This week in The Forward, the usually superb Philologos sadly decided to give a bit of his intellectual heft to a topic that is becoming a bit of a meme for leftist Jewish writers of late: the supposedly discriminatory nature of Israel’s national anthem,”Hatikvah.” But these attacks on “Hatikvah” are themselves assaults on the liberal democratic values these writers claim to be upholding.
Philologos isn’t as sloppy as others and knows instinctively it would be unjust to throw out or rearrange “Hatikvah” so thoroughly that it would mean “accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Showing his poetic chops, he claims to have discovered a solution by substituting a few choice words that allegedly don’t change the song’s fundamental meaning for Jews but would nevertheless placate the Arab minority allegedly harmed by the song’s Jewish character.
It’s worth wondering whether the non-controversy over the decision by an Israeli Supreme Court justice to not sing “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, last week is worth the space of a full article. But Ethan Bronner’s fair-minded and sober treatment of the issue recently in the New York Times does highlight something very important: the way in which Israel and Israelis usually successfully navigate the fault lines that do exist in a state both Jewish and democratic.
The justice in question, Salim Joubran, is a Christian Arab, and the first Arab appointed to a permanent seat on Israel’s highest court. In a publicly televised ceremony marking the retirement of the current chief justice and the installation of the next, Joubran stood but did not sing the words to the national anthem, which includes within it a reference to a “yearning Jewish soul” and focuses quite explicitly on the long Jewish dream to return to political independence in the Land of Israel.