LAT: Flags are great for holiday celebration, but hyper-patriotism is un-American

As soon as I read that headline in the Los Angeles Times today, I prayed, “Let the author not be a Jew.”

My prayer was not answered.

Why do many Jews fear gentile patriotism? Because the stronger the goy gets in his national, religious or racial identity, the more likely he is to see the Jew as alien.

Jews often love Jewish nationalism but fear gentiles nationalisms.

Mark Oppenheimer writes:

I come from flag-ambivalent America. My neighborhood is peopled by gays and Jews, professors and social workers, and Catholics of the Dorothy Day persuasion. Yoga practitioners and yoga teachers. Vegetarians. Bicycling enthusiasts.

We love the Fourth of July, with its long weekend, its parades, its backyard barbecues (veggie burgers available). It wouldn’t be Independence Day without flag bunting on floats, flags lining our Main Streets, flags adorning houses. But we aren’t much for patriotic symbolism the rest of the year. For us, it’s an article of faith that crude patriotism quickly turns on the underdog, the minority. We know how the flag is used to impose loyalty tests, which we find un-American.

In Mark Oppenheimer’s America, they’re fine with a holiday, but they don’t want to celebrate America too much. They don’t like loyalty tests because they’re “un-American.” So on the one hand, he states he comes from “flag-ambivalent America”, another way of saying “ambivalent about America”, but he is happy to use the “un-American” argument when useful.

So where are his loyalties? They certainly are not to the United States of America. This country is just something to use.

The Judeo-Christian tradition has a name for that heresy: idol worship. Like many houses of worship, my synagogue hangs an American flag in the front (and an Israeli one, too). I wish we wouldn’t. If I face the Torah scroll, I’m confronted by those two schmattes on sticks. Yet the Torah is the opposite of a crude symbol. Like other great books — like the U.S. Constitution, for that matter — it invites us not to simplify but to enlarge our thinking. It invites, indeed has been improved by, interpretation.

On the Fourth of July, flags make me think about a war fought for democracy, a subsequent struggle to make that democracy better and more inclusive, and, most immediately, a holiday, a day off, so a free people can enjoy some extra leisure. But the rest of the year? Flags make me uneasy. I know their owners are checking out my lapel, and probably my front porch. And I know what they’re not seeing.

They’re seeing an alien among them.

The United States hasn’t fought any wars for democracy.

As American democracy has become more inclusive, social trust has steadily declined. Diversity and inclusivity destroy social trust.

I wonder if the Israeli flag makes him uneasy? It seems to. So Oppenheimer is consistent. He’s more of a leftist than a Jew. As a good leftist, he accords little importance to race, religion and ethnicity as core factors in creating nations. Jewish leftists who don’t like the Jewish state of Israel are not evil. They’re simply consistent with their left-wing approach to life which does not like ethno-states.

Mark Oppenheimer does not like loyalty tests but the Torah does. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5″You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.…So you shall put these, my words, on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them for signs on your hands, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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