It happens with steady regularity: an artist, performer or demonstrator displays or uses a Star of David to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and various Zionist, Jewish and Israeli pressure groups condemn the artist as an anti-Semite, thus deflecting attention from the occupation. One of the most notable examples of this phenomenon occurred when former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters displayed an inflatable pig emblazoned with a Star of David during a concert in 2013.
The argument that the use of the Star of David in such contexts is evidence of anti-Semitism seems simple: the Star of David has been a symbol of Judaism for centuries, and any deprecatory depiction of it in works of art or in demonstrations necessarily represents hatred or fear of Judaism or Jews.
The flaw in this argument is that the Star of David is not merely a religious symbol but a national one as well, as it is the central constituent of the flag of the State of Israel. By using the Star of David thus, Israel has made the Star its de facto symbol, especially since the official emblem of Israel, the Menorah, is relatively unknown outside of that country. It is therefore no surprise that it is the Star and not the Menorah that is usually used to symbolize the state of Israel in the worlds of art and politics.
For the sake of fairness let us note that it is not only the Star of David that enjoys dual significance as a religious and a national symbol. The cross, with its many variations, is used on flags of numerous countries and is therefore a legitimate target for critics of these countries and their policies. A critic of Sweden may desecrate a yellow Nordic cross without being accused of anti-Christian sentiments and an opponent of Scottish nationalism may use a saltire similarly. Those who use religious symbols for nationalist causes run the risk of having these symbols used or mocked by those who have no axe to grind with the religion or its followers.
Still, one might argue that those wishing to criticize Israel should use its flag as a whole—a blue Star of David between two parallel bars of the same color—rather than the Star by itself. After all, how hard is it for an artist to draw two parallel lines? This might have been a legitimate argument had it not been for Israel’s use of the solo Star of David on (for example) the Israeli Air Force’s coat of arms and in the “kanfey tayis” (aviation wings), the coveted pin worn by IDF pilots. More disturbingly, Israeli Air Force aircraft such as the F-16 and F-15 fighter jets and the Apache attack helicopter display a solo Star of David on their wings and bodies, and when these killing machines take flight and bomb civilians in Gaza, they do so as representatives of the symbol they flaunt. As the Israelis have made the Star of David into martial insignia, it is only fair that critics of IDF atrocities be allowed great artistic license when using the Star in cartoons and performances. I find it sadly amusing that so many in the Zionist camp are distraught over an inflatable plastic pig bedecked with a Star of David but not over mass murders by fighter jets festooned with the same symbol.
Furthermore, once we consider who is being represented by the Israeli flag, the Star of David becomes not only a permissible but an appropriate target for critics of Israel and its policies. Roughly one-quarter of Israeli citizens aren’t Jewish, yet the soldiers occupying the Palestinian territories, the pilots bombing Gazan neighborhoods, and the Shin Bet agents torturing Palestinian detainees are overwhelmingly Jewish (a small percentage are Bedouin, Druze, Circassians and Christians, and these are rarely given “important” duties requiring a high security clearance). To use the Israeli flag in cartoons and demonstrations is to target the Israeli population as a whole, but it is largely the Jewish majority that supports the occupation, that votes for the likes of Netanyahu and right, and that is engaged in “hands-on” oppression in the Palestinian territories, and I doubt anyone believes the occupation would have lasted had Arab parties had a majority in the Knesset. By using the Star of David, a critic of Israel’s policies conveys the message that it is largely Jewish Israelis and not Israelis at large who are to blame. And there is nothing anti-Semitic about drawing attention to that fact.
None of this implies that the use of the Star of David is always justified, for the Star is routinely used in overtly anti-Semitic cartoons and works of propaganda alongside other anti-Semitic stock characters and symbols (e.g. a smiling Jew with a long nose). My point is simply that use of the Star of David is not always unjustified, and that in the context of criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians it is very often appropriate.
Besides, if Israelis and their supporters are really so concerned about the use of their vaunted religio-national symbol by critics and detractors, let them worry about ending the occupation first. When the Star of David stands for humanist values and not for oppression, its use in artistic works will diminish and it will be far easier to distinguish the anti-Semites from the rest. Until then, let that Star be an object of contempt.