Israeli leaders are going crazy over the display of Palestinian flags– of course, because Israel is a Jewish state not a democracy, and Palestinians who don’t buy in must be suppressed.
In recent weeks, I’ve sought to press the crisis inside the American Jewish community over what Israel has become, because events have highlighted the state’s inherent racism in fresh, symbolic ways:
–The utter official indifference in Israel to the killing of a prominent Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, and the police attack on her funeral because mourners flew Palestinian flags
–The nauseating flag march through Jerusalem in which Jewish children chanted “Death to Arabs” and “Shireen is dead,” at which there were dozens of assaults on Palestinians, but only two Jews were arrested — a march that reminded even a hardline Zionist of the onset of fascism in Europe
–The paranoia expressed by Israel’s “centrist” Defense Minister, a Biden hero, over Palestinians supposedly taking over the country
–The vicious rage expressed by a former Foreign Minister toward young Palestinians who fly their flag. Ask your parents about “your Nakba,” he warns, it will come again.
I’m not even talking about the killings of Palestinian children, but flags. And now the Israeli parliament is expected to pass a bill to outlaw the display of “enemy” flags, including the Palestinian one, at institutions that accept state funds.
The “extreme overreaction” of the flag bill and the attack on Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral have left Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum deeply chagrined. Koplow is an intellectual leader of the Israel lobby; his job is to provide the U.S. establishment the positive spin on that plucky democracy and keep the support flowing. Now even Koplow concedes that Zionism may have failed.
If waving a flag threatens Israel’s existence, then not only is Israel in far bigger trouble than anyone understands, but Zionism itself has failed. The success of Israel is not only in its establishment, but in the fact that it has become a military, economic, and cultural powerhouse. Protestors waving Palestinian flags and mourners displaying them at funerals does not threaten Israel’s sovereignty or security in any tangible way, and to think otherwise betrays a deep and unwarranted sense of insecurity about Israel’s durability and legitimacy. Palestinians are subject to Israeli control in ways large and small and don’t have many outlets for expressing their nationalism or symbolically demonstrating their freedom; honing in on flags says far more about Israeli predilections than it does about Palestinian ones.
Koplow acknowledges a crazy reality that Palestinian advocates seek to convey all the time in the U.S. and the Israel lobby seeks to obfuscate: On one side is a nuclear state with the most powerful military in the Middle East, on the other a people under occupation with boys with slingshots. And the nuclear state feels vulnerable!
Israel has a state and is operating from a position of power, and Palestinians do not have a state and are operating from a position of weakness. That structural imbalance should in theory make Israelis less sensitive to the symbolic aspects of Israeli and Palestinian nationalism, but it doesn’t. The fact of Israel’s existence and Israel’s strength—not only relative to the Palestinians but in absolute terms—has not appreciably lessened Israelis’ insecurities, and Palestinian flags are still treated in many instances as physical threats that somehow have the ability to snuff out Zionism or Israel’s existence.
Others have described this insecurity as a national psychosis fostered by Zionist mythology of victimization. It is not going away; the instability is inherent in the fact that Israel is undemocratic. The Jewish governments only get more rightwing by the year, and more consumed with the threats posed by the millions of Palestinians who don’t buy in. Nearly 80 years ago Hannah Arendt predicted that by blinding themselves to Palestinian existence, Zionists were doomed to degenerate into a militarized Sparta surrounded by enemies.
The ‘victorious’ Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded into ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests and activities.
It has all come to pass, including Israel’s utter dependence on the Koplows of the world to maintain its standing among world powers. And though Koplow tries to play Solomon and split the baby in his column, this discussion is now going in one direction in the American Jewish community. We will see more and more supporters say No mas! and slip away. Sadly, it’s taking a long time.