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April 26, 2012 2:42 pm

The Essence and Importance of the National Flag

avatar by Aharon Pulver

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United Nations member flags outside headquarters in Manhattan. Photo: wiki commons.

Any student of vexillology (scholarly study of flags) can tell you that the Danes have it over the Jews. Yes, the Danes.

Danish citizens fly what is, arguably, the oldest national flag in continual use by a nation state today.   A red flag with a cross design, which represents Christianity, is flown with great pride everywhere in Denmark.

Moreover, the Danish flag, with its simple and bold Christian motif, is the model upon which all Scandinavian flags are based. Countless other territories and dependent political entities from the Faroe Islands to the Shetlands use the same stylistic, clearly religious, Scandinavian cross.

The list of national flags with Christian motifs extends further than the above. The newly-independent Republic of Georgia has no less than five crosses on its national flag, and the fabled Union Jack of Great Britain was created from three crosses; one for the union of England and Wales, one for the Scots and one for the Irish.

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The Greeks have one on their flag and the Swiss and Tongans as well.  Not to mention five U.S. states (Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, and Mississippi).  Yes, in the land of separation of church and state. A multitude of national flags display religious symbols, be they Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu. And today there is even one that is Jewish.

In the long years of our diaspora, Jews, as patriotic citizens, of the countries they resided, have saluted a myriad of flags, whether or not they had Christian motifs. Jews have proudly fought and died for those nations without regard to the religious nature of the symbols of state.

They clearly understood that participation in the life and defense of the state and seeking its welfare was a key to justifiable demands of minority freedom and equality. The equality Jews sought, and all too often died for, would never include demands to denude their host countries of their symbols of national identity.

Such is the life of a patriot born to a minority religious group.

Yet, here and now, after a 2,000 year hiatus filled with horror, the only nation state with Jewish national symbols has among its own majority and minority populations, not insignificant groups bent on changing the symbols of the nation as a prelude to changing its very character and essence. Changing our national symbols are part of the broad anti-Israel agenda, which seeks a “state of all its citizens” as but a first step towards the destruction of Israel as we know and love it.

Rather than discussing why we should change our national symbols, our flag, our state seal or our national anthem to satisfy a marginal political group or a religious/ethnic minority, or a group that is hostile to our national aspirations, we should ask why anyone would seek to change the symbols of state held dear by the majority that affords us all the liberties and freedom its neighbors can only dream of, if they ever dream of the extension of political rights at all.

One may ask how Jews in Florida have not demanded that their state flag be changed to better represent their relatively large numbers. Is Florida not a “state of all its citizens?”

How many Greek Jews refused to serve in the Hellenic Armed Forces when their country was invaded by the Italians in World War II because they would have to salute a cross?

How many British Jews refuse to proudly display the Union Jack in their synagogues or on their homes upon the occasion of a royal event?

How many Finnish Jews petition the Finnish High Court to change that nation’s national symbols, including the presidential flag, which has a stylized swastika in the canton?

Israel’s national symbols correctly reflect the sentiments of the Jewish people and the vast majority of Israel’s citizens. Our flag is a clear statement concerning the essence of our nation and is based upon the stripes of a Tallit with a prominent Magen David, all reminiscent of the Biblical Techelet.

Interestingly the UK, Switzerland, and some of the Scandinavian nations, among many others, all of whom fly Christian national flags and have Christian national symbols, directly fund efforts in Israel to create NGOs which seek to delegitimize our inherent right to our national symbols.

Yet, if there was a movement among British Jews which had the temerity to demand changes in the Union Jack, a Christian banner if there ever was one, I would think that British patriots would reply that none are forced to stay and live in a nation they find politically, ethnically and/or religiously abhorrent with symbols they feel the need to disrespect and revile. If Turkish Jews demanded the removal of the Muslim crescent from that nation’s flag we can just imagine the ensuing pogrom.

Our flag, our state Seal, with its depiction of the Menorah and HaTikvah, our anthem, represent who we are and what we hold to be true and self- evident. It matters less to me if some refuse to fly it, to display it, or to sing it.

We will neither change them nor allow them to be debased. It is high time to state those parameters clearly.

That’s what’s in the flag!

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  • Zvi Ruder

    Dear Mr. Pulver,
    Recently, I came across your on-line article (above) regarding the significance of the symbolism of the national flag of Israel. As I have been very dealing with this subject for many, many years now, I would like to express my gratitude to you for illuminating the Israeli public about the great importance of our national symbols. I would like to establish a comminication / cooperation with you in this regard. If you are interested, can you please let me know your e-mail address so that I can write to you in more detail?
    Many thanks,

    Dr. Zvi Ruder,
    Massachussetts, US

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