I rarely agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose brand of right-wing politics and opportunistic regard for political self-preservation alienate me profoundly. But I found myself in agreement with him the other day when he lambasted a decision by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem not to play the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah, at a graduation ceremony on the Mount Scopus campus due to concerns that it might offend the sensibilities of Arab students.
Hatikvah, adapted from a nine-stanza poem written by Naftali Herz Imber in the late 19th century, is replete with references to Jewish yearning for Zion. The first Zionist Congress in Basel adopted Hatikvah, and Israel proclaimed it as its national anthem in 1948. Today, it’s played at official functions, private events, schools and universities.
Hatikvah is as thoroughly Israeli as any symbol of the Jewish state.
It’s true that Muslim and Christian Arab citizens of Israel, constituting about 20 percent of Israel’s population, cannot identify with the spirit of Hatikvah. And serious consideration should be given to modifying its lyrics to take account of this fairly large minority. But at this moment in time, Hatikvah is Israel’s national anthem, and it should be respected by all Israelis. After all, Israel is a Jewish state, the historic homeland of the Jewish people, and this fact cannot be glossed over or ignored.
The Hebrew University, a vibrant symbol of the Zionist movement for nearly a century, decided to forego Hatikva out of “consideration for the other side,” according to one report. In a statement released to the press, the university claimed it is under no legal requirement to play Hatikvah at a publicly-funded institution. “There is no provision of law or guidance by the Committee for Higher Education concerning singing the national anthem at academic events, and therefore there is no basis for any argument with the university about the subject.”
As the university may appreciate, this is a matter that does not lend itself to cut-and-dried bureaucratic explanations. Indeed, it goes to the heart of Israel’s legitimacy as a nation. If Hatikvah cannot be played in Israel, where can it be performed?
In short, Israel does not have to apologize to anyone for upholding the sanctity of Hatikvah. Which is precisely why Netanyahu was correct to describe the university’s decision as “shameful” and “the height of subservience and the opposite of national pride.”
The university’s student council weighed in as well, saying the “forfeiting” of one of Israel’s most “important symbols” was not the way to proceed.
This is absolutely true.
If Arab students, for whatever reason, do not wish to sing the Hebrew words of Hatikvah, they have a right to remain silent. But should they be permitted to deprive Jewish students of the right to sing their national anthem?
No! A thousand times no.
Hatikvah should not be trundled out of sight in embarrassment just because Arab nationalists in the student body can’t abide it. Israel, one day soon, should recognize the Arab presence in its symbols, but for now, Hatikvah should be treated respectfully as Israel’s national anthem.