Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Israeli Flags In Belfast

a post from 2 years ago
I've been reading Tony's Blair's memoir A Journey which isn't as masochistic an exercise as it sounds. It's an interesting book for Blair's take on his own life and it's helping me understand some of the British policies towards Ireland in the 1990's. Tony Blair seems to have been more interested in Ireland than any British Prime Minister since Gladstone: his maternal grandparents were from the County Donegal and he used to spend his summers in that very odd town, Rossnowlagh. The chapter in his memoir on the Irish Peace Process is full of interesting stuff including this little story:

On one visit to Northern Ireland I saw a remarkable demonstration of how the culture of opposition is enforced. Sinn Fein had invited the Palestinians to town. As I landed to stay overnight, I saw the Palestinian flag displayed along the Republican roads of Belfast to welcome their guests. Next day I drove through the town to leave and I saw arrayed along the Unionist enclaves the white and blue flags of Israel. How they got them and how they put them up overnight I'll never know but the moment those Palestinian flags went up Unionist solidarity with Israel was total.

The Israeli flags were always there of course; Blair just hadn't noticed them. There are a couple on the A2 as you drive into my home town of Carrickfergus and there also used to be several flying in Victoria Estate in Carrick (but I didn't see any when I was back home in January). I'm not sure that the reason for the Israeli flags is quite as oppositional as Blair says either. There's always been a feeling of solidarity between the Unionists of Northern Ireland and the Israelis. Perhaps it's something to do with the Bible which every good Presbyterian reads before bed time and the Biblical idea that just as the Jews have found their Promised Land in Canaan, so the wandering tribe of Ulster Scots has found its promised land in the north of Ireland. Blair is also mistaken about the link between the PLO and the IRA which has been longstanding (I remember the big "PLO-ETA-IRA One Struggle" mural on the Falls Road in the 1970's) and something of an embarrassment for American right wing IRA apologists such as Congressman Peter King (R, Long Island) and left wing IRA apologists such as the Kennedys.

The deeper link between Israel and Ireland of course is Albion Perfide: the successive British governments beginning with Lloyd-George's cabinet who made promises to the Jews and Arabs and to the Irish Protestants and Catholics that were mutually incompatible. The sight of competing Israeli and Palestinian flags in far flung Belfast is an odd but ultimately unsurprising commentary on the ironies and dualities of history in the aftermath of the British Empire. The fact that Tony Blair understood none of this, even in retrospect, isn't that surprising either: Like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair was always the brightest boy in the class, but he was never as observant or as perspicacious as he thought he was.