Last month, at the Chicago Dyke March (an annual LGBT Pride parade), several Jewish marchers were expelled from the march because they carried flags with Stars of David, reminiscent of the flag of Israel. The organizers of the march defended the move, declaring that that “Zionism is an inherently white-supremacist ideology” and that the flag of Israel is linked inextricably with “violent and discriminatory practices.”
The Jewish community, rightfully and understandably, went up in arms about it. Not only is a Star of David not the same as an Israeli flag, but the Israeli flag is not a symbol of imperialism or racism. It is the flag of the only Jewish state. It is the emblem of a people with legitimate national aspirations. It is the symbol of an extraordinary entity that sits at the centre of Jewish identity worldwide. Has Israel always been perfect? Of course not – even those of us who love the Jewish state have critical things to say about some of her policies and actions. But we can love Israel and carry its flag while holding a nuanced understanding of the country and what it represents.
Now the Jewish community is once again up in arms about a flag. Only this time, the tables are turned. Last week, Camp Solomon Schechter, a Jewish camp in Washington state connected with the Conservative Movement, welcomed a delegation from Kids 4 Peace, an interfaith initiative that brings together Israeli and Palestinian youth from Jerusalem to build connections, friendships, and peace. When the delegation arrived, the camp welcomed them by raising a Palestinian flag alongside the Israeli and American ones for the sake of a “teachable moment.”
The reaction to that move was so virulent and angry – some even accused the camp of abetting terrorism or being anti-Israel – that Camp Solomon Schechter almost immediately removed the flag and issued an apology for the “sadness and anger” that it caused.
I'll be the first to admit: I don't get it. Last month we were angry because our flag wasn’t being viewed with the nuance it deserved, but this month we’re angry because we can only view the Palestinian flag as a symbol of terrorism? Yes, the Palestinian flag is flown by terrorists who have done awful things. Yes, it was raised over the Temple Mount last week in a statement of defiance against Israel. These things are true, and deeply challenging. But what is also true is that a group of young people arrived as peacemakers and bridge-builders, and that they view that flag as a symbol of their legitimate national aspirations.
Here’s what Kids 4 Peace said about it on their blog:
To some, the Palestinian flag evokes the failure of past negotiations, continued hostility toward Israel, and a feeling that there is no partner for peace. At the same time, the Palestinian youth who came to camp are precisely those peace leaders who are reaching out to work with Israelis, to counter incitement, and build a new future on a foundation of mutual respect and understanding…. It is wrong to view all Palestinians as enemies of Israel or the Jewish people. That’s why Kids4Peace came to camp in the first place.
Flags are symbols. They only carry the meaning we assign them. As a Jew who loves Israel and who still believes in the 2-state solution, I want to encourage those who wish to build bridges, and to view their flag as a symbol of reconciliation rather than an emblem of war and hatred. Camp Solomon Schechter raised that flag in order to teach its campers about peace, understanding, and the possibility that we human beings can see beyond our differences. The organizers of the Chicago Dyke March could have learned a thing or two from them.