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Posts

The man who would not sing the national anthem

Arab justice’s ‘Hatikva’ silence was a song of protest

The refusal of Justice Salim Joubran, the first Arab to win a permanent appointment to the Supreme Court, to sing ‘Hatikva’ was an instructive lesson in Israeli democracy.

By Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz
01.03.12

It was so moving on Tuesday at the President’s Residence and so stately; another celebration of Israeli democracy, which so loves to effusively praise itself. The honorable Supreme Court justices posing for a group photo; the retiring court president taking leave with tears in her eyes; the incoming court president making an emotional speech – everyone complimenting one another, praising one another and lauding our exalted democracy.

And then, suddenly, something went wrong. Who was that man whose lips remained sealed during the singing of “Hatikva?” Why did the words remain stuck in his throat? And how, for God’s sake, did he dare?

Justice Salim Joubran, the first Arab to win a permanent appointment to the Supreme Court, didn’t sing about how “the soul of a Jew yearns.” Even the words, “We have not lost hope … to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem,” he refused to sing.

A holy (right-wing) tumult immediately ensued. “Judicial sources” criticized him anonymously, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) called for his removal, as did MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), and MK Michael Ben Ari of the National Union proposed a bill: Only those who have served in the IDF can be a Supreme Court justice.

This is what will be done to the man who refuses to sing: We’ll teach him to sing, or he can go live in Gaza.

All at once, the fig leaf was torn, the deceptive mask was removed and our shame was revealed to all. That’s how you act, Joubran? That’s not very nice, Your Honor. After all, you were appointed to your exalted position solely to cover our nakedness, and now you’re biting the hand that feeds you? That’s how you treat your benefactors who gave you, out of the goodness of their hearts, this great honor?

But Joubran did it his way. He was not prepared to sing this hymn of hypocrisy. Not only did he give us an original voice lesson on Tuesday – proving that sometimes not singing echoes more forcefully than singing at full voice – but also an instructive lesson in democracy.

Joubran on Tuesday put us to the test, and the vaunted Israeli democracy failed miserably. Among all the speeches (yada, yada, yada ) at the new Supreme Court president’s inauguration ceremony, it was Joubran’s silence that taught us an important lesson: That Israeli democracy is paper-thin and fragile. All it needs to ruin it is one judge who refuses to join the choir.

Listen to the violent responses and you’ll understand. Hear the ringing silence of his fellow justices, not one of whom spoke out in his defense. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Minister Moshe Ya’alon did defend him, and for that they are worthy of esteem. But it was the court that should have issued a statement saying that Joubran had refrained from singing in accordance with his conscience, which we must accept and respect.

Another Joubran, the Lebanese poet Joubran Khalil Joubran, once wrote: “A man opens his mouth when he stops feeling satisfied with his thoughts.” The Israeli Joubran didn’t open his mouth, but remained silent, and his silence echoed further than any of his verdicts.

Something’s going on with our Joubran, they’re probably mumbling in the halls of our temple of justice. Last week he didn’t join the choir of justices who backed the amnesty granted to anti-disengagement protesters, and this week he didn’t join the choir singing “Hatikva.”

A fifth of this country’s residents, the state’s Arab citizens, must now express their gratitude to their justice; in his silence, he gave expression to their voice. But lovers of democracy must be even more grateful, because he reminded all of them that the supreme test of democracy is how it treats those who don’t join the choir.

It could be that Joubran’s mistake was joining the court in the first place, since his appointment was solely to show everyone how great we are, we have an Arab justice on the Supreme Court – the same court that automatically approves most of the orders issued by the defense and occupation establishments; the court that now has a member violating international law by living in occupied territory, the top court in a judicial system that routinely discriminates against the Arab citizens who come before it.

Perhaps that’s what was going through Joubran’s head when he refused to sing. When he remained silent, there are many Israelis who should have been singing in their hearts; here, finally, we have a courageous judge. He couldn’t sing “Hatikva,” the anthem of the state that is disloyal to his people. It’s not his song; it can’t be the song of any Arab citizen.

Joubran’s silence on Tuesday was, in fact, a song of protest.


HaTikvah (“The Hope”)
Israel’s National Anthem
To hear Hatikva sung in Hebrew click here
The words to Israel’s national anthem were written in 1886 by Naphtali Herz Imber, an English poet originally from Bohemia. The melody was written by Samuel Cohen, an immigrant from Moldavia. Cohen actually based the melody on a musical theme found in Bedrich Smetana’s “Moldau.”

As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart,
With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion,
Then our hope – the two-thousand-year-old hope – will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Kol ode balevav
P’nimah –
Nefesh Yehudi homiyah
Ulfa’atey mizrach kadimah
Ayin l’tzion tzofiyah.
Ode lo avdah tikvatenu
Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim:
L’hiyot am chofshi b’artzenu –
Eretz Tzion v’Yerushalayim.


A Jewish soul
[This is the second part of a longer article]
Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
10.03.12

If the most senior Arab judge cannot sing the national anthem, what about the attitude of the rest of the 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel towards the “state symbols”, indeed, towards the “Jewish state” itself? Does it mean that they constitute a Trojan horse?

This is an old question, as old as the state itself. The contradiction has been papered over by the official formula of the “Jewish and democratic” state. (Arabs lampoon it as “A democratic state for the Jews and a Jewish state for the Arabs”.) The Judge Jubran incident highlights the problem as never before. Here is a loyal citizen, who administers the law at the very highest level, and who cannot sing the national anthem. What to do?

The simplest answer is to change the anthem. For the first time, this is now being openly discussed by some commentators.

Disclosure: I never liked “Hatikvah”. The stolen melody is not bad, but it is not suitable for an anthem. An anthem should be uplifting, inspiring, while this one is as sad as Verdi’s song of the Hebrew slaves in Nabucco. As for the lyrics, they are, well, totally unfitting.

Many nations have silly anthems. What about the bloody hands of the German monsters in the French anthem? What about the glorious and victorious queen in the British one? (The last recorded glorious victory of Her Majesty was against 15,000 Argentinians in the Falklands.) Or the totally inane Dutch anthem. Not to mention the present German anthem, in which the third verse has officially replaced the banned first one, the one which my schoolmates sang at that ceremony in 1933 [when Uri refused to sing or raise his arm during the sining of he Nazi anthem].

But the fact that “Hatikvah” is somewhat silly was not my main reason for wanting to change it. It’s the fact that one-fifth of Israel’s citizens, the Arabs, cannot sing it (another tenth or so, the Orthodox Jews, reject it anyway.) It is a very unhealthy situation for a state when 20% of its citizens loathe its national symbols. For these very same reasons Canada changed its anthem not so long ago, exchanging the British anthem for one that French Canadians can sing with a clear conscience, without denying their own identity. “O Canada” enhances the unity of all citizens.

Changing anthems is not altogether unique. During World War II, when Stalin needed the West, he abruptly discarded the “Internationale” for a new anthem chosen by competition. The words of this anthem (but not the melody) were changed by the Russian Federation when the Soviet Union was dissolved.

So I grabbed the first opportunity to propose a new anthem. It was soon after the 1967 war. Naomi Shemer, a popular songwriter and composer, had written a song just before the war about “Jerusalem of Gold” which became the hymn of the war. I did not like all its lines, but here was a golden opportunity to get rid of Hatikvah. So I submitted a bill to adopt it as the new national anthem.

The Knesset speaker was sympathetic, but told me that he could not accept the bill without the agreement of the author. I arranged to meet Naomi. She was a nice person, though she was a rightist by marriage. (She grew up in a left-wing Kibbutz, but became right-wing when she married.)

To my surprise, her reaction was far from enthusiastic. There was something cagey about it, I thought. But she agreed to allow me to submit the bill, which was duly voted down. At the time, Hatikvah was sacred. (Later I came to understand Naomi’s strange attitude at that meeting: shortly before her death, she confessed that the beautiful melody of that song was not hers at all, but really a Basque song. For many years she had been mortally afraid of this disclosure. But since the melody of Hatikvah is also stolen, it wouldn’t have made much difference.

Hatikvah can remain as the anthem of the Jewish people everywhere if they so wish. A new song will be the anthem of the State of Israel and all its citizens.

THE REAL story behind the incident is, of course, the unresolved problem of Israel’s Arab minority. They are discriminated against in practically all spheres of life, a fact readily admitted by Israeli officials. There are no suggestions for how to remedy it.

The Arabs quite rightly feel rejected and respond with alienation from the state. Their leaders, vying for votes, become more and more extreme, while the Israeli right-wing parties become more and more anti-Arab. In a paradoxical way, Israeli Arabs are becoming more and more Israeli at the same time as they become more and more anti-Israeli.

This is a ticking time bomb, and some day it will explode, unless a real effort is made to allow an honest Arab citizen to feel like a real citizen of the Israeli state, and, yes, to sing a new national anthem.

As long as the Arabs are treated as a Trojan horse, why should they sing? Horses, as far as I know, do not excel in singing.

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