi was an atheist and a true Italian patriot seeking to reunite his country and that Irishmen (like Myles Keogh) volunteered to serve as papal mercenaries to prevent just this, just as the Irish supported the fascists over the first democratically elected government of Spain during the Civil War (and I know about Michael O’Riordan). And let’s not discuss the Catholic integralist Irish Free State’s policies towards refugees (which was not to accept any) but whose lives they could have saved during WWII. So when it comes to liberty and freedom I suggest you delve a little more deeply into history.

    As far as Gaza goes, the people there did not vote for Hamas to get their “freedom” (to be part of Egypt again?; Egypt, which once controlled Gaza, certainly doesn’t want them). The Gazans voted for Hamas to keep the hatred and death on which they thrive alive. And what IRA supporters, who regard Israel as a colonizing force, like the UK, want to do is to make Israel fight the Muslim terrorists with one (or both) hands tied behind her back, the same way that the Irish and Irish-Americans forced Britain to battle the IRA after the Troubles began again in 1969, which is why there were no unarmed drones dropping payloads of explosive death over West Belfast or Crossmaglen or hangings of terrorists. Israel will never be humiliated that way, so get used to it. The bravery of the Israeli troops is overwhelming as is their honor.

  13. Pat Smythe said,

    January 21, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    “And if you think that Basil Hume – or any of the elite in the Catholic church in England – wasn’t a unionist [sic], then you need to think about these things a bit more carefully.”

    Garibaldy – Let me get this straight, the “Catholic elite” [?], overwhelmingly of Irish descent, especially amongst the clergy, such as Cormac Cardinal O’Connor (not then a Cardinal), Keith Cardinal O’Brien (ditto), Bishops O’Donoghue (a Cork native), Mone, Devine, Henderson (born to parents from Waterford), Foley, Logan, Crowley, et al are/were Unionists?

    Most of the Catholic priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals have been Irish or of Irish descent since 1850 when an act of papal aggression, opposed by Parliament and 95% of the British people, reestablished the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales. Hume was a rare ethnic exception. And the Papal Nuncio in question, Bruno Heim, wasn’t British or Unionist.

    Perhaps you need a rethink yourself.

  14. Garibaldy said,

    January 21, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Yes, the Catholic elite. As in the sort of people who go to Ampleforth or the Oratory, and just love being part of the British establishment. Being of Irish descent means absolutely sweet FA in those circumstances.

    An act of papal aggression? So much for religious freedom, eh?

  15. Pat Smythe said,

    January 22, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    What does “FA” mean – I am a Yank and don’t know your shorthand. And I certainly don’t believe, by and large, especially generationally, that “elitism” overrides
    “Irishness” and getting Irish passports – by the very generous passport policy of the Irish gov’t which is happy to suborn fifth columnists in the UK, like everyone associated with “The Irish Post” or the GAA or most of the Labour Party – for “Irish-British” and “Irish-Scottish” people.

    While there are some elite Catholic schools, such as Ampleforth, Downside and Stonyforth (Joseph Mary Plunkett attended the last), I seriously question whether the staff and students are all Unionists, and you certainly don’t know that either. Don’t mistake a family military history for unionist politics per se. The Jesuit Belvedere College in Dublin has the most sincere and heartfelt tribute, in all of the 26 counties, to its alumni killed during WWI and WW2.

    The term “papal aggression” was most certainly used in 1850 to describe the unilateral restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Wales, like it or not. And the first Cardinal therewith was the Spanish-Irish Nicholas Wiseman. When it comes to religious freedom, how come the freedoms of non-Catholics or non-believers to contraception and divorce were denied for so many years? Because independent Ireland — from the accession of De Valera in 1932 until the 1997 restrictive legalization of divorce — was a Catholic integralist state. If you don’t know what Catholic integralism is, look it up – don’t assume it per se is the same as fundamentalism.

  16. Pat Smythe said,

    January 22, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    To all: I apologize for the duplicate entries. I didn’t do it intentionally. I do not have an advanced browser and I use DSL so I resubmitted the entry after I was booted out into an anonymous stretch of cyberspace somewhere. I should have know better. My bad and I apologize. Could the admin of this site please delete entries #15 and #16. Thanks a lot.

  17. Garibaldy said,

    January 22, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Sweet FA means Sweet Fuck All. I’ve yet to meet anyone who went to Ampleforth or the like who wasn’t a unionist, and I’ve met quite a few. As for the papal aggression remark, just because it was used at the time doesn’t make it accurate. Especially when the London government was funding a Catholic seminary in Ireland. As for the freedoms of non-Catholics in the free state, it was because it was a reactionary backward failing state. Actually, sounds like a fairly accurate description of how it looks now.

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