Palestinian flag sparks debate in Lincolnwood

SHAFAQNA- NATALIE HAYES For Sun-Times Media: An emotional debate over the presence of the Palestinian flag on Lincoln Avenue this month drew a passionate crowd of nearly 200 people to Lincolnwood Village Hall Monday night.

Most in the crowd supported a stance taken by the Human Relations Commission to allow the flag to stay.

The crowd overflowed into the hallway, where they watched the proceedings on a television. The conversation reached a boiling point when one attendee yelled that “terrorists should get out of the room.”

Others in the crowd yelled back.

Human Relations Chair Stacy Katsibaros told the man to leave, and threatened to end the meeting if the crowd didn’t settle down.

“This was supposed to be an open conversation — not a time to accuse one another, and not a time to start fighting in here,” Katsibaros said.

The community discussion was planned after several residents called on the police department last week to remove the Palestinian flag, which is being flown alongside about 60 flags representing Lincolnwood’s diversity as part of an annual tradition that takes place each August.

The Human Relations Commission started the annual “Diversity Month Flag Display” in 2004 — an idea that began with a handful of flags set up in a display on Pratt Avenue.

“The flags that are flying will stay up,” Katsibaros said. “This (discussion) is about expressing our opinions about why a flag should or shouldn’t be flying, and to lash out at each other when we’re all in this country where we’ve been born isn’t the answer.”

The number of flags has grown each year as people from the community began sending in donations. A $50 contribution buys a flag to represent the donor’s heritage.

Not all residents who spoke during the meeting, however, were totally on board with Lincolnwood Mayor Jerry Turry’s plea for understanding.

Harry Friedman, a longtime Lincolnwood resident, said he’s “perturbed” by the Palestinian flag’s presence in Lincolnwood.

“I have no issues with diversity, but I find it highly insulting to have to face this flag,” Friedman said. “If we wanted to hang flags from other nationally-recognized Arab countries, I’d have no problem with it, but to have to face this issue, where I drive past a flag every day [of a country] that supports my country’s destruction, I don’t feel it’s right in a town like Lincolnwood.”

April Vanderporten of Lincolnwood, in contrast, shared the view of most of those who spoke. She said she was proud to live in a community where all nationalities are celebrated and embraced on a community-wide level.

“The flag should stay up, and I’m glad you’re keeping it up,” said Vanderporten, who volunteers at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie. “I do not believe that any of my neighbors mean any harm.”

Tyler Smith of Morton Grove said he was surprised to see such strong opposition to the flag.

“When you tell people you’re Muslim, Christian or Jewish you’re supposed to be accepting of that,” Smith said. “Arguing about a flag isn’t what America is about and it’s not supportive of your neighbors and the people you love.”

Mayor Turry said the authority to make final decisions regarding diversity month fell under the Village Board.

“As bitter as it may seem to some of our community that they didn’t get the wish they might have come here for, I ask them to take a deep breath, relax and just let it go,” Turry said. “This is a community that has talked about embracing diversity for a long time, and here it is right now that we have the opportunity to stand up and live what we preach.”

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