This article was written by a participant in IPF Atid’s Policy Fellowship. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely the views and expressions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Israel Policy Forum.

Israel’s new governing coalition—the most right-wing in the state’s history—has quickly moved to advance a host of provocative measures. Proposals are currently circulating to expand settlements and take steps toward West Bank annexation. Furthermore, recent Israeli sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, including withholding millions in tax revenue, freezing Palestinian construction in most of the West Bank, and stripping Palestinian officials of VIP benefits, are sure to generate flash points for tensions. Despite such a diverse variety of controversial measures from all sides of the Netanyahu coalition, it seems one government minister in particular has managed to out-perform the competition for recognition of his extremist nature: Itamar Ben Gvir.

A proud follower of the late terrorist Rabbi Meir Kahane, Ben Gvir has staunchly supported efforts to “encourage” mass migration of Arabs out of Israel. While Ben Gvir has mellowed his rhetoric in recent years (to avoid legal pushback after entering politics) regarding how such an anti-Arab feat will be achieved, he has made a political career through anti-Palestinian/anti-Arab sentiment and shows no sign of tempering this notion.

Now a minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government following years of ostracization by mainstream Israeli politics, Ben Gvir holds the title of national security minister. This ministerial role provides him both control over the Israeli police as well as extended powers over the Magav, the Israeli border police. One of his recent acts as national security minister, which Ben Gvir announced on January 8 via Twitter, was to instruct police to ban the public display of the Palestinian flag.

The context for the order can be traced to two separate events in which the Palestinian flag was recently raised at public venues. The first comes from celebrations that proudly hoisted the Palestinian flag in the Arab town of ‘Ara for Palestinian prisoner Karim Younis’ release. The second derives from a Palestinian flag flown at an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv. According to Ben Gvir, the flag is representative of supporting terror, hence an order was handed down to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai for “all police officers of any rank…to pull down flags of the Palestinian Authority.”

A protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s judicial reform plan, January 21, 2023

The precedent for illegalizing the Palestinian flag is grounded in Israeli history. Following the 1967 War, the flag was illegalized in the occupied Palestinian territories following the implementation of Israeli jurisdiction. Furthermore, a 1980 law sought to ban, in both Israel-proper and the occupied territories, any artwork showcasing the flag’s four colors. Both aforementioned bans were subsequently lifted following the Oslo Accords, in which Israel accepted the PLO as the representatives of the Palestinian people, thus recognizing their flag. A plethora of Israeli judicial rulings have likewise upheld the legality of publicly displaying the flag.

There are laws, however, that grant police jurisdiction to remove the Palestinian flag in certain situations. As reiterated in a 2014 statement by Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri, the flag can be removed in cases considered contextually provocative against “public peace” or when flag presentation reflects “identification with or sympathy for a terrorist organization.” One notable actualization of such a law was the funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, which saw the hindering of the procession by police alongside the confiscation of Palestinian flags.

The Palestinian national flag has deep roots for Palestinians, with most historians placing its origin between 1909 and 1911. Built off national aspirations and anti-colonial struggles during the Arab Revolt, the flag was eventually adopted by the All-Palestine Government, a government recognized by the majority of the Arab world as holding authority over the modern-day Gaza Strip. The flag was subsequently recognized as the official flag of Palestine by the Arab League. The flag is hence representative to many Palestinians of both their deep roots in the land and their continual struggles for freedom. Ben Gvir’s illegalization of the Palestinian flag can thus be seen as both a direct attack against Palestinians’ civil liberties and a much deeper, symbolic attack on Palestinian identity.

Various Palestinian cultural and political figures have lamented that this law is the beginning of an aggressive crusade by Ben Gvir to erase Palestinian culture and connection to the land, both physically and symbolically. Their concern is not without justification, as past statements by Ben Gvir have expressed support for securing an overwhelmingly Jewish presence in all of historical Israel, a feat only achievable by means of policies like mass “transferring” of Arabs out of the land. While he has attempted to distance himself from past outright racist anti-Arab policies, such as when he was recently jeered by a crowd of Kahanists for saying he does not support deporting every Arab from Israel, he has nonetheless attempted to supplant such provocative views with white-washed rhetoric seeking a similar policy effect.

Ben Gvir is likely aware that his order to ban the Palestinian national flag will not be deemed legal under Israeli law; however, this position is a bold declaration of future policy intentions. Palestinian identity and livelihood will be his primary target during his tenure as national security minister, with each new provocation seeking to pit Jews and Arabs against each other.

In terms of security, Israelis must recognize that figures like Ben Gvir can deteriorate the status quo beyond repair. Ben Gvir’s actions will only increase tensions with U.S. officials and the Palestinian Authority; furthermore, grassroots Palestinian actors will become increasingly dismayed by the inflammatory actions of such far-right figures. With the recent decision by the Palestinian Authority to end security coordination with Israel and desires for reprisals amidst the raid in Jenin, one would be right to question how effective the strong-arm security approach promoted by far-right figures like Ben Gvir truly is. Overall, these upcoming weeks and months will be a testament to just how effective this government, one that overwhelmingly prides itself on effective security, will be in achieving its claims.

Elijah Demetrios Kahlenberg is a rising sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin where he majors in both Government and International Affairs/Foreign Relations (with an emphasis of study on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). He was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Being of Ukrainian-Ashkenazi and Greek-Sephardi (and some distant Romaniote) ancestry, he is fiercely proud of his Jewish heritage. At UT, he is the President and Founder of Atidna at UT, an organization dedicated to bringing together Jews and Arabs/Israelis and Palestinians to have a progressive and civil dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is also the Chair of the University Democrats Jewish Caucus, where he advocates for liberal-Jewish causes on campus. He looks forward to utilizing IPF Atid to create new bonds with a host of different individuals to further develop his insights on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.