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Israel - Flag Proposals (1948-1949)

Last modified: 2011-03-11 by andrew weeks
Keywords: israel | contest | proposal | law | stars: 7 (yellow) | star: 6 points (yellow) |
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See also:

Other sites:

  • The Flag and The Emblem by Alec Mishory, with broad information on the development of both flag and arms, at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website


From the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Flag and Emblem webpage:

After nearly 50 years during which the flag served the Zionist movement worldwide, including the Yishuv (the Jewish community) in the Land of Israel, an ad-hoc committee of the Provisional Council of State in 1948 decided to "introduce a conspicuous difference —to the extent possible— between the flag of the State and the Zionist flag". Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Shertok (Sharett) explained that this was desirable "so as to avoid complications for Jewish communities when they raise the international flag of the Jewish people, namely the Zionist flag, and misunderstandings may occur, or the impression might be that they are flying the flag of a state of which they are not citizens". So that Diaspora Jewry would not be exposed to charges of dual loyalty, it was decided to organize a competition for new designs for the flag of the State of Israel, which would be different from the Zionist flag.

The proposal of Mr. Nissim Sabbah of Tel Aviv, included components that recurred in most of the proposed designs: two blue stripes, a white background, a Star of David in the middle and seven gold stars. (...)

In July 1948, Mordechai Nimtza-bi, an expert on heraldry, published a book entitled The Flag (...). He created many variations on the Zionist flag. The Provisional Council of State did not accept any of his proposals, nor those submitted by the public at large.

At the tenth meeting of the Provisional Council of State, Moshe Sharett submitted another proposal, that of graphic artist Oteh Walisch. (...)

In the meantime, Moshe Sharett decided to inquire into Diaspora Jewry's thoughts about the flag of the State of Israel. On July 20, 1948, he sent cables to Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who was in Switzerland at the time; to Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, in New York; to Prof. Zelig Brodetsky, in London; and to the Zionist General Council, in Johannesburg. Rabbi Silver replied that "we would prefer to leave the Zionist flag as the national flag of Israel, with a minimum of changes. We feel that the fear of complications as a result of use of the flag at Zionist gatherings overseas has been somewhat exaggerated". The other Zionist leaders responded similarly. After the fears of dual loyalty had been alleviated, the Provisional Council of State voted unanimously on October 28, 1948 to adopt the Zionist flag as that of the State of Israel. The resolution came into effect two weeks later, after publication in the Official Gazette.

Santiago Dotor, 18 October 2002

The 1948 Flag Contest

When the state of Israel was declared 14 May 1948, the question of an emblem and flag came up. There was a committee to consider the question, and a public competition was announced on 10 June 1948. People were encouraged to include the menorah and the seven golden stars in their designs, though this was not strictly a requirement. Though the time to submit designs was short (originally the deadline was 14 June, it was extended to 25 June), 164 people participated in the competition, submitting a total of 450 designs.

The cabinet preferred a flag design of seven six-pointed golden stars on a white field, with blue stripes above and below. The reason was that some politicians, notably the Minister of Foreign Affairs, felt a need to have a flag for the new state that was different from the flag of the Zionist Movement. This, as we know, was rejected. According to Handelman and Shamgar-Handelman 1990 [an article by Don Handelman and Lea Shamgar-Handelman: Shaping Time: The Choice of the National Emblem of Israel, in Emiko Ohnuki-Tierny (ed): Culture Through Time: Anthropological Approaches, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 193-226], the only difference between the flag of the state of Israel and the flag of the Zionist Movement, was that the shade of blue was changed from light to dark blue in the flag of the state of Israel.

Jan Oskar Engene, 24 June 1996

The Centre of Educational Technology (CET) in Israel recently added to its website a section on the adoption of the flag and state emblem in 1948. The material is from the State Archives and includes information on the process such as committee discussions and designs proposed by the public. Very interesting, but unfortunately for you folks it is all in Hebrew. If you do want to get a peek, click here and you will get a page with a number of entry fields on the right. Below those you'll find images of two buttons. Click the left one and you will get six images of flags. There are about 80 flags and emblems, a few are accompanied by letters sent by the proposers explaining the symbolism. I have permission from the CET and the State Archives to use the information (translated, of course) and the images in the FOTW site or ml.

Nahum Shereshevsky, 20 June 1998

Since the site is in Hebrew, it is quite imposible for non-Hebrew speakers to find those proposals. Most of the proposals concern the emblem, so I will post only those which are flag proposals (24 in all, some double).

Dov Gutterman, 14 February 1999

What do the numbers in the filenames mean? Is it a (semi-)official ordinal number — like for example 'proposal number 61' (out of a total of, say, 70 proposals)?. Or is it possible that a different listing would have the same proposal with a different number?

Santiago Dotor, 18 February 1999

These are simply the filenames from the CET site — I do not know if they have any meaning.

Nahum Shereshevsky, 19 February 1999

Text of the 1948 Call for Proposals

We overlooked one simple fact that accounts for the presence of the seven stars in many of the designs — the wording of the public notice asking for proposals. It includes the following: "colours: azure and white (...) design: Magen-David, or seven stars (gold or other colour). Any other proposal or idea would be accepted for consideration as well". This is the full text:

State of Israel — The Provisional Government
Proposals are requested — for a flag and an emblem for the State

Given that:

The flag: the colours — azure and white.
In the flag: Magen-David, or seven stars (gold or other colour).

The emblem: the colours — azure and white and any additional colour, to the designer's liking.
In the emblem: a seven-branch Menorah and seven stars (six-pointed).

Any other proposal or idea would be accepted for concideration as well. The Government is not committed to accept any of the submitted proposals.

The proposals should be delivered in a sealed envelope marked: Secreteriat of the Provisional Government, Emblems Committee. The envelope will bear an identification mark and not a name or anything that can tesify to the identity of the proposer. The name of the owner of the mark and his terms would be revealed in a second envelope.

The deadline for submitting proposals is Monday, 7th of Sivan 5708 (June 14 1948) at noon, Israel time.

The said committee debated (the Centre of Educational Technology website elaborates) and in November 1948 they decided to ask the public again for proposals, but this time without any guidelines.

Nahum Shereshevsky, 2 March 1999

Proposal by Nissim Sabah 1949

[1949 Proposal by Nissim Sabah]
image by Dov Gutterman and Mark Sensen

Padan 1998 (Sefer Ha'Dgalim Ha'Shalem) shows another 1948 proposal by Nissim Sabah from Tel-Aviv who described it as, "two light blue stripes, blue Magen David and seven gold or yellow stars on light [sic?] white background".

Dov Gutterman, 30 August 2001

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Flag and Emblem webpage also shows this proposal (image here) but dates it 1949.

Santiago Dotor, 31 October 2002

Proposal by Otta Wallish 1949

[1949 Proposal by Otta Wallish]
image by Jan Oskar Engene

Padan 1998 shows this flag. It is not mentioned that the Government preferred it — it just says "proposal by Otta Wallish". Wallish was a well-known graphic designer at the time, he designed many of Israel's stamps in the early years, including the Doar Ivri set.

Nahum Shereshevsky, 4 June 1998

According to Padan 1998 (Sefer Ha'Dgalim Ha'Shalem) the flag proposal by Otta Wallish was a triband and not with thin blue stripes as in the current Israel flag.

Dov Gutterman, 25 August 2001

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Flag and Emblem webpage also shows a triband:

Oteh Walisch, Proposal for the Flag of Israel, 1949

At the tenth meeting of the Provisional Council of State, Moshe Sharett submitted another proposal, that of graphic artist Oteh Walisch.

In Walisch's design, the flag is divided crosswise into three equal sections: blue stripes at top and bottom, with a single row of seven gold stars emblazoned on the white section in the middle. This division differs from that of the Zionist flag, which had five stripes — two blue and three white. The relative widths are different, too. Walisch's design represents a deliberate departure from the Zionist flag. As noted, the blue stripes on the latter were taken from the prayer shawl. When Walisch moved them to the upper and lower edges of the banner and made them wider, the design was no longer an obvious reminder of the tallit. The disappearance of the blue stripes gives his proposal a more "secular" character.

Santiago Dotor, 18 October 2002