In his first television interview as Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren said Sunday that he hoped Israeli Arabs would feel comfortable singing the national anthem and saluting the Israeli flag as "a loyal minority that enjoys full and equal rights."
Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren.
Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
"I would hope that Israeli Arabs would also feel a sense of loyalty to a flag that has a symbol on it, a star, which is also actually an Islamic symbol, not just an exclusively Jewish symbol," Oren said in response to a question from Fareed Zakaria on the latter's CNN show, Fareed Zakaria GPS.
Oren's comments negate the claims of many Israeli Arabs, who have long expressed feelings that the flag and national anthem are meaningless - and are even insulting - to the one-fifth of Israel's population that is not Jewish.
"We don't have any empathy for symbols that are Jewish symbols like the menorah or the Magen David," Arab MK Ahmed Tibi told The Jerusalem Post. "And you can't impose this on the Arab citizens. The Magen David is a Jewish symbol, and he's [Oren] talking about Jews, not Arabs."
According to scholars, until the early 19th century the star's significance was magical, not political, and it was accepted as an important symbol in Christianity and Islam as well as in Judaism.
What is now known as the Star of David was originally associated with his son, King Solomon, according to Magen David: History of a Symbol, a book published posthumously in the name of renowned Israeli scholar Gershon Scholem in May.
According to a legend common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Solomon received a signet ring from heaven with the familiar six-pointed star, with one corner on the ground and one in the heavens, symbolizing the connection between humanity and the divine.
In the 16th century, Suleiman the Great placed the symbol on the walls he built around Jerusalem in an attempt to connect himself to the legacy of King Solomon, and Muslim artists both before and after him used it in their work.
In an article published in 1949, just after the symbol became the center of the flag of the new State of Israel, Scholem wrote, "The Magen David is not a Jewish symbol, and therefore not the 'symbol of Judaism'."
The first official association of the Magen David with Jews was in Prague in the 14th century, around the same time it became attached to David rather than Solomon. Scholem wrote that it was unclear if it was chosen by the Jews in Prague as a symbol for themselves or imposed on them as a brand by the Christian rulers. Either way, the use of the Magen David as a Jewish symbol quickly spread around Europe.
When Theodore Herzl asked his assistant, David Wolfsohn, to create a Zionist flag in preparation for the first Zionist Congress in 1897, the Magen David was chosen for the center, between two blue stripes. This flag was hung when Israel declared independence and on October 28, 1948, the provisional government voted unanimously to adopt the Zionist flag as the official flag of the State of Israel.
"Because the Zionist movement appropriated it, it might be hard for [Israel Arabs] to relate to it," said Lev Kapitaikin, a lecturer on Islamic art at Tel Aviv University. "It is an Islamic magical symbol, but it is not an Islamic political symbol, so there is a difference."