One cannot generalise, but it is a fact that there is a tendency for the loyalist-Protestant-unionist interest in Northern Ireland to side with the Jewish Israelis in the endless conflict in the Middle East.
Similarly, the republican-Catholic-nationalist interest tends to side with the largely Muslim Palestinians. At one point during the violence here, an advertising agency retained by the Northern Ireland Office actually proposed that the Government run a campaign likening the terrorism directed at unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland to the Nazi assault on the Jews between 1933 and 1945. There were obvious parallels, but the disparity in scale was so great as to drown them and the campaign was never launched.
Many will feel the Israelis are justified in seeking to quell the cross-border rocket assault by Hamas from Gaza. But what happens after the invasion? Another Iraq? Hamas has been armed from Iran and by the peddlers of Russian missiles. No doubt the conflict could be continued from Egypt if the Israelis succeed in expelling Hamas from Gaza. Wars, notoriously, are more quickly started than ended. Regarded with the coolness of the distant observer, one feels the Israelis' all-out assault, although understandable, is unwise.
For one thing, they have allowed themselves to be astutely provoked into it. By provoking Israel and then siting their rockets in populated areas — are there any other sort in crowded Gaza? — Hamas is playing the old, unscrupulous game the IRA perfected in Northern Ireland. Already, displaying the terrorists' routine indifference to the slaughter of the uninvolved, Hamas is reaping its reward, as television screens worldwide are filled with weeping women and children, shattered homes — and media reportage sharply angled in the Palestinians' favour. The Israelis' game, of course, has an element of domestic politics about it. Tzipi Livni, the new woman leader of the Kadima party, is struggling to construct a durable coalition and has decided that a general election could give her the means. Cynics see the Gaza campaign as electioneering. Livni is a former Mossad agent, militantly Zionist, whose conservative pedigree — given election success — might allow her to negotiate her way to the two-state solution she favours for the conflict. Thatcher at Hillsborough in 1985 all over again?
Meantime, the British and the Irish have little room to reproach the Jews. Some 10 years ago, one of Blair's ministers, Ian McCartney, a Scot who was to become chairman of the Labour Party, described the then Shadow Chancellor, Oliver Letwin, as Fagin. (“No Oliver Twist, this man — more of a Fagin.”) Fagin, of course, was not merely a thief and a liar, as you may recall: he was also physically revolting and a Victorian caricature. So the comparison was quite outrageous. There were suggestions afterwards that Mr McCartney was entitled to a fool's pardon because he did not know that either Mr Letwin or Fagin was Jewish. The significant fact was that there was scarcely a murmur of criticism at his offensive remark — from his own party or from its supporting media. But if Oliver Letwin had been Muslim and McCartney had likened him to Ali Baba? By George, I feel sure we should have seen the roof lift off!
As for the Irish, between the wars they did not hang about talking about what to do about the Jews fleeing from Hitler. In 1935 they passed an Aliens Act expressly to keep them out. One was Robert Briscoe's aunt. Bob, a Jew, was Lord Mayor of Dublin twice in the 1950s and 1960s and a Fianna Fail TD. His aunt was in Berlin. But in 1938 the Department of Justice refused her a visa.
She died in Auschwitz. When the terrible Belsen concentration camp near Hanover was liberated by British troops in April 1945 and the horrific pictures of its cadaverous Jewish inmates were screened in cinemas throughout Northern Ireland, they were banned by the censor from all screens in Eire. Two weeks later de Valera paid his notorious visit to the German Legation in Dublin to express his condolence on the death of Hitler. In London, the wartime coalition Government had known all about the Holocaust for years. The |decoders at Bletchley Park read the daily reports of the SS to Berlin detailing how many Jews had been murdered in the concentration lager that day. The RAF could have bombed the gas chambers at Auschwitz or the railways whose miserable cargoes fed them. The Government had the aerial photographs. But nothing was done. To those who know the history, |neither David Miliband nor Micheal Martin has much room to lecture the Israelis.