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And see who salutes

Teaneck’s Israel flag-raising ceremony postponed amid controversy and protests

Flyer for the now-canceled flag raising ceremony, left. Flyer for a rally against raising the Israli flag.
Flyer for the now-canceled flag raising ceremony, left. Flyer for a rally against raising the Israli flag.

Don’t say that Facebook activism has no impact.

On May 23 — that’s this Sunday — at 10 a.m., the Township of Teaneck was scheduled to raise the Israeli flag in the town’s Votee Park.

A “Rally to Oppose Flag Raising” also was scheduled for that time, sponsored by American Muslims for Palestine — NJ, the Palestinian American Community Center in Clifton, and Deir Yassin Remembered, a project of Teaneck pro-Palestinian activist Rich Siegel.

Following online protests, township officials decided to postpone the ceremony.

“The original messaging is clearly being misconstrued,” Councilman Keith Kaplan said on May 16. “There’s a holiday” — Shavuot, the two-day holiday that started that evening — “making it difficult to work on this right now. And we would like to have shuls, community leaders, and others buy in, to an inclusive event.”

The town council passed a resolution authorizing a May flag-raising on April 27. Before voting on the resolution, which Councilman Mark Schwartz first proposed in March, a Teaneck resident, Sandy Silberg, read objections into the record.

That evening, four other residents spoke on behalf of permitting residents to raise chickens in their backyard, a practice long banned by township ordinance; one resident objected to the proposal.

But when Mr. Schwartz posted a flyer announcing the flag-raising ceremony on the unofficial Teaneck Today Facebook group last Thursday, boy did the feathers fly — 663 comments were posted by Sunday afternoon. Some, though not all, of the opposition reflected the outbreak of the latest war between Hamas and Israel.

The origins of this controversy go back to 2018, when residents petitioned the council to fly the gay pride flag. The council then amended the town’s bylaws to permit the raising of “expressive” flags.

The pride flag has been flown each year starting in 2019, and it is scheduled to be raised again on June 1, the beginning of Pride Month.

In its resolution (number 104-2021) “authorizing the display of the star of David flag on township owned flagpoles within Votee Park as a form of government expression,” the council began by noting that “acts of hatred and violence against members of the Jewish community have been on the rise in our area and the Town Council wishes to affirm the inherent right of its Jewish residents to live without fear of attacks and hatred.”

Keith Kaplan

It noted that the flag “is seen as a source of symbolism and pride… by Jews around the globe.”

It noted that “bigotry, discrimination, oppression, racism, and imputations of dual loyalty threaten American democracy and have no place in American political discourse.”

And it noted that Teaneck has a long history of both municipal and private support for Israel, including the efforts of Matthew Feldman in obtaining arms for the State of Israel during the War of Independence before he became mayor and then state senator.

Accordingly, the resolution concluded, the “Flag of the State of Israel may be displayed upon the flagpoles owned by the Township of Teaneck at Votee Park as a form of government expression during the month of May 2021 in honor [sic] Israel Independence Day.”

The first response on the Facebook group was surprise that the resolution referred to “the star of David flag” rather than the flag of Israel.

“I’m unclear why this is happening at Votee Park. Can someone explain?” Pam Bryant then asked. “If this flag is raised, shouldn’t the flags of every country and religion represented in Teaneck be included as well?

“This is how divisiveness begins.”

To which Jody Eisenman responded: “You mean the way a BLM mural exists?” referring to a mural reading “Black Lives Matter” that was painted on a municipal parking lot last fall.

Kim Baron replied: “BLM is about American civil rights. I’m not sure how these two things are the same.”

“That’s your opinion,” Mr. Eisenman retorted. “Many disagree. Many consider it divisive.” He went on to link to articles in the New York Post attacking the Black Lives Matter movement.

Defending the flag-raising ceremony, Elana Twersky Winslow noted her experience working in Jersey City. “They have many such flag raising ceremonies, they are a beautiful and meaningful way to honor the diversity of the community.”

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see this isn’t a good look on the town,” replied Adrian Calvache. “Even if it was thought of months ago, this is a very sensitive subject at the moment.”

“I am very confused as a residentof Teaneck,” Gu Xuan said. “Why are we raising a Israeli flag in our town park?”

“This is promoting war on the other side of the world,” Jaime Elne Reynoso said. “The problem is that this town continuously shows favoritism to the Jewish community and completely disregards the voices of the ‘other’ residents.”

“As a Jewish resident of Teaneck I am completely opposed to this,” Julia Andelman wrote. “Please cancel.”

Michal Raucher agreed.

“As a Jewish resident of Teaneck I urge the town to cancel this event. The resolution to raise the flag is itself antisemitic in that it elides the difference between the American Jewish community and the State of Israel. Is this flag being raised in order to express solidarity with the American Jewish community that is currently experiencing a rise in antisemitic attacks? If this is the case, raising the Israeli flag is either antisemitic or irrelevant. Or is this flag meant to show solidarity with the state of Israel because several Teaneck residents have also been citizens of Israel? If this is the case I really hope there will be a flag raising for all of the heritage countries for Teaneck’s residents.”

“As an Israeli-American, I find this inappropriate and unnecessary,” Gideon Imunim wrote. “We all came to this country because it is the greatest nation in the world with the most freedom and opportunity. If we wanted to wave foreign flags, we could have stayed in the foreign countries from which we came. If local governments are going to be raising the Israeli flag today, what’s going to stop them from raising the Mexican flag tomorrow, the Japanese flag the next day, or the Ugandan flag the day after? Do you see where this is going? If we really love this country, we need to wave one flag and one flag alone, the stars and stripes.”

Madeline Rosen introduced herself as 24-year-old who was born and raised in Teaneck and now is finishing her bachelor’s degree there. She was a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces when she was 18.

“Throughout my service, I was responsible for protecting all Israeli citizens, no matter race, religion, gender, or political opinions,” she wrote. “I did my duties with pride, knowing that civilians could sleep at night because I was awake guarding them. I always have and always will unapologetically support Israel’s right to defend itself from terror directed at its citizens. I am also incredibly empathetic towards the suffering that so many Palestinian civilians are facing right now due to Hamas. There is no excuse for the death of any innocent person, Israeli and Palestinian alike.

“This being said, the township of Teaneck should not be raising this Israeli flag. Individual homes may plant Israeli, Palestinian, or whatever flags represent them and their values, on their own properties. However, if the township chooses only one flag to inaugurate, it alienates the rest of the town’s members who don’t necessarily align themselves with the flag’s values. This is different from a BLM flag or an LGBTQ flag being waved as those are causes within our own nation. The waving of an Israeli flag, however much I personally support it, should not be coming from our town’s municipality. If the township elected officials want to display the flag outside of their own personal homes, that is completely welcome! If a member of our town wants to organize a rally to support Israel, that is highly encouraged. All this can be done without Teaneck’s government making an official stance as to its opinions on the conflict, isolating those who support otherwise.”

Mr. Kaplan defended the resolution and the flag raising.

He noted historical precedent: “One of the largest festivals the town has seen took place for the 25th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, with Mayor Burr attending ceremonies at the municipal green, where a pine oak was accepted and planted. The 50th anniversary of the founding of Israel similarly saw proclamations issued under Mayor Ostrow.

“In 2018, I drafted Teaneck’s first proclamation in support of our LGBTQ+ residents and we, as a town, recognized the Pride movement to acknowledge the pain and conflict residents were facing, via attacks — merely for being who and what they are. Following that resolution, residents asked for a public display of a flag. Such a public showing we were told is more readily seen by many. The Township has done those flag raising of the Pride flag for the past few years and the next is scheduled again, in June. We also have a scheduled flag-raising for Juneteenth, in acknowledgment of the historical underpinnings of the African American franchise.

“This week, the Township saw an event for Eid on the municipal green. The event was attended by members of the council, and the crescent flag is still displayed. We celebrate our diversity.

“In a similar vein, during a time of increasing attacks on Jewish residents, the Township Council drafted a resolution in support of Jews residing here. The timing combined the support with similar flag raisings around Bergen County, back in March and April, such as those at the county seat and neighboring Bergenfield. Is it different in Teaneck? Does it create hate? No.

“The use of this particular flag is not coincidental. Those following the news have no doubt seen attacks on those marching in BLM or women’s marches, when doing so with an Israeli flag. The blatant antisemitism visited upon those who show support, as Jewish allies to other causes is plain for all to see.

“The Israeli flag signifies affiliation with the Jewish community when those allies march in support of other causes. The Israeli flag signifies Jewish identity when attacks are visited upon those allies. It has become identifiable with the Jewish community in a way few other symbols ever have.

“The Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of this event and while some have tried to de-emphasize the ties of the flag to the Jewish community in order to play up animosity towards Israel, many others have understood the clear message of the event.

“If we as a community truly take to heart the message that Hate Has No Home Here, we must be capable of seeing the positive message outlined in the text of the resolution and be prepared to stand with Jewish neighbors who face attacks based on who and what they are. Otherwise, what do we fight for, as allies, when we march for others under that flag?” Mr. Kaplan said.

Yet the controversy and the uncertainty about the ceremony leaves former Councilman Henry Pruitt looking prescient. Explaining his opposition to raising the Pride flag, he said, “I’m not opposed to the Pride flag. I’m opposed to flags, because I think that’s going to be an opportunity down the road for internal community conflict that we could do without.”

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