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Of stars, stripes and red flags

Though the radicals’ sullying of patriotic icons is disconcerting, most Americans and Israelis celebrate their countries’ independence with fanfare.

The flags of Israel and the United States wave above a camp for U.S. service members supporting exercise Juniper Cobra at an Israeli Defense Forces site on Feb. 23, 2018. Credit: Sgt. Matthew Plew/U.S. Air Force.
The flags of Israel and the United States wave above a camp for U.S. service members supporting exercise Juniper Cobra at an Israeli Defense Forces site on Feb. 23, 2018. Credit: Sgt. Matthew Plew/U.S. Air Force.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was ridiculed on Sunday for a blooper in a tweet about the Fourth of July. In the post, which he has since deleted, the Jewish state’s top diplomat and alternate prime minister congratulated “our best friend” the United States on its 245 years of prosperity, liberty and freedom. “Israel has no closer ally than the U.S. and the U.S. has no better friend than Israel.”

To hit home the point, he punctuated the message with two flags: one Israeli and the other Liberian. In fairness, the latter has red-and-white stripes with a star on a blue background in the left-hand corner.

Nasty comments included remarks about Lapid’s not having finished high school. Responses from members of the opposition, especially those in former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, pointed out that had such a mistake been made by a Mizrahi politician, rather than an elite Ashkenazi one such as Lapid, the snobs on the left would have derided him or her mercilessly.

Meanwhile, the mockery of the Yesh Atid Party leader didn’t end with his mistaking the Liberian flag with Old Glory. In a subsequent video that made the rounds later in the day, Lapid was seen getting confused about the flag of his own country. Preparing a photo-op/press conference with visiting Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau, he first takes his place in front of the Canadian flag and then performs a little square dance with his counterpart to correct the error.

The jokes that ensued on social media were to be expected, though both mishaps, particularly the latter, could have happened to anyone.

The irony about the former is that the Liberian flag was purposely crafted to resemble that of the United States. The West African country, which gained independence and was established on July 26, 1847 by former slaves from the United States and the Caribbean, with the help of the government in Washington and the abolitionist American Colonization Society.

So, while Israelis got a good laugh at Lapid’s mix-up, it was one that ought to have made Liberians proud.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for today’s prominent counter-culture Americans, particularly the affluent and successful ones, who took the opportunity of Independence Day weekend to express their dim view of the Star-Spangled Banner and the country that it represents.

One such chutzpadik ingrate was Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.).

“When they say that the 4th of July is about American freedom, remember this: the freedom they’re referring to is for white people,” she tweeted.

“This land is stolen land and Black people still aren’t free,” added the latest addition to the sisterhood “Squad” of such paragons as House Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

Bush must have forgotten the success that she’s achieved while being a person of color. Ditto for a number of other notables who joined in the attack on the country in which they’re blessed to live and free to besmirch it.

The New York Times contributed its two cents by publishing a feature titled “A Fourth of July Symbol of Unity That May No Longer Unite.” The ostensibly balanced article looks at a town in Southold on Long Island, where residents tell of mixed experiences when it comes to the national emblem.

One such denizen, a self-described liberal with a potato truck, recounts almost losing a customer who thought that his display of the flag indicated support for the more unsavory elements of society. You know, like Republicans. Or worse, fans of former President Donald Trump’s.

“Thirteen stripes, a dusting of stars, the American flag has had infinite meanings over the 244 years since the country began flying one,” reporter Sarah Maslin Nir writes. “Raised at Iwo Jima, it was a symbol of victory. Lit on fire, it became a searing image of the protests against the Vietnam War. Ribboned around the twin towers on commemorative Sept. 11 lapel pins, it is a reminder of the threats against a delicate democracy.”

She goes on, “Politicians of both parties have long sought to wrap themselves in the flag. But something may be changing: Today, flying the flag from the back of a pickup truck or over a lawn is increasingly seen as a clue, albeit an imperfect one, to a person’s political affiliation in a deeply divided nation.”

She fails to mention, of course, that the “political affiliation” of those who did the flag-burning during the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations is the same as that of the person hesitant to purchase potatoes from a vendor paying tribute to the Fourth of July with an American flag on his vehicle.

The fact that public gestures of patriotism are associated more with the right than the left is nothing new. Nor is this phenomenon exclusive to the United States. In Israel, flag-waving has come to be equated with the settler movement.

Take, for example, the recent controversy surrounding the traditional Jerusalem Day “flag march,” an annual procession marking the liberation of the Holy City in the 1967 Six-Day War. The parade made up mostly of youths usually begins at Sacher Park and winds up at the Western Wall in the Old City.

This year, the anniversary coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, and the march was disrupted by eastern Jerusalem Arabs rioting against Jewish citizens and police, violence that—along with rocket barrages at Israel from Gaza—sparked “Operation Guardian of the Walls” against Hamas.

As a result, the government, still headed at the time by Netanyahu, postponed the flag march until June 15, when it finally took place. Its thousands of participants were referred to derogatorily by the press as “right-wing nationalists.”

Though the radicals’ sullying of patriotic icons is disconcerting, most Americans and Israelis celebrate their countries’ independence with fireworks, barbecues and lots of flags—no matter which president is in the White House or what prime minister resides on Balfour Street.

This is not to say that the red flags should be ignored. On the contrary, the ills wrought by elite sectors bent on destroying the social fabric of the countries that provide them the liberty to do so are real and present.

But the good news needs stressing, as well. For each slip-up of figures like Lapid, for every tweet by Black Lives Matter activists and for all New York Times opinion pieces disguised as reportage, there are thousands of followers ready, willing and able to pounce.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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