Burning a flag won’t erase history

December 20, 2017 by Jason Steinberg
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On Saturday night in Brisbane there was a protest. People marched through the streets of the CBD under the protective guidance of the Queensland Police. Our great democratic society gives everyone this right, even if their messages are filled with hate.

These kinds of demonstrations happen often, but what was unique about this protest was the deliberate and disgraceful ceremonial burning of an Israeli flag.

What hatred. What an extreme and racist act. What a disgrace. What an attack on Queensland’s – Australia’s – multicultural values.

The protesters were apparently marching in condemnation of Israel in retaliation for the United States Government finally undertaking to deliver the long-held bipartisan commitment to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognise that the city that is Israel’s seat of government is, indeed, its national capital.

For this supposed provocation, men, women and children brandished the flags of prescribed terrorist organisations and shouted slogans demanding “liberation” of all the territory” – from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea”, which includes not only the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which the Palestinians claim for a future state, but the whole of Israel as well. In other words, the chant is an explicit call for the destruction of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, and the subsequent genocide of 6.4 million Jews living there.

I’ve lived in Brisbane all my life and grown up as a proud Queenslander, proud Australian and proud member of the Jewish community. Our community has, for more than 150 years, actively contributed to the fabric of Queensland society.

To have the burning of the Israeli flag on our peaceful streets sent a shiver down my spine and many other members of our community. What’s next after burning flags? Targeting Israelis? Targeting Jews?

Jumbled up with the anti-Israel hatred is anti-Western hatred. Protesters must have missed that in April the Russian Government issued a statement saying “we view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”. This attracted no controversy, no flag burning and almost no comment.

The US and Russian statements are consistent with one another. The US embassy, when it eventually moves, is likely to be relocated to Israel’s government precinct in the western part of the city, which has been part of Israel’s sovereign territory since 1948, not the part of Jerusalem that Israel captured from Jordan when it repelled Jordan’s military attack in 1967, and is misleadingly referred to as “Occupied East Jerusalem”. Moving the embassy from one location within Israel’s sovereign borders to another, therefore, does not pre-empt the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Those who deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem seek to airbrush 3000 years of history attested to by innumerable archaeological artefacts. Jerusalem has been the centre of the Jewish world since 1010 BCE when King David made it the capital of the Jewish kingdom. David’s son, Solomon built the first of two Jewish temples there in the 10th century BCE. It was not until the beginning of the 7th century CE, some 1650 years later, that an Islamic structure was built atop the ruins of the Jewish temple.

Throughout history, Jerusalem has been ruled by one foreign power or another, including the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Ottomans and the British. The only times when Jerusalem has been under local rule has been when it has been the capital of a Jewish State – ancient Judah/Judea and modern Israel.

Today, Jerusalem is like Canberra – it’s where the Israel’s parliament is located, its Ministerial offices, the Supreme Court, and the Prime Minister’s residence. Recognition that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is therefore a pragmatic acknowledgement of an existing reality.

Another moment in history the protesters fail to acknowledge is that in July 1922, the League of Nations (the forerunner to the United Nations) entrusted Great Britain with the Mandate for Palestine which legally, under international law, recognised “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine”.

Queensland’s Jewish community wants peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We, like all Jewish-Australians, want an enduring, workable and realistic solution, based on the right of Israel to live in peace within secure borders, and reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to also live in peace and security.

The act of burning the flag of a sovereign state, and key ally of Australia, is not intended to support peace. It is an act of hatred and not in keeping with Queensland’s multicultural values.

While such violent images have become familiar sights on the streets of Arab capitals, they have no place on the streets of Brisbane.


Jason Steinberg is the vice-president of the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies

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