Recapture the Israeli Flag

Moderate Israelis cannot let Israel's most powerful symbols be dragged though the mud.

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 Israeli flag  on a hill near the West Bank settlement of Elazar, near Bethlehem.
Israeli flag on a hill near the West Bank settlement of Elazar, near Bethlehem.Credit: Reuters

At an intersection on Highway 6 the other day I bought a flag. I put it on the car window and drove on. A friend of mine who saw the flag asked, what’s with the flag? I said it’s for Independence Day.

He looked at me with wonder and said he wouldn't dream of displaying a flag this year. He said the flag has in recent years become a symbol of occupation and oppression. He said the rightists and hilltop youths brandish it whenever they pass through Palestinian villages in the territories after committing pogroms. I cannot identify with such a symbol my friend announced and went off gruffly.

Anyone strolling the streets of Tel Aviv will find that the number of flags on cars has decreased drastically and so has the number of flags hanging from balconies. Once, I remember well, our parents would take special care to decorate the balcony for Independence Day. They used to hang ornaments on it, put up strings of flags and even have special lighting installed. Today, there isn’t one balcony like that in Tel Aviv. Today, hoisting the flag is like wearing a label declaring you're a radical nationalist. A person who is moderate, liberal or leftist avoids it.

The occupation has successfully robbed us of both the flag and Independence Day. The left has surrendered rather than trying to infuse the flag with its own humane values. It gave up the flag without a fight.

The flag isn’t the only thing that was stolen from us. There are people trying to rob us of Holocaust Remembrance Day as well. For decades, Holocaust Remembrance Day was a day of remembering and identifying with the worst suffering of all. It was a day on which we tried to understand the crime that the mind cannot grasp, an unprecedented event in the history of mankind, a satanic plan to eliminate an entire nation, a plan that almost succeeded.

But now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has confiscated Holocaust Remembrance Day from us as well and turned it into his central propaganda tool. On one occasion, he says the European states have no right to criticize us on the settlements, because they stood by during the Holocaust. On another, he tries to mobilize the world against Iran, arguing that it is planning a second Holocaust for us with an atom bomb. In one speech, he attacks Hamas as a Holocaust denier, and in another, he suspends the negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas because he’s leading reconciliation with Hamas, which is trying, according to the prime minister, to create another Holocaust.

It's no accident that there’s only a week’s gap between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day and Independence Day. The three holidays are tied together with a knot that cannot be severed.

The Western powers didn’t lift a finger during World War II to stop the Nazi liquidation machine — they didn’t even bomb the railway tracks leading to the Auschwitz death camp. Without the resulting global guilt, we wouldn’t have gained a majority in the United Nations for the Partition Plan for Palestine of November 1947.

Without the guilt, we wouldn’t have received critical aid in the difficult hours of the War of Independence. Without 6 million Jewish deaths, the European states would have imposed paralyzing economic sanctions on us long ago. They are disgusted by the settlement and occupation policy.

Every head of state that comes to Israel is taken to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center, and for good reason. After a person sees the horrors with his own eyes, it’s much harder for him to vote against Israel.

And it’s also clear that without the thousands of victims of Israel’s wars, to whom Memorial Day is dedicated, we wouldn’t be here. So there’s a tight connection between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day, which both lead to Independence Day.

But all this doesn’t give Netanyahu permission to rob us of the pain of Holocaust Remembrance Day and turn it into his main political instrument. We must also not let the Yitzhar hoodlums rob us of the flag and the joy of Independence Day. How can we be Israelis without these two symbols?

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