The Israeli Right’s Obsession With Flags

The fact that the right gets so worked up about the Palestinian flag merely adds to the flag’s legitimacy and drives a deeper discussion of the issue

Israeli Arabs hold a Palestinian flag during a protest against the nation-state law in Tel Aviv, August 11, 2018.
Ariel Schalit,AP

“They shot themselves in the flag,” wrote Ben-Dror Yemini, the national nudnik, on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth after Saturday night’s protest in Tel Aviv, organized by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in cooperation with civil society organizations. I thought he should be told that what we need most is to be protected from the shots of him and his friends, which are aimed at the heart of the struggle for peace, equality and democracy.

The signal for the battle against the demonstration was given a few hours before it even began. Liat Regev, a presenter on Kan Bet public radio, was apparently possessed by the demon of the Palestinian flag: She made sure to mention the Palestinian flags that might be flown at the rally at the start of every question, in the middle of it and even at the start of her follow-up questions. It happened when she interviewed Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, and again when she interviewed Mazen Ghanaim, head of the council of Arab mayors.

Later, as part of its flag campaign, a Kan Bet reporter went to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to hunt for Palestinian flags. Here’s a flag, here’s two or three more. Congratulations! The people of Israel have been saved! Kan Bet has exposed the demonstrators’ true faces; it turns out many of them are Palestinians!

This joint assault on the demonstration is no accident. One could easily imagine that, just as the security cabinet meets to discuss an attack on the Gaza Strip, the “malice cabinet” met to prepare a similar attack on a demonstration that is steadily gaining in popularity among Arabs and Jews alike, and even among members of Zionist Union, the party of the racist right’s two gatekeepers — Avi Gabbay and Tzipi Livni.

Given this assault, I prayed that Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai would refrain from lighting up City Hall in the colors of the Palestinian flag. Who knows, perhaps some general — possessed, like Liat Regev, by the flag demon — would suddenly decide to destroy the building, just as the army did to a building in Gaza a few days ago, leaving Huldai to run the city’s affairs from a booth on the sidewalk.

And then I thought that actually, when the right gets so worked up about the Palestinian flag, it merely adds to the flag’s legitimacy and drives a deeper discussion of the issue. That, after all, is what happened with the Nakba: The more the right strove to uproot this term, the more embedded it became in the public conversation.

The paths of history don’t run straight. The demonstration’s organizers sensibly sought to focus on the nation-state law. But along came the right with a demand that they show all their cards and play the game open-face. Come right in! After all, in this country, even when you want to discuss the quality of zucchini grown by Arab farmers, you have to state your loyalty to the nation-state, curse the Palestinian flag and distort history to make it fit the Zionist narrative.

So look. In light of the hysteria, we’re willing to do an accounting. Write this down: Five hundred Jewish villages weren’t destroyed under the four-color Palestinian flag, nor were hundreds of thousands of people expelled from their homes.

Nevertheless, with all due respect to the influence of the national nudniks and the tools at their disposal — newspapers, radio and television stations — they’re ultimately last year’s men. They look wretched in comparison to the natural beauty that flowed like clear water through the streets of Tel Aviv.

Yes, this was the essence of beauty, when Arabs from the Negev in their traditional dress marched with head held high alongside young Arabs and Jews singing in Hebrew and Arabic, naturally. Yes, on Saturday, optimism flooded Tel Aviv.

Behold, after 70 years, a very broad Jewish-Arab community has arisen that wants to unite over substantive issues. On Saturday, this community came out of the closet. It’s fed up with the fact that every time we said Jews and Arabs should join hands, every dispute since the dawn of creation was brought up. A new generation has been born, for which unity between the two peoples is the most self-evident of truths.