The directors of a Jewish overnight camp in the Pacific Northwest thought it might be nice to welcome their Palestinian guests by flying the Palestinian flag. Little were they prepared for the backlash to their gesture of goodwill.
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The flag flying took place as part of a delegation meeting of American and Palestinian campers participating in Kids4Peace, a Jerusalem-based coexistence program, who spent a few days at Camp Solomon Schechter in Washington state as part of their summer activities.
In an email to parents on Friday, the camp directors explained that the decision to fly a Palestinian flag was meant to provide a “teachable moment” and serve “as a sign of friendship and acceptance.”
At the same time, they acknowledged, that not all took kindly to this gesture of goodwill. “It was met with uncertainty by some campers and staff, especially the Israelis,” the email said.
Hoping to “relieve the sadness and anger that some feel at the sight of the flag,” the directors reported that they had agreed to take it down.
But that did not calm things down. Many took to social media to express their dissatisfaction. Controversial anti-Islam activist, Pamela Geller, wrote: "Flying the Palestinian [flag at a] Jewish day school camp is akin to flying the Nazi flag and at German Jewish day school in 1938. Has a Jewish flag ever flown over a Muslim school or camp? Ever?"
Another group, the right-wing New Jewish Defense League's NYC chapter wrote that the flag flying is partly how young American Jews are being "indoctrinated to be self hating Jews."
On Sunday Camp Solomon Schechter issued a full-blown apology on its Facebook page, that it has since taken down. Here is the text of that post:
We sincerely apologize that we upset some in our CSS and larger Jewish community by introducing the Palestinian flag into our educational program. Camp Solomon Schechter reiterates our unwavering support for the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland. This past week at Camp Solomon Schechter we hosted Kids 4 Peace an organization that works to create peace through youth leadership and friendship. We hosted a group of 14 children, including Christian and Muslim Palestinian children. Every morning here at camp, we raise the US, Canadian and Israeli flags. For the 2 days that our guests were here, we demonstrated the Jewish value of Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming guests), and raised the Palestinian flag along with the other flags after they requested this and parents were informed. Camp Solomon Schechter is a proud Zionist and pro-Israel camp. We honor the Israeli Army and Israeli people on a daily basis at CSS. Our goal was to create a safe space for all, and begin dialogue among the next generation."
The Facebook apology generated another round of responses, exposing the deep divisions in the Jewish community about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“By saying Palestinian flag you are saying there is a state of Palestine, when there is none, nor will there ever be,” wrote one commenter.
Another wrote that while the decision to raise a Palestinian flag at the camp was “clumsy,” at least it was a “well-intentioned and loving step away from the inculcation and towards teaching kids to seek a more nuanced, thoughtful path to peace.”
A woman who identified herself as a former camper and mother of a current camper used the Yiddish term “Yosher Koach” [kudos] to congratulate the directors for “walking the walk and leading by example.”