Tempest on a Flag Pole

“Palestinian flag flies over Camp Solomon Schechter.” The implication of that headline, which showed up last week on numerous blogs and online articles, is that pro-terrorist, anti-Israel supporters had taken over the summer camp, and were mocking the Jewish state. And that’s how many people took the news that a Zionist-Jewish camp in Washington state raised a Palestinian flag alongside the flags of Israel, the U.S. and Canada to welcome a group of children that included Palestinians and Israelis.

The mission of Kids4Peace, which brought the group to Camp Solomon Schechter, is to foster hope that young Israelis and Palestinians can learn enough about each other to eventually break the cycle of conflict between the two peoples. The camp did a commendable thing by hosting the Kids4Peace group. The camp made some mistakes in the process, but raising a Palestinian flag to welcome the Palestinian children was not one of them.

The camp erred by not anticipating the anger its actions would unleash. “As a past president of a Solomon Schechter school, I am speechless,” Sarah Landa Goldberg wrote on Facebook in a typical response. “This idea of teaching empathy to Jewish Children by teaching them to be understanding of the people who want to kill them is insane.” Unfortunately, Goldberg and many other critics who echoed her sentiment missed the point. The Palestinian children who were at the camp don’t want to kill Israelis. They are part of a peace effort, as the group’s name suggests. And, as noted by one poster who responded to the outrage, “The Palestinian flag is the flag of all Palestinians, including those who want to live in peace with Israel. The hatred towards the flag is irrational and counter-productive.”

The camp’s second mistake was an outgrowth of the first: It reacted defensively to the angry challenges. “For the sake of a teachable moment, we did raise the Palestinian flag as a sign of friendship and acceptance,” it said in a letter to parents and supporters. “It was met with uncertainty by some campers and staff, especially the Israeli’s [sic], but all understood that the message of hope for peace by flying the Israeli flag alongside helped develop empathy. Still we plan to take down all the flags for Shabbat since there is no peace and also to relieve the sadness and anger that some feel by the site [sic] of the flag.”

Israel is not at war with the Palestinian people, and certainly not with their flag. The presence of the Palestinian flag among three others did not belittle any of the other flags, and efforts to make the Palestinian guests welcome didn’t take anything away from the Zionist camp’s commitment to Israel.

Camp Solomon Schechter’s effort to be a warm and welcoming place reflected the kind of friendship that could help lead to peace. That’s nothing to apologize for.

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