June 6, 2022


THE FUROR AND FALLOUT FROM FLAGS (Michael J. Koplow, 6/02/22, Israel Policy Forum)

[D]espite the similar functions that celebrating the flag serves on both sides, there is one big difference. Israel has a state and is operating from a position of power, and Palestinians do not have a state and are operating from a position of weakness. That structural imbalance should in theory make Israelis less sensitive to the symbolic aspects of Israeli and Palestinian nationalism, but it doesn't. The fact of Israel's existence and Israel's strength--not only relative to the Palestinians but in absolute terms--has not appreciably lessened Israelis' insecurities, and Palestinian flags are still treated in many instances as physical threats that somehow have the ability to snuff out Zionism or Israel's existence.

Cohen's bill to make it illegal to display a Palestinian flag in universities is a response to a rally that took place last week at Ben Gurion University and was organized after students were not allowed to hold one on Nakba Day. Students, who according to reports were mostly Arab Israeli but included some Israeli Jews as well, waved Palestinian flags and sang Palestinian songs and some held up peace signs. The response from Israeli politicians was overwhelmingly negative. Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman called for Ben Gurion's state funding to be cut off, the mayor of Beersheva said that the rally crossed a red line, New Hope MK Sharon Haskell deemed any display of a Palestinian flag to be incitement, and the Likud issued a statement linking the appearance of Palestinian flags at this rally to the government's alleged inability to fight terrorism or preserve Zionism. Cohen's bill, despite being one introduced by the opposition, was granted a seal of approval by the government's Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which said that coalition MKs were free to vote their conscience rather than maintain the ordinary coalition discipline that would dictate voting against it, and Yamina, New Hope, and Yisrael Beiteinu all voted for it yesterday.

If all of this seems like an extreme overreaction to a national flag, that's because it is. If waving a flag threatens Israel's existence, then not only is Israel in far bigger trouble than anyone understands, but Zionism itself has failed. The success of Israel is not only in its establishment, but in the fact that it has become a military, economic, and cultural powerhouse. Protestors waving Palestinian flags and mourners displaying them at funerals does not threaten Israel's sovereignty or security in any tangible way, and to think otherwise betrays a deep and unwarranted sense of insecurity about Israel's durability and legitimacy. Palestinians are subject to Israeli control in ways large and small and don't have many outlets for expressing their nationalism or symbolically demonstrating their freedom; honing in on flags says far more about Israeli predilections than it does about Palestinian ones. The fact that Israel is now worried about Palestinian flags when twenty years ago Israel was worried about Palestinians with suicide vests is itself a demonstration of how much better Israel's position is, and how many inside of Israel are struggling with distinguishing between symbols of resistance that are actually violent threats and those that are not. 

Posted by at June 6, 2022 10:55 AM