The City University of New York, which has already outraged Israel supporters with its decision to honor anti-Israel playwright Tony Kushner, will also be taking the unusual step of flying a Palestinian flag at the upcoming commencement for City College, a spokesperson for the university told me today.
“The City College flies all of the flags that are flown at the United Nations,” the Vice President for Communications Mary Lou Edmondson told me. “It has nothing to do with foreign policy.”
But there’s one problem—the United Nations doesn’t fly the Palestinian flag. It only flies the flags of its 192 member states.
Then what prompted the college’s decision? I’ve asked Edmonson to clarify her statement, and haven’t heard back yet. But it seems pretty obvious that politics did play a role. CUNY’s City College hasn’t flown the flag in previous years, and so this decision had to have been made recently. And with the Kushner debate still raging, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a no doubt the most volatile subject on campus.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who’s been at the center of the Kushner controversy, said that the flag issue seemed to point to a double-standard at the university.
“I would think if we were going to fly the flags of aspiring nations, then we should certainly those of aspiring nations that have been in the mix even longer, like Tibet, like Kurdistan,” Wiesenfeld said. “In other words, whatever the policy is, it should be based on a consistency, but not a fashion of the moment.”
One City College faculty member said it reflected a deeper problem in academia. “It seems completely inappropriate, considering that there are no other flags of non-nations,” she said. “I just personally feel very upset by it because I feel that there’s so much anti-Israel sentiment in general, and specifically on college campuses.”
Flying the Palestinian flag is not a problem in itself. But flying it alongside the flags of UN member countries, at a public university, makes a particular statement. It says that CUNY’s City College is recognizing the state of Palestine, and its quest for UN member status, regardless of the outcome of the peace process. The college is free to argue that this has “nothing to do with foreign policy,” but the reality speaks for itself.
Update: CUNY’s City College VP of communications Mary Lou Edmondson emails this response: “I regret that I misspoke about the flags flown at the United Nations. At this time, in this 10th anniversary year of 9/11, we are focused on prominently displaying ten American flags in silent commemoration of the thousands of men and women who lost their lives.”