Israel’s friends in the north

Theresa May finally signed her deal with the Democratic Unionist Party this week. The electoral alliance promises her new allies £1 billion of extra government spending in Northern Ireland, and will allow her to hang on to her precarious grip on Number 10 for a little while longer.

However, most informed observers of the Conservative Party nonetheless consider May to be a “dead woman walking” (to quote former Chancellor George Osborne’s charming phrase). The prime minister has lost her political authority after a humbling setback in the general election, which she herself, remember, called early hoping to increase her majority in the House of Commons. It is likely to be only a matter of time before Tory MPs seek to replace her with a new leader.

As I wrote in this column after the election, the biggest winner was undoubtedly the Labour Party’s revolutionary leader Jeremy Corbyn. While sabotage by remaining right-wing MPs in the party meant that Labour fell short of winning enough seats for an overall majority, the hung parliament that Corbyn’s leadership and a popular left-wing manifesto achieved was a significant turnaround of the party’s fortunes. Its polling figures had been in a seemingly-terminal downward spiral. The propaganda blitz in the right-wing media against Corbyn disguised a more fundamental reality in Labour; the rot had set in long ago, and its share of the vote had been in long-term decline.

Read: May strikes deal with DUP, record female MPs elected

Under Tony Blair, the party haemorrhaged the support of its activists and grassroots membership, with his leadership becoming increasingly authoritarian as he jettisoned one socialist principle after another. He became so rabidly pro-US imperialism that he was willing to buddy up with the man who was then the most right-wing and violent US President to date, George W. Bush.

Blair lost Labour millions of voters, who increasingly (and justifiably) saw little difference between the two main parties. This was part of a pattern; a general European crisis of once social democratic parties which had turned to neoliberalism. The traditional “socialist” and labour parties have seen their vote shares collapse; Pasok in Greece and the Socialists in France are two of the most dramatic examples. Defying current conventional wisdom, Corbyn has stopped the rot.

His impressive electoral gains (both in terms of vote share and seats won) means that Theresa May’s narrow Commons majority was diminished to the point of almost being wiped out. Without this dodgy DUP deal, she would be reduced to leading an unstable minority government. Even with the alliance, her Commons majority is a narrow one.

Immediately after the election, there was much talk of the DUP’s record of regressive policies on issues such as gay rights and abortion. Some light was even shed on its history as a sectarian anti-Catholic organisation with strong links to Protestant paramilitary extremists.

There has not, though, been very much attention paid to the DUP’s history of support for Israeli war crimes and apartheid. For example, the party’s founder, Ian Paisley, launched a group called Northern Ireland Friends of Israel in 2009. This was only one in a long series of expressions of support for Israel by unionists in Northern Ireland. The mainly Catholic Irish republicans in the north (and in the Irish Republic), on the other hand, have long supported the Palestinian cause. The links come about because there are many similarities between the Northern Ireland statelet and Israel.

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Northern Ireland was thought of by unionists as a “Protestant state for a Protestant people” in a similar way that Zionists consider Israel to be a “Jewish state” or, in the infamously misleading phraseology of Israel Zangwill, “a land without a people for a people without a land.” Palestine, of course, was very much a land with a people, the indigenous Palestinians. Many Zionists continue to deny this.

Both Israel and Northern Ireland were established as violent sectarian-religious entities in the midst of majority populations who did not welcome either their physical displacement (in the case of the Palestinians) or their disenfranchisement (in the case of Catholics in the north of Ireland).

In both cases, artificial majorities had to be gerrymandered by acts of violence. Northern Ireland was carved out by the British Empire after the Irish war of national liberation as a Protestant enclave intended to stymy the Irish Free State. Protestants were only a majority in that part of Ireland, so, ever seeking to divide and rule, the British used the unionists — the descendent of Scottish and English settlers — to continue their rule in the north.

In the case of Palestine, the Jewish population had been a minority for hundreds of years. Even after the major inroads made by the Zionist movement during the post-1918 period of British occupation, and successive waves of Jewish settlers who arrived in the 1930s and 40s, Palestine after the Second World War was still by a large majority an Arab land; Muslims and Christians lived there along with a long-standing Jewish minority, as well as other small sects such as the Druze.


It was only by a massive and violent act of ethnic cleansing by Zionist militias in 1948 that the Palestinians became a minority in their own land. To this day, Palestinian refugees still seek to fulfil their right to return to their homes in historic Palestine.

For these reasons and more, it is no surprise to see the sectarian bigots of the DUP express support for another group of sectarian bigots in Israel. In terms of British politics, the Protestant party may in many ways be strange bedfellows of the Tories, but as far as their blind support for the apartheid Israeli state is concerned, they are more than compatible.