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Arabs should not have to sing ‘Hatikvah,’ say Israelis

The results are in: Israelis agree Arabs should not have to sing 'Hatikvah'

What would we do without the Israel Democracy Institute-Tel Aviv University Peace Index, a monthly poll of Israeli Arabs and Jews, dealing with questions of identity, war and peace, that has been tracking opinions and trends since 1994?

This month’s study offers a significant contribution to the debate about Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.” The anthem speaks of the hope that exists so long as “a Jewish soul still yearns” and “an eye still gazes toward Zion.” Can Israel’s minorities, some have asked in recent weeks, feel connected to an anthem that is so blatantly tied to a specifically Jewish historical experience?

The debate began in earnest in February when Israeli television news ran footage of Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab, standing silent at the singing of “Hatikvah” during the swearing-in ceremony for new Supreme Court Chief Justice Asher Grunis.

The far-right didn’t miss a chance to fume indignantly at the betrayal. The far-left did its part in pretending the far-right’s frustrated banter represented the “nakedness” of Israeli democracy.

Luckily, as always, the vast, sane Israeli center prevailed. The prime minister of Israel openly supported Joubran. His deputy, cabinet minister and former IDF chief of staff Moshe “Bogi” Ya’alon, publicly accused Joubran’s critics of racism and noted that non-Jewish soldiers were not expected to sing the anthem at IDF ceremonies.

Meanwhile, fellow Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein said, “Arab citizens shouldn’t be required to sing words that do not speak to their hearts and which do not reflect their roots.”

Now, thanks to the Peace Index, we have some real data that goes beyond pandering politicos and excitable pundits. Israeli Jews, we now know, want to keep “Hatikvah,” but understand and accept Joubran’s decision not to sing it.

'Hatikvah' speaks of the hope that exists so long as 'a Jewish soul still yearns.'
'Hatikvah' speaks of the hope that exists so long as 'a Jewish soul still yearns.'

The question: In your opinion, is “Hatikvah” suitable or unsuitable to serve as the national anthem of the State of Israel, in which approximately one-fifth of citizens are Arabs?

This was the response:

An overwhelming majority of the Jewish respondents (80%) said that the anthem is suitable. At the same time, however, a majority of Jewish respondents (62%) responded that an Arab citizen of Israel who holds [an] official position should not be required to sing “Hatikvah” at public events.

Jews overwhelmingly find Hatikvah “suitable,” and a large majority (62% to 35%) believe Arabs, even when they are civil servants, should not be required to sing it.

Of course, the news is not all rosy. Ninety percent of Arab respondents don’t find Hatikvah “suitable.” It is a poem that speaks about somebody else. As I’ve suggested before, perhaps Israel’s Arabs should be encouraged to write their own words in Arabic to the anthem, or simply ignore it altogether. I don’t know.

But I know Israelis, by a large majority, don’t believe minorities must pretend to be something they’re not.

By the way, the study also offers some insight — not new but still interesting — on the nearly identical views of Jews and Arabs about the current state of the peace process.

In response to a separate question about the urgency of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace, 58% of the Jewish respondents and 51% of the Arab respondents defined the issue as urgent or very urgent. At the same time, 58% of the Jewish interviewees and 61% of the Arab ones saw no chance of ending the conflict in accordance with the “two states for two peoples” formula at the present time.

About the Author
Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.