According to witnesses, a small airplane trailed an anti-semitic banner over Venice Beach June 24.
A cell-phone camera captured a low-resolution image of private plane, trailing an aerial banner depicting a Nazi swastika inside a Star of David. According to witnesses, the name of an anti-semite website followed the swastika image. In the photo, only the .org suffix is legible.
In an e-mail to The Jewish Journal, the witness reported the plane made three appearances above the crowded beach between 3:20 and 3:40 pm.
Venice Beach is one of Los Angeles’s most popular tourist attractions, hosting 16 million visitors each year.
The airplane banner reads, “proswastika.org.” It was sponsored by the Raelian group, which seeks to reclaim the swastika as a religious symbol. From the web site:
The Swastika has been a symbol of peace for millions of Hindus, Buddhists and also Raelians since it is their symbol of infinity in time, their symbol of eternity.
Today, in order to redeem themselves for past horrible discriminations done under a flag showing this symbol, German authorities are discriminating again, telling Hindus, Buddhists, Raelians and all other groups who have been using this symbol for centuries for some of them, that the representation of their beliefs is not welcome in Europe!
Banning cannot solve anything, education is the only way!
Of course, what better way to bring world peace than to fly a swastika inside a Star of David over a crowded beach on the Westside of Los Angeles?
[UPDATED JUNE 25]:
The mystery of the flying swastika now ends as most things do in our society: with the threat of a lawsuit.
After further reports came in of a similar banner flown over Monmouth Beach in New Jersey, The Journal received an email from Ricky Lee Roehr, a self-described bishop of the Raelian movement.
“The banner we flew over cities in the USA contained several symbols, including a swastika, a love sign (heart) and a peace sign,” Roehr wrote. “In no way was the swastika symbol meant to promote in ANY way the horrible acts and legacy left by the Nazis. If you would have researched just a little (as our website was also on that banner behind the plane) you would have known that…We are NOT anti-semetic nor are we Nazi sympathizers and insist that you remove all allegations alluding that we are.”
Roehr added: “If you do not correct your article within 24 hours, expect to receive correspondence from our attorney, Jon Levy.”
Is a swastika in the sky on its face offensive and anti-semitic, even when followed by the name of a web site that is not? Can a movement garner free attention by choosing an outrageous symbol? Is it the equivalent of say, baring your naked breasts to get your religious views across? If the Raelian’s lawyer is as good as their marketing strategy, watch out….
[UPDATE June 26]
Huffington Post blogger David Moye did some more searching and came up with this:
The organizers of an international rally designed to improve the supposedly maligned reputation of the swastika expected to cause a furor when they hired a place to fly a banner featuring the Nazi symbol and they couldn’t be happier with the results.
But their satisfaction came at the expense of people in New Jersey and New York who were upset to see the huge sign on Saturday equating swastikas with peace and love.
“It got the attention, so it was a success,” said Thomas Kaenzig, organizer of “World Swastika Rehabiliation Day”.
The event, the third of its kind, was designed to return the swastika to its original meaning, which in Sanskrit literally means “to be good,” according to Kaenzig. The event was put on by a UFO religion known as the Raelians that claims to have 70,000 members. They believe the swastika is a symbol of the elohim, a race of extraterrestrials who they claim created humans.
Kaenzig hoped to get attention for the cause by flying a banner over New Jersey and New York City and a second one in Los Angeles.
But it aroused criticism from people like Don Pripstein, president of the Jewish Community Center of Long Beach Island, who told the Associated Press that whatever the group’s intentions are, the image is still horrific for many Jews whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
“They may have good intentions, but the image is more powerful than good intentions at this point,” he said to the AP. “The image is so horrendous that no matter what their ultimate purpose is, it’s extremely negative.”
The Raelians are known for being provocative: The group’s symbol combines the Jewish Star of David with the swastika. Kaenzig justifies what might be considered an offensive combination by saying it’s the end result that matters.
“One thing leads to another,” he told the Huffington Post. “Some people will go beyond the knee jerk reaction and go to the website and see what we’re really about.”
Before Germany’s Nazi Party embraced the swastika in the 1920s, for thousands of years it appeared on Hindu and Buddhist temples, in Native American artwork and even in Jewish synagogues in Israel.
Fellow Raelian Rick Roehr said the group’s objective is to take back the swastika from the Nazis.
“Our objective in this annual “Swastika Rehabilitation Day” is to… rehabilitate the image of this very ancient symbol which has, in recent decades, been equated only with Hitler’s horrors, when in fact, the swastika has always meant something very beautiful, peaceful and loving for billions of people all over the world and still is by billions of people,” he said in a statement the group’s website.
“The swastika has longstanding meaning as a symbol of peace, and nothing the Nazis did can change that,” Wecker told The Huffington Post by email. “The reality is, however, that it also carries Nazi baggage now, and anyone who thinks they’re going to ‘take it back’ or ‘own it’ by holding some kind of public forum without offending a lot of people is deeply mistaken.”
Still, Kaenzig said change can happen one person at a time.
“The person who owns the plane company went to Mexico on Saturday and got a call from a woman complaining about the banner,” Kaenzig said. “He told her, ‘Look, I’m spending $80 on roaming charges listening to you. Could you just go look at the website?
“She called him back five minutes later and apologized, saying that she was a teacher who taught her kids about the Holocaust and never knew the history of the swastika.”
If you have more information on this incident, please email The Jewish Journal.