I am a citizen of two countries whose politics I loathe, yet feel very connected to. Why, then, do Iranian national symbols fill me with pride, while Israeli ones make me feel uncomfortable?
For the past three days I have been excitedly following reports of the celebrations in Iran following the signing of the nuclear agreement with the West. These are days of joy and optimism for the Iranian people, both inside and outside the country.
As the news broke, thousands of Iranians spontaneously flooded the streets of nearly every city in the country. Even opposition members celebrated in the streets, and did not forget to remind President Rouhani of their demands to release Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, two opposition leaders who have been under house arrest since the 2009 elections. Even the Iranian diaspora celebrated the momentous occasion, albeit cautiously, and among them were those who were persecuted by the regime and fled the Islamic Republic.
In fact, the Iranians were not celebrating the success of the regime, but rather a ray hope, be it wide or narrow. I, too, celebrated with them.
According to the Iranian authorities, one cannot get rid of his or her citizenship, which means I am technically still considered an Iranian citizen. Thus, I am a citizen of two problematic countries, both of which have a record of human rights violations, political arrests, torture and executions (yes, in my eyes the IDF’s open-fire regulations in the West Bank are a clear form of execution).
I am a citizen of two countries whose politics I loathe, while at the same time I feel very connected to their respective civil societies. I ask myself, then, why the Iranian national symbols, such as the color of the flag, fill me with pride, while Israel’s symbols make me feel uncomfortable. Why is it easy for me to identify as a proud Iranian and not a proud Israeli, despite my deep commitment to Israeli society?
I believe that the answer has much to do with the fact that in Iran there is a national identity independent of the current regime — a deep, tangible Iranian identity that is not subject to a specific rule. In fact, since the Muslims conquered Iran and until the Islamic Revolution in 1979, much of Iran’s national identity was actually formed in opposition to the regime. One of the clearest examples of this is the tendency among many Iranians over the last several decades to name their children after historical Persian figures, as a form of national rebellion against the Islamic regime.
In Israel, however, there is a direct overlap between the state and the regime. Although there have always been non-Zionist voices here, Israel was established and formed as a Zionist state, and as such it is very difficult to develop a national, Israeli identity that is separate from the state. When the Israeli public hears calls for the end of the Zionist regime, it views them as a direct threat to physically annihilate the state. In Iran, not a single person will view a call to end the Islamic Republic as a call to annihilate Iran.
Growing up in Iran, every morning the students at my school would rise and sing the national anthem, which at the time was a song of praise for the king, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. After the Shah was overthrown and replaced by the Islamic regime, the national anthem was replaced by one that praises the new regime. But then, just like now, the Iranian people had their own, unofficial anthem that praises not the wonders of the regime, but rather the wonders of Iran itself. Even its Wikipedia entry refers to it as “Iran’s de facto national anthem.”
In Israel, on the other hand, any attempt to raise the issue of changing the national anthem so that it does not exclude the country’s non-Jewish citizens is roundly rejected. Even the idea itself is seen as a form of treason. Similarly, an Israeli who waves the flag outside the country will do so out of open support for his country. An Iranian who waves the triple-colored flag outside of Iran will do so in order to express solidarity with his people, and will most likely be an opponent of the regime.
I believe that the greatest challenge we face is to formulate an Israeli identity that is not subject to the restrictions of Zionism. I want to believe that one day I will be able to wave this flag without shame. For now, I will continue to celebrate with the Iranian people from afar.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.