The problem with flying the Palestinian flag over a Jewish summer camp
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"Waving the Palestinian flag over a Jewish summer camp is like waving a KKK hood in a black church."
I understand why Camp Solomon Schechter flew a Palestinian flag when welcoming the Palestinian- Jewish dialogue group kids4peace this summer.Such lovely outreach moments are political crack cocaine for liberal American Jews. Who wouldn’t want to come home with proof of your multiculturalism to reassure your non-Jewish friends that you didn’t spend your summer in the ghetto? What camp director could resist boasting to parents about the joys of watching Palestinian and Jewish kids bonding? What could be more reinforcing of American Jewry’s John Lennonist- vision that “the world will live as one?” Unfortunately, the world is ugly. And a Jewish camp flying a Palestinian flag when that flag has spurred the murders of 50 Jews and non-Jews in the past 18 months alone is an immoral act. It made the camp directors accomplices to murder.Flying a Palestinian flag over a Jewish camp is like waving a KKK hood in a black church – except that Palestinians have killed many more Jews than Klansmen have lynched blacks, especially lately.Such harsh words are justified because too much Palestinian nationalism dreams of destroying Israel rather than building Palestine. And essential to the Palestinians’ strategy since the 1970s has been seducing the world to tolerate their terrorism. It worked in the UN. It’s worked with the Europeans. And now it’s starting to work among liberal Jewish patsies. As long as that flag is waved to encourage demonizing Israel, slaughtering Jews, and the sick dream of destroying the Jewish state, waving it around should be understood as encouraging the terrorism that the Palestinian Authority, not just Hamas, incites constantly. American Jews are raised to believe with Elsa from Frozen to “let it go,” with Mary Poppins to add just a “spoon full of sugar,” and with Peter Pan that “All it takes is faith and trust.” Beyond this Disneyfied political ideology is a growing anger toward the mass media-produced caricature of “Netanyahu’s Israel,” rejecting Israel as aggressive, theocratic, expansionist.Palestinians – enabled by the Blame Israel Firsters – have a culture of finger-pointing that preys on our American Jewish culture of breast-beating. As a result, most American Jewish dialogues with Palestinians I have witnessed become one-sided attacks by Palestinians playing the victim card, triggering American Jewish guilt for being privileged (even when, on campus, the Palestinians kids moaning about their oppression are often wealthy aristocrats). I know far more cases of sincere Jewish kids who return from these encounters spouting Palestinian propaganda than I know of Palestinian kids coming back even acknowledging that Jews have valid collective rights. That’s because most Jewish kids have been trained to reach out, reconcile, apologize, absorb the narrative of the “other” – then blame their parents, their schools, the Jewish state, for the sins of existing and defending ourselves. Meanwhile, most of those Palestinian grandees sent to dialogue are programmed to accuse, exaggerate, shame, blame, complain and tell stories of suffering in the first person, whether true – or not.If the camp wanted to be multicultural, why didn’t it embrace the families of Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan, the two Druse police officers killed by terrorists rushing out of the Temple Mount this summer? If the camp wanted to engage in social activism, why didn’t it lobby the international community to force Hamas to return the body of Hadar Goldin, who was killed in Gaza three years ago? And if it wanted to advance the peace process, why didn’t it target the world’s naïve enabling of Palestinian incitement? I regret sounding so cynical. I wish I lived in a world where I could applaud exchanges with Palestinians confident that the exchanges would be mutual, honest, and not exploited by one side. I wish I lived in a world where the majority of Palestinians accepted our collective rights as Jews to exist – just as most Jews now accept Palestinians’ collective rights.In that world, I would encourage Jewish camp directors to wave the Palestinian flag envisioning what the world could be. Alas, we live in a world in which Palestinians waved that flag to encourage massacres at the Munich Olympics in the 1970s, and suicide bombings in the 1990s, and are now waving that flag to celebrate Palestinians stabbing and ramming Jews and non-Jews over illusory encroachments on the Temple Mount.In this world, therefore, the thought of Yasser Arafat’s flag, Hamas’s flag, flying over Jewish space disgusts me. I have no problem seeing Palestinian flags fly over autonomous cities in the West Bank. When I see those flags, I hope that nationalist movement – which isn’t going away – matures into a force for peace. But until more Palestinian peacemakers wave that flag, Jews should avoid actions that seem to encourage these killers.Liberalism itself didn’t always mandate debasing yourself to make peace or embracing postmodernism to negate nationalism. Franklin Roosevelt liberals fought Nazis. John Kennedy liberals fought Communists.Martin Luther King, Jr. liberals fought racists.Golda Meir liberals fought Arab rejectionists. Theirs was a brawny liberalism. It inspired them to fight for what was right, with dignity and moral clarity.The camp staffers apologized for their amoral misfire.But the move reflects a deeper ideological malaise.If Israeli Jews sometimes are too connected to their connectedness, American Jews are too open to their openness. A community which cannot distinguish friends from enemies is lost. Momma Troy’s warning still holds: openness is lovely – within limits. But if you’re too open-minded, your brains fall out.The writer is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. His forthcoming book, The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg’s classic work, will be published by The Jewish Publication Society in Spring 2018. He is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.