POLITICS

As Israel turns 75, its flag unfurls into deep divisions

Apr 24, 2023, 11:41 PM

Israeli demonstrators are seen through Israel's national flag during a protest against plans by Pri...

Israeli demonstrators are seen through Israel's national flag during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Cesarea, Israel, Friday, March 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL (AP) — It’s become an unmistakable hallmark of the anti-government protests roiling Israel for the last few months: the country’s blue and white national flag adorned with the Star of David.

To an outside observer, that may not be surprising, as the demonstrators say their struggle is over the very soul of the nation.

For most Jewish Israelis, the flag has been a potent symbol of their foundational narrative — of a nation that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust to build a modern-day miracle, with a strong military and at the forefront of technology.

However, those protesting now say that the flag has increasingly been co-opted by nationalists claiming to have greater legitimacy to decide the country’s character and its future.

As Israel marks 75 years since its creation, the protesters say they are turning that argument on its head by reclaiming the flag.

As flags are strewn across the country to mark Independence Day on Wednesday — along avenues and down skyscrapers, on military bases and in West Bank settlement outposts — the fight over the flag on the milestone anniversary has laid bare the country’s divisions everywhere you look.

With the protests awash in them, the flags have been a dominant image in the Israeli consciousness for months.

The protests erupted after the country’s most right-wing government in history announced its planned judicial overhaul, which critics say would imperil Israel’s democratic fundamentals. The government claims it is meant to rein in what it portrays as an interventionist legal system. The plan has plunged Israel into one of its worst domestic crises, exposing deeply rooted divisions and sending tens of thousands of people into the streets each week, even after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paused the overhaul because of the intense pressure.

There are other disagreements over the flag. Many of the country’s Palestinian citizens, who make up one-fifth of Israel’s 9.7 million people, do not feel represented by the flag — one of the reasons they have not joined the anti-government protests. For Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the flag is an emblem of a 56-year-old occupation that includes military control and increased settlement building, further dimming their hopes for an independent state. ___

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As Israel turns 75, its flag unfurls into deep divisions