Outrage Over Removal of Israeli Flag at Haaretz Conference

The removal of the Israeli flag ahead of a Palestinian representative at the Haaretz conference in New York on Sunday is continuing to make waves and has sparked harsh criticism from Israeli politicians.

As first reported by Jewish Insider, an Israeli flag that was placed on the stage for the opening session of the newspaper’s inaugural conference at the Roosevelt in NY was removed from the ballroom moments before chief Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat took the stage.

Many participants criticized the move.

In an official statement released hours after the incident, Haaretz said, “Mr. Erekat’s team requested he not be made to speak next to the Israeli flag, and we honored his wishes.” In an interview with Army Radio Monday morning, Haaretz Publisher Amos Schocken said, “Haaretz doesn’t hold conferences against the backdrop of the Israeli flag. Would the Office of the President agree to have a Palestinian flag next to an Israeli flag? I don’t think so. We did not place a Palestinian flag on the stage during Erekat’s speech. We had no intention of placing any flag on the stage. We placed it on stage at President [Reuven] Rivlin’s request, and removed it at Erekat’s request.”

During his address at the conference, Erekat stated that “Israel has a partner on the basis of a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.” He also said that the Palestinians have “recognized Israel’s existence and her right to live in peace and security in borders based on the 1967 lines.”

Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) called the incident “a disgrace to everyone involved.”

“Erekat is a senior Palestinian Authority official who for years has been involved in the negotiations with Israel. His refusal to address the conference against the backdrop of the Israeli flag is yet another indicator how willing the Palestinians are to achieve peace,” Elkin said, according to Israel Hayom. “This incident proves, yet again, that the problem we have with the Palestinian leadership is not a territorial dispute, but it lies with their inability to recognize a Jewish state within any lines.”

Added Israel’s Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, “This is the vision of peace at the Haaretz conference in the US: to remove Israeli flags from the stage because of the demands of Saeb Erekat? It’s another record in contempt and self-effacement. And with whom specifically does Erekat intend to make ‘peace?’ With Ahmed Tibi?”

Yair Lapid, one of Israel’s leading opposition leaders, said the move “shows a loss of national pride by the far left in Israel.”

At the opening of the Yesh Atid Knesset Faction meeting Monday, Lapid said, “Imagine the outcry if an Israeli speaker at an international conference in New York had asked to remove the Palestinian flag. This kind of behavior leads us to a bi-national state. It is where the far left and far right come together, both are leading us down that path. It is time for a clear distinction in this country between the moderates and the extremes.”

“The Zionist left of Ben Gurion, of Rabin, would never have allowed something like this,” said Lapid. “This kind of behavior eats us up from the inside and we can’t go on like this.”

The Haaretz conference also featured speeches by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Joint Arab List party leader MK Ayman Odeh, as well as a video message by President Barack Obama.

Odeh was treated like a rock star at the conference. His speech was constantly interrupted by raucous applause and standing ovations, almost equivalent to Netanyahu’s reception at AIPAC’s annual conference. “The conflict cannot be managed. It can only be solved,” Odeh declared. “the occupation is the Palestinian people’s tragedy, but it is also Israel’s prison. We must liberate both peoples from the prison of occupation.”

Last week, Odeh sparked controversy when he ditched a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations after learning that the group shared office space with the Jewish Agency and other pro-Israel organizations.

Rivlin’s appearance at the conference raised criticism back home for agreeing to participate in a conference that included “Breaking the Silence,” a group that accuses the IDF of war crimes. Rivlin addressed the issue at the start of his remarks by saying, “From time to time the obvious should be said. Especially during these days, when we are facing a difficult and dangerous fight against terrorism. The IDF does everything in its power to maintain the highest possible moral standard, even under impossible conditions, and more than any other army in the world. This is true of its commanders, and of its soldiers. For that, we are very proud of them, and owe them all our support and appreciation.”

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