Not many nations in the world have a history as rich and controversial as that of Israel. Officially called the State of Israel, Israel has had a tumultuous past filled with struggle after struggle. However, the middle-eastern country remains a strong nation with a rich culture and a deep-seated sense of nationalism. The Israeli flag is one of the country’s major symbols of nationalism. Adopted officially in 1948, a few months after the state of Israel was established, the flag has a simple but meaningful design symbolic of the country’s history. Here are some interesting facts about the history, meaning, and symbolism of the Israeli National Flag.
What Does the Flag of Israel Look Like?
The flag of Israel has a unique and recognizable design which includes a blue hexagram on a white background with a horizontal blue stripe at the top and bottom. The official proportions of the national flag is an 8:11 ratio with a dimension of 63 × 86.6 inches. However, the flag can also be found in other proportions, with the most common variant being the 2:3 ratio.
The blue color of the Israel flag is dark sky-blue. However, since Israeli law does not specify the exact color shade of the flag, darker variations of this color are sometimes used. The different shades range from a pure blue color to a dark shade, almost as deep as navy blue.
History of the Flag of Israel
The hexagram (six-sided star) was a popular talisman back in the middle ages. People believed this symbol and the pentagram (five-sided star) had mystical powers to protect them against evil spirits. Initially, both the pentagram and hexagram were called the “Seal of Solomon.” However, as time passed, the hexagram got the name “Magen David” or “Shield of David,” while the pentagram retained its initial name.
The Star of David began to appear in Jewish art in the 17th century. In 1648, Roman Emperor Ferdinand II permitted the Jews in Prague to fly a flag over their synagogue. The flag was red with a yellow Star of David symbol at its center.
The blue and white colors of the Israeli flag have been an iconic national color of the Jewish religion since biblical times. The first widely-recognized mention of the colors in association with the Jewish nation was in a poem titled “Judah’s colors” written by Ludwig August Von Frankl, a Jewish author and poet, in 1864.
Many Jewish villages and local groups used this blue and white color in their local flags. In 1885, Fanny Abramovitch and Israel Belkind designed a white and blue flag with the blue Star of David for the third annivesary of the Rishon LeZion village. This was the first documented use of the blue colors and the Star of David together on an Israeli flag.
In 1891, one of the founders of Nachalat Reuven (an agricultural village in Israel) flew a similar flag that included the text “a banner of Zion” (a reference to Jeremiah 4:6). The city later adopted the name written on it.
Usage by the Zionist Movement and Israel’s Independence
Despite local usage, the flag’s current design only became popular on a national level after the Zionist Movement adopted it. The Bnai Zion Educational Society flew the flag for the first time on July 20, 1891, at its headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts. Jacob Askowith and his son, Charles, designed the Zionist flag, which they nicknamed the “flag of Judah.”
The design was based on the tallit, the traditional Jewish prayer shawl, which had the same color. The Zionist flag is similar to the current design of the flag. The only difference between them was that the word “Maccabee” (a nickname for the Tribe of Judah) was written on the Zionist flag. The British army’s Jewish Brigade group flew variations of this flag design during World War II.
Shortly before the country’s independence, Israel’s Provisional State Council asked the public to submit proposals for a new flag design. The council received 164 entries. The initial plan was to abandon the traditional Zionist flag design entirely due to the controversies surrounding the Zionist Movement. Zionist representatives had to ease the concerns of the Israeli council before the Zionist flag was adopted. When Israel became an independent state on May 14, 1948, the Zionist flag was raised. However, the parliament officially adopted it on November 12, 1948.
Symbolism and Meaning
The Israeli flag is made up of two horizontal blue lines on a white background. This specific color combination is symbolic for the Jews. The tallit — the Jewish prayer shawl — has this same color. These colors represent the relationship between God and the Jewish people. The blue of the tallit signifies the heavens, while the white represents purity. The tallit is a way to make the Israelites always remember God’s commandments by the use of color-coded instructions.
The Star of David is acknowledged globally as the symbol of Judaism; it is a hexagram of two triangles overlaid to form a six-pointed star. The Star of David has been in use since the Middle Ages but was officially recognized as a symbol of Judaism in 1897 when the Zionist congress approved its use on its flag.
Although the hexagram was originally used for religious rituals, the original flag designer had a different concept in mind when he incorporated the Star of David. It was meant to depict the 7-hour workday of the Jews.
Controversies Surrounding the Flag of Israel
As with the nation of Israel itself, the Israeli flag has been controversial before and after its official adoption. Since its earliest days, the flag’s design has received criticism from Arabs living in Israel. Although predominantly a Jewish nation, there’s an Arab minority in Israel. However, unlike many countries that tend to include symbols of minority groups on their national flag to promote inclusion, the Israeli flag does not. This has caused opposition from the Arabs in Israel, who feel marginalized by the design.
There has been opposition to this flag’s design externally as well. Palestinians, in particular, have been vocal about their disapproval of the flag’s design. This is based on claims that the flag’s blue stripes represent the Nile and Euphrates rivers, and Israel will eventually claim the lands as its own (based on the boundaries of the Promised Land as stated in the Bible). If this were to happen, it means Israel would eventually expand its territory from the Nile to the Euphrates — taking over Palestinian territory. In 2006, Mahmoud al-Zahar — Hamas’s leader — demanded Israel change its flag, referring to the “Nile to Euphrates” issue.
In addition to these external oppositions, many orthodox Jewish people also oppose the flag’s design. Their issue with it is the incorporation of the “Star of David,” a symbol banned by several Orthodox Jewish groups because of its association with the World Zionist Organization. Because of this, many groups and prominent individuals oppose this flag’s use, and they discourage their members or followers from praying in synagogues where the flag is raised.
The Israeli flag has come a long way to stay and is a stern reference to the country’s tumultuous history. While there are many controversies surrounding it, it has remained the country’s national symbol, and there are no indications that it will be changed anytime soon. It is undoubtedly one of the most iconic flags in the world, with deep cultural significance to Jews worldwide. Click here to learn about every single flag in the world!
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- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/flag-of-Israel
- Culture Trip, Available here: https://theculturetrip.com/middle-east/israel/articles/a-brief-history-of-israels-national-flag
- My Jewish Learning, Available here: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/israeli-flag
- Jewish Gift Place, Available here: https://jewishgiftplace.com/pages/jewish-star-of-david-meaning
- Israel21c, Available here: https://www.israel21c.org/8-fun-and-fascinating-facts-surrounding-israels-founding