“Zionism” and “Israel” are not dirty words

My friend called me last week, very upset. She told me the following story:

When my friend returned to her job after attending a pro-Israel rally in Manhattan, she put a little hand-held Israeli flag in a cup in the corner of her desk, and got back to work. She really didn’t think much of it, especially considering that a co-worker had hung up a giant Dutch flag on the wall.

Then my friend’s boss walked over to see how things were going, and sat down next to her. Suddenly he noticed the flag on her desk, and with a tone of disgust said “you really shouldn’t have that thing in here,” referring to the little Israeli flag.

My friend was really caught off guard.

She asked him what he meant, and he elaborated, “you might offend people if they see it.” I guess he was one of them.

She pushed back, saying that there was a Dutch flag on the wall, so she did not think the Israeli flag was a problem.

Her boss replied, “Oh, I don’t think the two are the same.”

When I heard this story, I was shocked by her boss’ behavior.

First off, the way her boss said “that thing” made it seem as if my friend had a disgusting, dirty, object on her desk. See, I completely understand not wanting to have politics in the workplace, and her boss could have said something respectfully if that was his position. I would have completely understood that approach, and would have said remove the flag without an argument. But his tone and the fact that he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “Israel” was quite revealing about his own personal views, and made me realize this was about more than avoiding politics in the workplace.

Second, it was clear my friend wasn’t trying to make an in-your-face political statement at work. The flag was tiny and mostly hidden behind her computer monitor, in the corner of her own desk. She wasn’t waving it around, preaching politics about Operation Protective Edge, or hanging a pro-war banner on the wall.

I think what troubled me most about the story was the blatant double standard. It seemed all flags were OK except the Israeli flag. I really doubt that if my friend had a Ukrainian flag, or Russian flag, or Syrian flag or even a Palestinian flag that her boss would have said something, and if he did, I doubt it would have been with such a tone of disgust.

This whole incident made me think, why is it fair that every other country gets to be just that — a country, but when it comes to Israel, people’s first thought is conflict and controversy? If someone says they are Irish, or German, or British, or Japanese, or any other country with a long, complicated war-torn past, no one’s first thought is “wow, you should not bring up your nationality because you might offend someone.” They probably make small talk and ask about the food. But when it comes to Israel, well, that is just too controversial. As if it is something hush-hush to be swept under the rug.

“Zionism” and “Israel” are not dirty words. They are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I am extremely proud of my heritage and being a Zionist, so much so that one day I plan to make Aliyah. I wont hide my love of Israel from the world, and I hope all those for Israel will not be afraid to either. I realize this is easier said than done (especially when it involves your boss) because you can never know where Israel-hatred lurks and when it will rear its ugly head. I am so sorry my friend had to go through this experience, but if people don’t continue to stand up for Israel, I’m afraid this story may repeat itself.

About the Author
Rachel is currently an MD/PhD student at the NYU School of Medicine.