Israel, Politics

In the diaspora, our peculiar view of the flag

If you’re Jewish and somehow still haven’t deleted your social media accounts (what are you waiting for?), you know so many things about Israeli flags and magens-david at queer marches in Chicago. So many things, in fact, that half the things you know contradict the other half, dooming you to a phased existence in a queer heartland multiverse of possibility, in which everyone is either antisemitic, anti-imperial, both, or neither.
Until now, this unkillable story has served primarily as an awesome and ever-present reminder that to be human in 2017 is to Log Off Forever. But this weekend, we’re finally reaching the catharsis of hypocrisy and epistemic closure towards which, we can now see, the “flag affair” has always been hurtling.
This perfect, Roth-esque moment of American Jewish pietism comes to us courtesy of Washington State’s Solomon Schechter camp–specifically, the apparently freewheeling approach of its leadership to international politics, which led to the no-doubt-awesome spectacle of a Conservative movement camp hoisting the national liberation flag of Palestine alongside the American and Israeli flags this weekend. What could possibly go wrong?
Ok, we’re having fun, but more sincerely for a moment–our hearts go out to the camp staff and the Kids 4 Peace organizers, who seem to have thought this gesture would be understood as a sign of empathy and openness to visiting Muslim and Christian Palestinian youth. As events bore out, this was a wildly naive set of assumptions, but clearly they were adopted with genuine goodwill, and even bravery.
But of course, after vigorous protest from parents of campers, the camp had to pull the flag down and issue several apologies, being careful to assure all concerned that it was sufficiently Zionist and therefore not worth attacking (any longer) in the right-wing press.
And that’s sort of the end of it, except for the remarkable coverage of the Jewish press, specifically the Forward, regarding the significance of the Palestinian flag. Here’s their “just the facts” reportage: “Parents who responded to the apology on Facebook were…angry that the camp would raise the flag waved in support of terrorists carrying out attacks against Jews.”
There you have it. The Israeli flag can’t possibly be perceived as a symbol of aggression or war crimes, and to claim so is fundamentally antisemitic. Simultaneously, the Palestinian national flag can’t even be understood as a national symbol, but merely as a prop for terrorists, with no other possible meaning or value.
Outside of posting yet another thinkpiece on Israeli flags at demonstrations (sorry), could there be anything more banal than pointing out our communal hypocrisy on Israel-Palestine? Yet it somehow does feel worth noting this time, perhaps just to appreciate the supreme irony. For all of us reading already know that the individuals outraged at a Palestinian flag at Jewish camp are also 100% outraged that the Israeli flag isn’t welcome at progressive demonstrations.
The epistemic closure truly is complete and perfect. So many American Jews can’t or won’t understand that periodic mass civilian casualties in Gaza, and constant human rights abuses there as well as the West Bank, are not forgotten by the world, and are associated with the Israeli flag. Simultaneously, so many of us can’t or won’t understand the legitimacy of Palestinian national aspirations, even in their most anodyne form. And our Jewish press is right there with us every step of the way, making it easy to remain closed off.

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