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Council battle over flying Israeli flag on Yom Ha’atzmaut

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Published: 21 April 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Randwick City Council has resisted protests against its decision to fly the Israeli flag on Independence Day next week.

Residents have gathered outside a Sydney council meeting to protest its decision to fly the Israeli flag, which has sparked outrage from some.

Earlier this year, Randwick City Council voted in favour of flying the flag atop its town hall on April 26 to celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary of independence.

On Tuesday night, the council shot down an urgency motion to overturn the decision, which was met by calls of “shame” by some members of the public who were present.

Those who oppose flying the flag say with ongoing allegations of human rights abuses by Israel against Palestinians, to do so would be an affront to Australia’s values of equality and pluralism.

Palestinian Maroubra resident Yahya Shehabi said he was horrified at the council’s decision to raise the Israeli flag.

“Implicitly or explicitly, it would communicate that the council condones the actions of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history,” Shehabi said.

“I have many Jewish friends and colleagues in medicine, we share lots of values about life and humanity, but Israel doesn’t share those values.”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark firmly supported Randwick Council flying the Israeli flag as a message of inclusivity for the area’s large Jewish population, for whom he says the anniversary of Israel’s 1948 independence is a historic occasion.

“NSW and Israel share a warm, long-lasting relationship based on common values,” Bark said.

“The flying of the Israeli flag reinforces that no matter our background, our faith or the language we speak, everyone is welcome and has a place to call home in our cohesive, multicultural state.”

Jewish Maroubra resident Michelle Berkon said the flag does not represent her, or her contribution to the local community.

“I am the descendant of Holocaust survivors whose lived Jewishness embodied the polar opposite of Israel’s brutality towards the Palestinians,” she said.

At the request of residents including Palestinians, Jews, Christians and human rights advocates, the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network supported and helped draw attention to the protest.

The motion voted on by the council in February to fly the flag also included writing to the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and other prominent Jewish leaders acknowledging the contribution made by the Jewish community to Randwick City.

The motion was passed 10-4, with one of those against being deputy mayor and Greens councillor Rafaela Pandolfini.

Fellow Greens councillors Kym Chapple, Michael Olive and Philipa Veitch also voted against the motion.

Ms Pandolfini said flying the flag of another country above a town hall should only be done with careful consideration and take into account potential hurt to community members.

“The proposal is particularly troubling with recent events in Israel including the storming of the Al-Aqsa mosque and attacks by the current right-wing government on the judiciary,” she said.

At the same meeting, the council voted in favour of flying the Greek flag on March 25 to celebrate 202 years of Greek independence.

Photo: Israeli flag (Creative Commons)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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