palestine flag

Caption: The Palestinian flag next to the American flag at the Flag Raising Ceremony hosted by AMP-Chicago on Friday, May 26th, 2023 at the Daley Plaza Center [Rima Najjar]

As a bastion of Jewish Zionism, Chicago is no New York City, but in part thanks to Rahm Emanuel’s tenure as mayor of Chicago (2011–2019) and his ties to Israel, it feels that way to me. He’s been a strong supporter of Israel throughout his career both as the White House Chief of Staff under Barack Obama and as mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel’s Jewish ancestors emigrated from Odessa to Ottoman Palestine in 1905 and his father left Jerusalem for the Chicago area as an Israeli immigrant in 1953, a few years after the violent partition of Palestine and forcible establishment of the state of Israel on Palestinian territory.

His arrogant sense of entitlement to Palestine and conflation of Zionist values with Jewish values led him to volunteer with the Israeli army as a maintenance worker for military vehicles during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. In a 2003 pro-Israel rally in Chicago, Emanuel told the marchers that Israel was “ready for peace” but would not get there until Palestinians “turn away from the path of terror.”

Ironically, in the 1940s Emanuel’s father worked with Irgun, the Jewish Zionist militant group in Palestine that committed terror acts against Palestinian and British targets.

The former mayor’s worldview vis-à-vis Israel/Palestine is embedded in the way many Zionist Jewish organizations function in the US and around the globe. In Chicago today, some of the activities of the Jewish United Fund of Chicago — JUF function as an arm of the Jewish Agency, which had been complicit in Jewish terrorism in Palestine, and continues to facilitate the settlement of Jews in Palestine to “replace” Palestinians. Such organizations that support a settler-colonial apartheid Jewish state with a horrific history of brutality and repression against Palestinians are accepted without question or a raised eyebrow.

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, for example, is located on Ben Gurion Way, a street named after David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister (1948–1953), who famously said: “We must expel Arabs and take their places…and, if we have to use force-not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places-then we have force at our disposal.”

The Chicago chapter of the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) has emerged as a successful counterpoint to the “narrative” and racism of Zionist Jewish organizations in Chicago.

AMP’s platform is openly against the Zionist Jewish state and for Palestinian resistance, especially the BDS movement. The organization also speaks authentically about the Muslim faith and Palestine’s rich cultural, historical and religious heritage, facilitating Muslim social activism in the US and providing a living connection to Palestine.

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Caption: Announcement of the Flag Raising Ceremony hosted by AMP-Chicago on Friday, May 26th, 2023 at the Daley Plaza Center [Facebook]

I attended the 2nd Annual Palestine Flag Raising Ceremony hosted by AMP-Chicago on Friday, May 26th, 2023 at the Daley Plaza Center. When the Palestinian flag was finally hoisted and fluttering in the wind next to the American flag, I couldn’t but think of the image on a billboard my brother and I had noticed while walking past the JUF Uptown Café and Ezra Multi-Service Center on Wilson Avenue a few days ago. The billboard showed an American flag with an Israeli flag as its reverse side and the legend “Together for Good.”

JUF

Caption: Billboard by the JUF Uptown Café and Ezra Multi-Service Center on Wilson Avenue showing an American flag with an Israeli flag as its reverse side and the legend “Together for Good” [Rima Najjar]

podium

Caption: A view of the podium at the Flag Raising Ceremony hosted by AMP-Chicago on Friday, May 26th, 2023 at the Daley Plaza Center [Rima Najjar]

Both the Café and Center in this Jewish Orthodox neighborhood are dedicated for “good” in that they serve the needy and hungry, “Jews and non-Jews alike.” “Ezra” is a biblical name that means “help” or “helper” in Hebrew. Among other services, the Center helps by offering “social activities and holiday celebrations to ensure that Jews who live in poverty remain actively connected to their heritage.” Unfortunately, what the billboard conveyed to my brother and me is that Ezra was also helping Chicago Jews to Palestine in the sense of taking something without permission.  A Jewish friend who lives in Chicago wrote to me: “Many synagogues (not just Orthodox ones) have that JUF sign in front. It’s been about 30+ years since I’ve been a member of an establishment synagogue, but when I was, a part of annual dues went to JUF. My synagogue at the time allowed you to opt out, which I did, but never fully trusted that was honored.”

The biblical Ezra began a campaign to “return all the Jews to their homeland.” This is precisely the Zionist idea, which claims Palestine from the river to the sea, not for “Jews and non-Jews alike,” but for Jews only at the expense of the non-Jewish indigenous population, which is being robbed, persecuted and ethnic cleansed and, today, still consumed by a struggle for survival.

“The good” that the alliance of the US and Israel does is Orwellian doublespeak for evil. It is, in fact, an “unholy trinity” that Israel and its lobby have long succeeded in breeding at the center of U.S. Middle East policy: “racism, violence and injustice.” As Walter L. Hixson writes in his book “Architects of Repression” (2021): “Time and again … the Israel lobby effectively mobilized Congress and public opinion to contain political threats posed by a range of sources, including non-Zionist Jews, progressive human rights advocates, and politicians of both political parties.” The US, along with Zionist Jewish groups, are enablers of Israel’s racism and repression.

The AMP-Chicago’s Palestinian flag-raising ceremony in downtown Chicago yesterday is an act of courage and defiance, an invitation to the US to engage positively with Muslims and with Palestine, a demand for basic human respect. Israeli police regularly prohibit Palestinian flags from being raised in public spaces, especially in occupied Jerusalem. In January 2023, Israel’s national security minister ordered Israeli police to ban Palestinian flags from public places. But there AMP-Chicago was, raising the Palestinian flag in the American heartland.

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Caption: Muslim American-Palestinian children at the Flag Raising Ceremony hosted by AMP-Chicago on Friday, May 26th, 2023 at the Daley Plaza Center [Rima Najjar]

The flag-raising ceremony was a powerful symbolic gesture, a moment of hope to all of us there, young and old, staring at both flags side by side up on the flag poles and listening to the heartfelt speeches. As one of the speakers at the ceremony said: “I am lately a believer that the time has come, and it will be very soon, that Israel has started on its decline. Israel is going down.”

Note: First published on Medium

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Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.


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