Emma Watson and Palestinian flags aren’t the enemy

Two states means two flags: Palestinian identity must not be demonised
This week, Emma Watson’s Instagram showed a post which read ‘solidarity is a verb’. In the background, you can see a Palestinian protest containing some banners and Palestinian flags. The post’s caption contained the text of a poem by Sara Ahmed.

Social media being what it is, Emma Watson was met by reactionary attacks. She’s pro-Palestinian. She’s anti-Zionist. She hates Israel. And even, inevitably – she’s an antisemite.

Before we delve into the reactions, an important detail most of those shouting seem to have missed: Emma Watson’s account isn’t run by Emma Watson.

A very clear disclaimer in her bio states her account ‘has been taken over by an anonymous Feminist Collective’. So, my first piece of useless advice – you might want to redirect your anger into the anonymous abyss.
The crux of the post – Sara Ahmed’s poem – doesn’t mention the word Palestine. Nor Israel. Though not inappropriate for the Palestinian struggle, the way in which it was interpreted and the use of Palestinian flags and symbols links to another Instagram account from which this has been reposted – @badactivistcollective

I haven’t analysed poetry since I was a student and I don’t intend to re-enter that particular universe. So let’s get to the real question – what is it about Palestinian flags and symbols that makes so many of us cringe the way we do?

Why have so many people jumped to attack Emma Watson?

We know that most Jewish people in our community support a two state solution. Despite the ever growing despair, most Israelis believe that two states is the best solution. The first state exists, it’s Israel. So what is the second state, and why are we so afraid of its flag?

Why do we assume that Palestinian symbolism of any sort must equal anti-Israel, or indeed an attack on Jews and Israelis?

Israel’s Minister of Defence, Benny Gantz, has held two meetings with the Palestinian Authority in the past six months. Israel’s Knesset includes a cross-party range of self-defining Palestinian citizens of Israel. Flying the Palestinian flag is not outlawed in Israel.

It’s true, of course, that some people will use Israeli and Palestinian flags in bad faith. I’ve seen Israeli flags used by the far right for their purposes. But I’d loathe to think my country’s flag is owned by those who abuse it. Surely Palestine deserves the same benefit of the doubt?

As far as solidarity is concerned, the truth is that Palestine isn’t free. It’s occupied and under siege. You can argue the nuts and bolts of how and why. I’m not ignorant to the reasons and excuses behind security check points, walls and arrests. But all the reasons and explanations in the world don’t change the fact that the occupation is real. Palestine and Palestinians – aren’t free. The call for freedom is legitimate. It doesn’t come at Israel’s expense.

If Emma Watson’s account featured a poem from Hassan Nasrallah or Ismail Haniyeh – I’d be concerned, too. But it didn’t. It featured a blurred image of a pro-Palestinian protest, most likely somewhere in the US or the UK.

When we talk about antisemitism, and using the IHRA definition, we are always quick to say that criticism of Israel is not antisemitism. Yair Lapid said it. Our communal leaders have said it. This Instagram post wasn’t even criticism of Israel. It was a post about solidarity, with Palestine being used to illustrate the subject matter.

If we make an enemy of all those who dare to support Palestinians, we will find ourselves on the wrong side of history. Emma Watson, nor her Instagram account, aren’t enemies of Israel, and certainly not enemies of Jews.

More importantly – Palestinians flying their flag, or asking for justice and equality, must not be demonised. This isn’t a zero-sum game.

We have to accept and move past flags and symbols if we are to ever have a real conversation about fixing the very real problems we have in Israel and Palestine: occupation, violence, injustice, hatred and conflict. Only dealing with those problems will allow us to celebrate our nations and to fly our flags in peace.

About the Author
Danielle is Scottish Israeli, and has a degree in International Relations and Spanish from St Andrews University. She is currently Yachad’s Director of Communications, and previously worked with the JLC as their Scotland Manager