Israel’s flag was once a consensus and it should be again - opinion

The question of the national flag continues to create storms of controversy.

 SHARON ROFFE OFIR speaks in the Knesset. (photo credit: The MirYam Institute)
SHARON ROFFE OFIR speaks in the Knesset.
(photo credit: The MirYam Institute)

Israel’s flag was once a national consensus, in the same way that the national anthem and Hebrew are. The time has come for the flag to once again play the same role. A national flag should not be an expression of one political stance or another; but rather, the symbol of the state.

So how did the Israeli flag turn into a controversial issue over the years here in Israel? A flag that is raised proudly by one sector of society, but less so by another?

Israel recently celebrated 74 years of independence. Its founders selected the young state’s flag and anthem close to the time of independence, following discussions and feedback from the public. Tens of proposals were examined before the current flag was chosen.

Soon afterward, in 1949, the young Knesset passed the Flag, Symbol, and Anthem Law, which has seen multiple amendments over the years. One of those amendments, passed in 1997, determined, among other things, that the Israeli flag should be flown at government buildings and every public and educational institution.

In 1992, when I studied for my BA at the University of Haifa, I was surprised to see there was no Israeli flag flying prominently over the university building. When students asked why there was no flag, we received a strange answer: To avoid offending the feelings of Arab students.

 People hold up Israeli flags at the annual Jerusalem Day flag march. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) People hold up Israeli flags at the annual Jerusalem Day flag march. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Years later

20 later and the question of the national flag continues to create storms of controversy. The public recently saw an absurd sight: Under the pretense of freedom of expression, PLO flags have been proudly displayed in demonstrations held by students at Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University in Beersheba.

Imagine students proudly raising the ISIS flag at a leading American university or a group of Israelis demonstrating with Israeli flags in the heart of the Gaza Strip.

In Israel, this is not in the realm of the imaginary, it is reality. The excuse that this is a democracy simply does not hold up, since in other democratic states, waving the enemy’s flag is something that simply does not happen.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said in response to events that he is unwilling to accept incidents such as that which took place at Ben Gurion University. He instructed his ministry to examine the university’s conduct and seek to cut its budget following the Nakba Day demonstration held on its premises. Liberman said the university’s conduct harmed national and Jewish values that legislation has sought to protect.

Days later, the Jerusalem Day flag march took place, attracting a record number of marchers. One year ago, under the rule of former Prime Minister Netanyahu, the route of the march was diverted and marchers carrying the Israeli flag were ordered to pass through the Old City’s Jaffa Gate instead of the Damascus Gate; nevertheless, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Israel. Those developments speak for themselves.

In our country, there is only room for one flag: the Israeli flag. In this sense, Israel is no different from the rest of the world. Western states feature common ethical foundations and minorities in such countries understand that harming these values constitutes the crossing of a red line. This fact does not contradict the text of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which states that the country “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture.”

74 years after the establishment of Israel, the time has come for us to understand that political maneuvers should not come at the expense of the flag.

The writer is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. She is a former Knesset Member on behalf of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and served as the deputy head of the Kiryat Tivon Regional Council. She is a former journalist.