Sunday, July 04, 2021

Seeing an Israeli or Palestinian Flag is Not a License for a Tantrum

There's a picture circulating on social media of a Starbucks displaying a small chalk drawing of a Palestinian flag and the following message:

We've come a long way but there's still work to be done. We stand in solidarity as allies.

As far as messages go, that's pretty banal. And the flag is nothing more than a flag.

But boy are some people throwing a tantrum about this.

Moments like these I'm glad I can search through my archives and find my already-shared thoughts on how to respond to such a "controversy" involving the public display of Palestinian (or Israeli, for that matter) flags. Because, perhaps unsurprisingly, we've already had moments where people have alleged that the mere presence of an Israeli or Palestinian flag is unbearably "political", represents tacit endorsement of oppressive or hateful politics, has no place in a public setting that holds itself out as open to all, and can and should be justifiably extirpated for their comfort.

What did I say to people who pushed that view? Oh right: "Suck it up." 

When you treat the existence of symbols of Israel or Palestine as an offense, what you're doing is treating the existence of Israel or Palestine as an offense. Some people are at least forthright about that; they are open that when they object to a food truck because it has a Hebrew name and sells Israeli food, it's because they object to Israel existing, period. Good for them for being honest, I guess. But others do a song and dance about how that's not the problem, but this is political, it's politicizing, it's taking sides, they have no problem with Palestine or Palestinians or Israel or Israelis but this is just so gosh darn controversial and people will get upset!

Nobody is fooled. Nobody should be fooled. If you're sitting in North America and the mere sight of an Israeli or Palestinian flag sends you into paroxysms of anxiety and panic, you have not uncovered an objective political crisis, you have uncovered your own need to develop better self-soothing techniques. Period. If you see a store and there's a small chalk drawing of an Israeli or Palestinian flag and an anodyne message about how we're "allies" but there's more "work to be done", and you feel some sort of way about it, do us all a favor and sort yourself out privately and quietly. Stop making your neurosis our problem.

The fact is, nobody is helped by throwing a tantrum about this. Well, I take that back -- some people are helped: the people who promote a narrative where displaying even the most basic symbology of Israel or Palestine is tantamount to an act of war against the other, where public acknowledgment of -- the existence of -- Israel or Palestine alone is the front line of a maximalist, eliminationist battle. The people pushing that narrative are very aware of what they're doing when they set off the sirens. Sometimes their target is a barista in Canada, sometimes it's a food truck in Philly; sometimes it's a café in San Francisco, sometimes it's a camp in Washington. Every time one mans the barricades over this -- even (especially?) if it's because "well, that's what they're doing" -- that's the narrative one reinforces. And fear and antagonism get retrenched, and just co-existence gets a little further away.

Again, some people at least have the honesty to own their desires on that front. But don't pretend like it's doing anything else.

For the rest of us, we have another option: we can Just. Not. Do This. That's a choice! We can choose not to throw a tantrum! We're not obliged to! Really, we're free to just ignore this and move about our day! I cannot tell you how liberating it is to not feel the need to set off klaxons every time one sees anything that expresses affinity for Israel or Palestine in a manner that doesn't come attached to a six-paragraph essay assuring everyone that its overall political agenda is identical to one's own. And better still, the more one normalizes that the mere existence of an Israeli flag is not a tacit means of threatening Palestinians, or the mere existence of a Palestinian flag is not a tacit means of threatening Israelis, the easier it will be to get to a world where Israel and Palestine do exist, side-by-side, and the presence of one is not viewed as a threat to the other. If that's your goal, and not the maximalist eliminationism narrative above, then ceasing viewing basic Israeli or Palestinian political symbols as threats is a prerequisite for getting where you say you want to go.

In short: just behave like a normal, well-adjusted adult, and I assure you your life and the lives of everyone around you -- including the people you think you're "helping" -- will get so, so much better.


LWE said...

Having an Israeli flag (as opposed to a simple Magen David) with "there's more work to be done" would be pretty strange - would the point be that the US needs to be more supportive of Israel?

David Schraub said...

It could mean all sorts of things relating to a broader sense that our relationship and our shared ambitions as allies remains a work in progress.