The Palestinian flag was raised at North Andover’s town common on Tuesday, the morning after the select board approved a resident’s request that sparked intense debate.
The board’s unanimous vote came after residents debated the issue for an hour, according to Town Manager Melissa Murphy-Rodrigues.
On Oct. 16, resident Selma Khayal submitted a request to have the flag displayed on the town common from Nov. 7 to Dec. 7. The Israeli flag had flown at the common after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. It remained there until Nov. 9.
The select board had planned to discuss the issue on Nov. 6 but postponed the meeting due to “threats of litigation, as well as public safety concerns and space constraints,” officials said in a statement.
The request to display the Palestinian flag was submitted just six hours before the town voted to update its flag policy, incorporating changes that were months in the making, Murphy-Rodrigues said.
“After several months of careful review, on Monday, October 16th, the Select Board voted to update all of their policies, including the flag policy, in order to make those policies consistent with applicable case law,” Murphy-Rodrigues said in a statement.
Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled the City of Boston had violated the First Amendment rights of a Christian group by refusing its request to raise a flag outside City Hall in 2017.
But since the new policy hadn’t taken effect when the request was filed, the old policy applied.
“The recent US Supreme Court decision addressing flag policies in the context of the First Amendment, Shurtleff v. Boston, requires select boards to make content-neutral decisions regarding the raising of flags on flagpoles deemed public forums, unless the Town enacts a policy restricting flag poles to governmental speech,” Murphy-Rodrigues said. “The content or the subject matter of a flag cannot be considered when reviewing an application presented under the old policy.”
The new policy “does not allow a resident to submit an application to raise a flag,” Murphy-Rodrigues said.
Khayal could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Rabbi Idan Irelander of Congregation Ahavat Olam, a synagogue in North Andover, attended the select board meeting at North Andover High School on Monday. He said he understood the town was bound by the old policy, but still hoped the board would “do the right thing” and reject the application anyway.
“For us, the Jewish community, and other people, this flag represents today, unfortunately, hatred, anti-Semitism, and war, because Hamas is the elected ruling party in Gaza,” Irelander said.
Irelander said the police presence at the meeting showed “how controversial” the topic is. The board’s decision made it appear they were “afraid of being sued,” he said.
“We’re very disappointed by the outcome,” Irelander said.