Of the hundreds of demonstrators who showed up on Saturday to counter a white supremacist rally in Dayton, Ohio, some were seen stomping on and attempting to burn the flag of the Jewish state.
The rally, held by nine members of the Honorable Sacred Knights of Indiana, which is affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, drew some 500 to 600 counter-protesters, The Dayton Jewish Observer reported. Among the diverse crowd were Antifa activists, faith delegations and members of the New Black Panther Party.
While the day passed without any reported violence, several counter-protesters were photographed trying to set an Israeli flag on fire, and — failing to do so — ripping and stomping on it.
The photos were shared on Facebook by Native American activist Corine Fairbanks, who posted them with the caption, “More Allies, and Palestinian Relatives, wanting to burn flag- FREE PALESTINE!! Deport the KKK.”
Anti-Zionist groups have increasingly attempted to link their cause with social justice movements on the left, and often equate Zionism — a diverse movement that supports the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination — with white supremacy and other forms of racism that have historically oppressed Jews.
Jen Mendoza, a member of the Cincinnati Palestine Solidarity Coalition, who was photographed attempting to burn the flag, said “the incident occurred after she saw three young men with an Israeli flag and entered into what she described as a confusing discussion with them,” The Observer reported.
“Recognizing the state of Israel as being of the same ideology [as] American capitalist imperialist settler colonialism, and seeing that flag on our side was jolting,” Mendoza recalled.
“One of them said that he was from Israel. And then the other two boys looked Arab,” she continued. “The other kid, he was the one doing a lot of the talking, he made comments about God giving them the land, and at that point I was like, ‘Well, you’re on the wrong side of this fence if that’s what you believe.’”
The boy then said “some extremely Zionist, racist things,” before asking, in an apparent reversal, whether he should stomp on the flag. Mendoza said she’d be happy to set it on fire, she told The Observer.
“And then he flipped and was like, ‘Yeah, let’s burn this flag right now,’” Mendoza said. “He helped tear it apart — and then he told us that he was doing a social experiment to find out where people really stood on fascism. And then he began chanting, ‘Free Palestine.’”
Fairbanks told The Observer that at one point, a young woman asked those vandalizing the flag, “What are you? Against Jews?”
“I remember them [the young men] saying that no, they weren’t against Jews, they wanted Palestine to be free,” said Fairbanks, who argued that the Israeli flag “has nothing to do with Judaism.”
“I’m American Indian,” she said in her comments to The Observer. “To say I’m against America and the United States government and what they’ve done to indigenous people, yes definitely. So I am in solidarity with indigenous people worldwide. I know there’s a complex history with the indigenous people and what’s happening in Israel, I understand there’s a complexity that’s very different from what’s happening here, but there’s also a lot of commonality between Native American people here and the indigenous people there.”
At least one local resident, Sara Stathes, was rattled by the incident with the Israeli flag. “I was shocked to see that,” Stathes told The Observer. “I saw some counterarguments as to why they might have done that, but at the same time it’s totally unacceptable. It made me feel sick.”