The Flag of Conflict


Even in this time of crisis, I am incredibly conflicted about the Israeli flag. 

I completely support Israel’s right to defend itself. To strike, and strike first, at those who intend to kill Jews. The intentions of those who live in Israel’s own backyard have become crystal clear to many in the world – a reality that has been obvious for decades for anyone who grew up in Israel.

But, I am deeply opposed to nationalism. Identity around a piece of land feels primitive to me. 

Yes, Jews should have a way to defend themselves, since the world has proven time and again that they’ll do little to protect anyone who is not their own citizen – this manifests in genocides and massacres of minorities all over the world on a constant basis. 

But this defense should be pragmatic. 

It need not root itself in a history 2,000 years old. It doesn’t matter that your ancestral origins were from the Middle East if every part of your DNA screams Eastern Europe. You might as well go a few thousand years further back and lay claim to Africa, where we all come from. 

It need not be on one of the most contested land on earth, surrounded by enemies, on badly defended borders. Couldn’t you have picked a place with more trees? More space? God, I’d wished you’d picked Uganda. Or even Alaska. Antisemitism would have undoubtedly remained around the world. Pissing off Muslims by occupying land they used to occupy? Such a dumb move.

It need not root itself in belief or practice. Hitler killed non-religious Jews. He killed people who were only Jewish on their father’s side. There’s no need to inherently uphold Jewish practice, laws, or traditions to sustain the Jews ability to defend itself. Letting a minority group of Orthodox sit on the sidelines and study ancient books while forcing primitive laws on the masses is absurd. By all means sing the songs and eat the food, but don’t pretend that this is a core part of what you need to defend yourself. 

It need not root itself in some unique premise of Jewish uniqueness or superiority, the neverending “Jews have made outsized contributions to civilization.” You mean specifically Secular, Ashkenazi Jews who left most of their primitive beliefs behind? If that’s your clause, maybe you should leave Sefardi and religious Jewish out of it?

By all means defend yourself. But fuck, this was a dumb way to do it.

And, as I’ve said before, don’t pretend you had a right to this land. The entitlement of Europeans showing up in a foreign land and claiming it as their own is a colonial act, although one that is certainly not unique to Israel. Israel should not be held any more accountable for its colonial history than the US, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, or Turkey. Let’s not even mention England who fucked the world up more than almost any other country combined. But, having a little perspective, and removing religious entitlement from the equation, will go a long way in understanding and validating the Palestinian perspective. 

As an aside, because I’ve been accused of not being overt enough about this and only criticizing religious Judaism: fuck fundamentalist Islam. Fuck fundamentalist Christianity. Fuck any religion that puts the word of God above basic human decency, that looks to anything but their own conscious to determine what is wrong and right. And therefore, fuck fundamentalist Judaism too, which attributes outsized importance to a barren pile of dirt because “God promised it to you.”

My parents failed to instill inherent Jewish identity in me, because they tied my identity so closely with religion. Tradition was not upheld for sentimental, feel-good reasons, it was kept because God said so. This land was important not because it was part of some long-held Jewish dream (which I don’t think is enough to justify moving back anyway), but rather because it was a holy patch of land. So when I left religion behind, there was very little left. I should be proud because Hitler wanted to kill me? What a dumb thing to fixate on.

Again, especially because tensions are high, I’ll reiterate that Hamas should be destroyed, and the average Palestinian civilian in Gaza is far more complicit than the average Israeli in condoning violence – both in celebrating the deaths of innocent civilians (something that the average Israeli systematically does not do), being opposed to peace, and voting for Hamas in the first place.

This is not the place for moral equivalency. The average Palestinian is far less open to peace than the average Israeli, as has been demonstrated in the Palestinian behaviors during multiple peace attempts, and in the types of violence they engage in. 

But that damn flag. 

It represents Jewish identity (what does that mean?), culture (I have bad associations), religion (fuck that), genetics (inarguable), nationalism (this is a really lame piece of dirt to be fighting over), colonialism (usually denied), entitlement (bad), pride (good, but I don’t relate to it), all rolled into one. I don’t know how to navigate something so nuanced with something so blunt.

Can I have half a flag? One blue stripe and maybe a triangle? 

Can we rename it something other than the Star of David, since David was a barbaric asshole? 

Can it be an eight-pointed Star of Peace or something?1

Symbols are helpful. Simple symbols convey points clearly and effectively. But Israel and Jewish identity is anything but simple, and I resent needing to pick a side.

  1. Some interesting historical info I discovered on Wikipedia is Herzl’s original proposal was for a flag completely devoid of any traditional Jewish symbolism: “We have no flag, and we need one. If we desire to lead many men, we must raise a symbol above their heads. I would suggest a white flag, with seven golden stars. The white field symbolizes our pure new life; the stars are the seven golden hours of our working-day. For we shall march into the Promised Land (Me: da fuq Herzel, promised by who?) carrying the badge of honour.” 

    In May 1948, the Provisional State Council asked the Israeli public to submit proposals for a flag and they received 164 entries. Initially the council had wished to abandon the traditional design of the Zionist flag and create something completely different, but they ultimately didn’t go through with this.
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