With the conclusion of the academic year approaching, Tel Aviv University has announced that there will be no singing of “Hatikvah” at its graduation ceremony, to avoid causing discomfort to Arab students and their families. Daniel Gordis comments:
This stated reason, it seems to me and many others, is a pretext, and a dangerous one at that. Israel’s Arabs know well that they live in a Jewish state. And for all the complexity that living as an Arab in an expressly Jewish state invariably entails, nothing about having the national anthem sung at a graduation ceremony of a public university would surprise them. Israel, after all, has had this conversation before.
When Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch stepped down from the Supreme Court in 2012, the justices gathered, and . . . sang “Hatikvah.” One of the justices present was Salim Joubran, an Israeli Arab. The cameras at the event showed him standing respectfully, but not singing. As is to be expected in Israeli society, some of the political echelon’s hot-headed rightists assailed Joubran, but most Israelis had sympathy for his predicament and admiration for the dignity with which he comported himself. After all, many Israelis wondered, why would an Israeli Arab (a Maronite Christian in Joubran’s case) sing an anthem that begins “As long as a Jewish soul yearns in the heart within,” and then continues, “Our hope is not yet lost, to be a free nation in the land of Zion.” . . . Arab students graduating from state-funded universities thus have Joubran’s model to follow. . . .
What is perhaps even more astounding than [Tel Aviv University’s] decision not to sing “Hatikvah” is the relative nonchalance of Israelis who read about [it]. Perhaps Israelis consider academicians irrelevant, an intellectual echo-chamber entirely out of touch with the people. Perhaps. But the nonchalance is dangerous, for it allows the legitimization of the delegitimization of Israel’s foundational idea—the creation of a state that would be specifically dedicated to the flourishing of one people, the Jewish people.
To be sure, to look at Israel through an American, Jeffersonian lens is to see a strange country. But that’s precisely the point. Israel was never intended to be a liberal democracy in the American mold. It’s an ethnic democracy, something entirely different. The first words of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote are “When in the course of human events,” while Israel’s declaration begins, “In the land of Israel, the Jewish people was born.” Everything else is commentary.
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