On a Sunday each spring, Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue is filled with thousands of marchers, accompanied by local and Israeli politicians, who proudly wave Israeli flags in the Celebrate Israel Parade.
This parade is part of an important Israeli policy to strengthen the bond between Jewish communities around the world and Israel. The Israeli government even increased its efforts and established a special government ministry, the Diaspora Ministry, whose entire role is to deepen the ties between Israel and world Jewry.
These connections that we cultivate between the nation-state of the Jewish people and the Jewish Diaspora around the world do not threaten the American administration, nor any other democratic government. It is clear to everyone that the Israeli flag, which for many Jews in the world represents the peoplehood to which they belong, does not contradict their civic loyalty, each to his own country.
This important line between personal identity and civic loyalty was crossed only a few times in the past, the most famous of which was the Jonathan Pollard affair, when Israeli representatives acted irresponsibly and exploited Pollard’s Jewish affinity for Israel to bring him to spy on his country. But the exception does not indicate the rule that applies to the Jews of the United States and the whole world, many of whom are proud of their connection to Israel and all of whom continue to be loyal citizens of their countries.
But the same Israel that encourages Jews around the world to wave its flag in parades, synagogues and Jewish community houses is waging a war of attrition with another flag, the national flag of the Palestinian Arab minority within it. The same country that so wants to see its flag proudly raised by Jews around the world rips the Palestinian flag from the hands of its Palestinian Arab citizens and declares it as a non-grata flag in its territory.
Ben-Gvir prevents the public from waving Palestinian flags
THE DIRECTIVE of the National Security minister preventing the public waving of the Palestinian flag expresses a lack of national security from those who fear any sign of national or religious identity that is not theirs. It is the hysterical populist leadership that refuses to accept here what it encourages in other countries: that national attachment to one country is not opposed to civil loyalty to another. The Israeli extreme Right suffers from paranoia in relation to any national or religious symbol, sometimes it’s the Christmas tree and sometimes it’s the Palestinian flag but it’s always hatred of others and their symbols.
The flag of Palestine is not only the flag of the Palestinian Authority but also the flag of the Palestinian minority in Israel. Even if we rip and tear it, the identity it symbolizes will not disappear. Instead of fighting it, the government would do well to strengthen the economic, civil and social assimilation of the Palestinian minority into Israeli society.
It should continue the effort of the previous government in investing in Arab society, in strengthening the personal security, education and ability of young Arab men and women to integrate into the Israeli economy. The better the integration, the stronger the civil attachment of the Palestinian citizens of Israel will be to their country.
During the years in which I represented Israel as a diplomat in the US, I always felt proud to see the Israeli flag raised next to the American flag. I would feel the same pride to see my country respect and acknowledge the Palestinian cultural identity of its many Arab citizens.
The perception that the Palestinian flag is contrary to the Israeli identity originates from the desire to eliminate the Palestinian people and their identity. It is no coincidence that those on the Right waging a flag war are the same leaders who refuse to recognize the Palestinians’ right to a state.
The flag of Palestine can and should fly alongside the flag of Israel as the flags of two neighboring countries. Until then, all attempts to fight it will fail because national pride is stronger than any legislation or instruction of a minister.
The writer is the executive director of J Street Israel.