Palestinian flag row: symbol of solidarity or gesture politics?

Aug 7, 2014

Glasgow is the latest council to fly the Palestinian flag, causing outrage from some in its Jewish community

Abid Katib/Getty Images

Glasgow City council has announced that it will fly the Palestinian flag tomorrow in solidarity with the victims of the latest conflict in Gaza.

The city is twinned with the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, and in a letter to the city's mayor Glasgow's Lord Provost Sadie Docherty offered "heartfelt sympathy to the people of Gaza who are suffering during this most recent outbreak of violence".

She said Glasgow "is home to many friends of Palestine and this is a deeply distressing time for them", and expressed a desire to strengthen the "cultural links" between the two cities.

"We are hopeful that an immediate, enduring and peaceful resolution can be found to this conflict," she added.

The Glasgow Jewish Representative Council president, Paul Morron, told the BBC he was "angered and hurt" by the council's decision to fly the flag.

"Flying the flag is the worst kind of gesture politics," he said. "[It] does nothing to alleviate the suffering on either side of the conflict, nor does it bring peace closer by one single minute."

One Glasgow resident wrote to the council warning them that by raising only the Palestinian flag, Glasgow is sending the message that "Israeli casualties are not important".

Mick Napier, secretary of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said they welcomed the "modest" gesture, but urged Glasgow city council to pledge its full support for a boycott of Israel as well as a calling for an end to British arms trading with the country.

The dispute follows similar moves by councils across the UK, including Bradford, Preston, Tower Hamlets and West Dunbartonshire.

In Tower Hamlets, the flag was ripped down by vandals shortly after being raised last week. 

Councils flying the flag have been accused of creating divisions within their community, with Jewish groups suggesting that if they were trying to promote peace, the council should also have raised the Israeli flag.

"If you're going to put up one flag you need to put up the other flag to show support for innocent civilians on both sides on the conflict," David Israel of the Leeds Jewish community told the BBC.

But Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahmen said he made the decision not in an effort to take sides, but to show solidarity with people he felt were being "unfairly and disproportionately targeted".

Some residents have said local councillors should focus on "potholes and rubbish bins" instead of wading into controversial international conflicts.

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