Reflections on the life and legacy of David Trimble will naturally focus on his role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, a feat for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize, but never the same esteem from the political and intellectual classes as went to the more romantic figure of Martin McGuinness. However, in his passing another worthwhile contribution he made to the world should also be remembered. Trimble was a steadfast friend of Israel, one whose friendship went far beyond mere statements of support.
An officer of Conservative Friends of Israel, Trimble was frequently to be found accompanying new Tory MPs on their first visits to the Jewish state. He would introduce them to political contemporaries and policy experts, ensuring they returned to the Commons thoroughly briefed on the facts about a country often spoken of in UK politics in angry assertions and fitful denunciations.
He once authored an excellent pamphlet for CFI, ‘Misunderstanding Ulster’, which challenged simplistic comparisons of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and debunked the wishful thinking that the Good Friday Agreement should compel Israel to negotiate with Hamas.
‘If there is one lesson to learn from Northern Ireland’s experience — contrary to what is often recommended in relation to dialogue with Hamas — it is that ‘pre-conditions’ were crucial in ending the violence and producing a settlement,’ he observed.
This underscores the value of Trimble’s advocacy for Israel. He was not the sort of Israel supporter who preferred to address himself exclusively to other Israel supporters. He sought out those who were inveterately hostile and tried, with gentlemanly reason and good humour, to convince them of the justice of Israel’s cause — or, at the very least, the injustice of their disproportionate aversion towards the Jewish state.