Arab justice’s refusal to sing Israeli anthem ignites debate on national identity


The refusal of Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, an Arab Christian, to sing the Jewish state’s national anthem last week during a ceremony to mark the swearing-in of a new chief justice has stirred controversy in Israel and revived the debate over the nature of Israel’s relation with its non-Jewish citizens.

David Rotem of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party and chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, was quoted by the New York Times as saying that Justice Joubran “spat in the face of the state of Israel” by refusing to sing its anthem.

“Those who object to the Zionist hymn,” Rotem said, “can find a state with a more appropriate anthem and move there,” he added.

The incident took place in the president’s house where members of the Supreme Court and others had gathered for the ceremony.

The lyrics of Israel’s national anthem known as “Hatikva” (“The Hope” in English) includes the words: “Our hope is not yet lost, the hope of two thousand years, to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Critics of the anthem inside Israel, including leftist Jews, say it is understandable that a Christian or a Muslim would not embrace the “yearning of the Jewish soul.”

The left-oriented Haaretz newspaper wrote in an editorial last Friday that “Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran has the right not to sing the national anthem. The law doesn’t oblige him to do so, and the song’s lyrics don't enable him to do so.”

“With its current lyrics,” according to Haaretz, the anthem does not belong to Israel’s 1.5 million “Arab citizens, who face discrimination in almost every area;” therefore, they have the right not sing it.

“The lyrics of Israel’s anthem were written in 1878 by Naphtali Herz Imber as an expression of the national sentiments of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people only. No Arab citizen who had any self-respect, political awareness or national consciousness could sing these words without committing the sins of hypocrisy and falsehood,” Haaretz wrote.

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, meanwhile, wrote that Justice Joubran “was not prepared to sing this hymn of hypocrisy” and his action taught Israelis 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,” Levy wrote.

Justice Salim Joubran is the only Arab in the Jewish state’s highest court and has recently participated in the conviction and imprisonment of former President Moshe Katsav’s on counts of rape and sexual assault.

In related news, Michael Ben Ari, member of the Knesset for the National Union party, proposed a bill called the “Joubran bill” last week, demanding that only those who have served in the Israeli military be appointed to the Supreme Court.

(Written by Mustapha Ajbaili)