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What Lies Beneath the Flag Controversy

Nadeem Mazen

I’m sure most of The Tech’s readership is aware of the administration’s recent confrontation with Jonathan A. Goler G regarding the hanging of an Israeli flag outside Sidney-Pacific. In summary, Goler has been asked to take down his flag because it supposedly interferes with dorm aesthetics and fire codes. Similar claims have been made against a flag that has been hanging outside of Bexley Hall for some time. Goler insists that the initial motivation for the administration’s request was not aesthetics or fire codes, but the fact that students in S-P expressed their offense at the flying of the Israeli flag in particular. Regardless of MIT’s reasons for requesting the flag’s removal, we should use this as an opportunity to discuss the limits of free speech in a community setting such as a college campus.

Though Goler clearly has a right to free speech and free expression, I contend that there is a more subtle agreement on college campuses that supercedes these freedoms. The basis of this stronger agreement is that our campus, like so many others, is a melting pot of cultures, races, and political ideologies. In order to maintain a high level of comfort within such a diverse group, we have an implicit agreement that we will air our political views in the appropriate forum. Examples of this forum include, but are not restricted to, school publications, club-sponsored lectures, political demonstrations, and personal conversations.

This raises the question: If one is mindful of the diverse political ideologies on campus, how, then, could the Israeli flag be considered offensive? There are myriad valid reasons why someone might take offense to the Israeli flag being hung in a public place here on campus.

I went to sleep Monday night with the horrific images of Israeli air strikes burnt into my mind. The most widely reported of these missile strikes left ten dead and approximately 100 injured, with most of these casualties civilian and many of them children. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has sent mixed messages regarding its administration’s remorse. A government official even urged the Israeli army to admit its mistake. What is distressing is that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his senior ministers have made no similar call to the Israeli military to rethink tactics or to take responsibility for civilian casualties. Furthermore, even in the face of this glaring error, and as the world calls for one side in this conflict to end the cycle of violence, Sharon insists that air strikes will continue.

I have been following the construction of Sharon’s “security wall” closely. Perhaps one could drum up something positive to say about the “security wall.” For example, the Israeli government insists that the wall will keep suicide bombers from entering Israel. I do not believe that this “security wall” is an effective measure. The very idea of protecting an entire country from the entrance of one dangerous individual by means of a wall is preposterous. Moreover, it is certainly not a step towards peace, and therefore not a meaningful tool for assuring Israeli security in the long-term. Regardless of the wall’s effectiveness as a security measure, the United Nations resolved that the wall is a contravention of international law.

On the other hand, things like the security wall, missile strikes, and checkpoints are manifestations of the Israeli government’s intrusion into Palestinian economic security, political freedom, and personal safety. One might very well take the opinion that the Israeli government is doing more than establishing homeland security or assuring that it is taken seriously; it is willfully condemning Palestinians to an inferior class based on religion, ethnicity, and geography. I think it is obvious, at this point, the kinds of things that might cause one to take offense at the hanging of Israel’s flag.

Because one criticizing Israel should always be fearful of being labeled an anti-Semite or a racist, allow me to explain myself further. First of all, as an Arab, I am a Semite. More substantially, my best friend is Jewish and over the last 11 years in his company, I have developed an understanding and appreciation for the Jewish religion. I simply take issue with Israel’s current administration -- for many of the same reasons I take issue with much of the current Palestinian leadership.

It may be odd to say at this point, but the hanging of the Israeli flag doesn’t offend me that much. In fact, it is pretty clear to me that it is not the flag itself, but political ideology, that is the central issue for many of the people who are interested in Goler’s case. Nevertheless, it is understandable that someone would associate a flag with its country’s political ideology. In light of the current debate, it is important that we are considerate of the opinions of others in our community alongside Goler’s pride in Israel.

Nadeem Mazen is a member of the class of 2006.