Like other non-believers, If I happen to find myself in a place where people are reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, I leave out the line “under God.” So when Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran refused to sing the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” I fully understood. He didn’t make a scene. He simply refrained from singing. A few years back Muslim cabinet minister Raleb Majadele did the same thing.
Unfortunately, a few politicians in Israel find it necessary to engage in demagogy over his respectful non-participation. Calls for Joubran’s condemnation – and even removal – were quick to come just as they had for Majadele. Back then the former minister reacted to the brouhaha:
“As a government minister, I swore allegiance to the laws of the State of Israel, and I intend to honor them.” Majadele noted that he expresses his respect to the national anthem by standing up whenever the song is being sung.
“To the best of my knowledge, the law does not require me to sing the anthem, but to honor it. I fail to understand how an enlightened, sane Jew allows himself to ask a Muslim person with a different language and culture, to sing an anthem that was written for Jews only,” he added.
For a change (some would say typically) I don’t have a coherent or consistent opinion on this. I am greatly moved by Hatikva. It speaks to my lifelong love and devotion to the best in Zionism. My great-grandparents were patrons of Naftali Herz Imber. Emotionally speaking, I would not want Israel to change its anthem.
Plenty of national anthems have lyrics that are objectionable to someone. I’m sure plenty of non-believers choke on the lyrics to “God Save the Queen.” Unlike the United States, founded as a completely secular undertaking (according to my worldview anyway), Israel was created to preserve a uniquely Jewish cultural outlook. In an ideal world Arab Israelis could happily participate, feeling love and admiration for the Jewish heritage of the state. This will happen just after peace descends upon the planet heralded by unicorns and rainbows.
It’s not easy being a minority in a country which honors values that are not yours. The Israeli situation is even more complicated by the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. Israeli Jews would do well to respect the country’s Arab citizens’ non-participation in this particularly Jewish aspect of Israeli life.