Israeli Flag Torn in Half at Pomona College
Image taken by Solomon Oshin
This fall, Solomon Olshin, a Senior at Pomona, hung three flags from his dorm window: an Israeli Flag, a Jewish Gay Pride Flag and a Ukrainian Flag. One morning, he woke up to find the Israeli flag torn in half.
Olshin claims its vandalism is a symptom of a much larger problem: the suppression of dialogue about Israel on campus. He explained, “I and many of the Jewish community members that I have talked to on the Claremont campus have interpreted this as an act of antisemitism because it uniquely creates a double standard and a de-legitimization of the right of any student on campus to openly express affiliation with their national homeland and with the only Jewish state. That is one of the most basic parts of the definition of antisemitism that I have chosen to use, which is the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition.”
Alongside the definition, the IHRA presents a number of contemporary examples of antisemitism. The group maintains that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” is antisemitic. Many opponents, though, hold that denying Israel’s right to exist is not necessarily antisemitic.
Olshin added that he believes that criticizing Israeli policies is often not anti-semitic. “I am very critical of many of the Israeli government's policies openly on this campus, and I'm also very critical of many of the American government's policies — and every other nation. I think that's something that's wonderful and to be encouraged,” he explained.
Sara Habaibeh CM ’25, a Palestinian student from the West Bank and co-creator of MENA in The Media, a podcast about Middle Eastern issues, said, “in some cases,... [the Israeli flag is] an announcement of a state that many people… [believe] violates human rights… It could be [interpreted as] a loud statement of what [Zionists] believe in.” She continued, “to the opposite side, it could also be just some person who's from that country [Israel] and who’s saying, 'yeah, I'm from this country.'"
When asked if the desecration of Olshin’s flag was truly an act of anti-semitism, Habaibeh explained, “I think [the vandals] are… just immature people… If they thought it might achieve anything in terms of helping the Palestinians, they believed wrongly for sure. Because that's not how you do it.” She added, “people think [Palestinians] hate Jewish people. It blows my mind… we don't hate Jewish people. We hate Zionists who have extreme opinions against us and hate us and want us to be exiled out of the land as if we haven't been living here for the past however many years just as much as [Jews] have been.”
Olshin believes that the defacement of his Israeli flag signifies a larger pattern of the suppression of speech about Israel. “I think that having a conversation and dialogue on our campus about the political issues but also about the cultural and ethnic and identity-based issues that surround Israel is really an important thing, and it's also something that's not happening,” Olshin remarked. “it was really disheartening to see that someone… [was] trying to shut down that conversation.”
To clarify his point about the suppression of pro-Israel speech, Olshin continued, “I don't think that… a large percentage of the students are truly… hateful of Jews or of anyone else, but I think that the ideology and the messages that come out of the loudest voices that are anti-Israel on campus create a really toxic environment for dialogue.” He added that because of his Zionist views, he is written off as anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab in many spaces.
Olshin also told the Claremont Independent about another similar incident. He once posted more than 100 posters advertising an Israeli internship program. “People tore down more than 75 of them over about a five-week period, all across the campuses. And they were tearing them down in a very targeted way. It wasn't like they were in the wrong place. They were approved by the college. They had stamps on them saying they were approved. They were put in approved poster locations… And I felt really frustrated by that because I felt like it was an act of censorship,” he said.
Another suppressor of Israel-related speech on campus is Jewish students’ self-censorship. According to Olshin, many are worried about being “canceled” for having such conversations. The consequences for them politically on all of the Claremont campuses seem to outweigh the potential benefits.
Olshin expresses sympathy for those who feel discomfort talking about Israel-Palestine issues. However, he adds that “being willing to engage deeply on issues that are sometimes uncomfortable and being able to have uncomfortable conversations is an incredibly important thing for young college students to be doing with their time... and it's something that will help truly make the Claremont Colleges a place of learning and of exchange and diversity.”
Habaibeh agreed with Olshin, saying “you just have to walk in with an open mind. Right? I mean, if I, as a Palestinian who has gone through all that and experienced firsthand what occupation is, still choose to walk in with an open mind into the conversations about Palestine, Israel, or just in general any issue with opposing opinions, then I think many people should also do that.”
Disclosure: Sara Habaibeh works in the Web Department at the Independent. She was not involved in the writing of this article or the investigation of this case.