By Ray Hanania
An effort to respect the ethnic diversity of residents who live in the tiny suburb of Lincolnwood, Illinois just north of Chicago exploded into hate rhetoric and name calling when protesters demanded that the suburb remove the Palestine Flag from its display of flags along Lincoln Avenue.
The flag display was started by the Lincolnwood Human Relations Commission in 2004 first displaying a “handful” of flags on Pratt Avenue in the suburb and later moved to Lincoln Avenue, which is a major thoroughfare that cuts through Lincolnwood and the Northwest suburbs from Chicago’s north side. More than 60 flags are on display this year including the Flags of Israel and the Flag of Palestine.
But last week, anti-Arab protesters caught up on the heated debate between Jews and Arabs over the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip and the long simmering and unending Palestine-Israel conflict, called on the Lincolnwood Police to remove the Palestine Flag calling it “offensive.”
On Monday, August 11, the Lincolnwood Village board appointed Commission on Human Relations convened a meeting that was attended by more than 200 people in which the issue was discussed and where opponents of the display of the Palestinian Flag began calling Arabs at the meeting “terrorists” and “scum.”
As the public meeting heated up, however, Lincolnwood Mayor Gerald Turry stepped in and scolded one foe of the Palestinian flag for calling pro-Palestinian flag speakers “terrorists” and “terrorist lovers.”
After one attendee called pro-Palestinian speakers “terrorist scum,” Turry took to the microphone and said, “You are trying my patience. You don’t have a clue how angry you are making me.”
The protestor responded, “Thank you.”
But Mayor Turry, who served as a Village Trustee from 1995 before becoming Village President (also called “Mayor”) in 2005, continued unabated by the taunts.
“I am going to ask you politely to shut your mouth,” Turry said as the attendee continue his vicious provocations from the audience. The man, wearing a Jewish Yarmulke on his head, got up and walked out waving his hand at the mayor in disgust.
“I want you to understand there is an amendment to the (U.S.) Constitution, the 14th Amendment to the United States, which guarantees equal protection under the law. The flags that you see up today are the flags that will remain up until the end of the month.”
One attendee at the public meeting, identified as Harry Friedman by the Chicago Sun-Times, told the newspaper he was “perturbed” that the Palestine Flag is being displayed among the other flags of other nations.
The Sun-Times quoted Friedman as saying, “I have no issues with diversity, but I find it highly insulting to have to face this flag … If we wanted to hang flags from other nationally-recognized Arab countries, I’d have no problem with it, but to have to face this issue, where I drive past a flag every day [of a country] that supports my country’s destruction, I don’t feel it’s right in a town like Lincolnwood.”
In describing his country, Friedman was apparently referring to Israel.
Much of the opposition to the display of the Palestinian flag came from residents who are Jewish and supporters of Israel. Many of those supporting the display of the Palestine Flag were Palestinian and Arab.
The issues went far beyond the scope of whether or not the Village should only display flags of countries recognized as official and full sovereign nations by the United Nations into expressions of racism by several of the anti-Palestine Flag speakers. One woman said that she wouldn’t mind the flag except that Palestinian mothers teach their children “hatred.”
Of course, Israelis also teach their children “hatred” but the pro-Palestinian speakers did not throw that fact back. Instead, the woman was jeered when she expressed racial comments.
Although Palestine is not yet a sovereign nation, it is recognized by the United Nations and its flag is displayed in the territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are occupied militarily by Israel. Ironically, the display of the Israeli flag prior to 1948 and the creation of Israel was also a bone of contention with Jews denouncing anyone who challenged the display of their flag as being “anti-Semitic.” The United Nations voted in2 012 to give Palestine “Non-member Observer State” status. Click to read the resolution that was adopted by the UN. Additionally, Israel permits the display of the Palestine Flag in Palestinian territory, although official Israel maps have erased Palestine and have instead identified the military occupied territory of the Palestinian West Bank as “Judea and Samaria,” using pre-Jesus Biblical terms that are offensive to Christians and Muslims.
The Village of Lincolnwood is located approximately 10 miles north of downtown Chicago and serves as the gateway to Chicagoland’s North Shore. It is an ethnically diverse community of 12,590 residents, with tree-lined streets, beautiful neighborhoods and parks, an excellent school system, and prosperous business community. Chicago has about 2.8 million residents and many suburban Chicago communities have populations of around 50,000 or more.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. He is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)