“Hatikvah” Must Remain Part of Israel’s Public Life

June 13 2018

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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More about: Declaration of Independence, Hatikvah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli democracy

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times