Democracy and Hatikva

By Vic Rosenthal

MajadleThe newly appointed Israeli Arab minister of Science, Culture and Sports, Raleb Majadle, will not sing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva. Perhaps it will surprise some people that I don’t think this is a bad thing.

Majadle, a long-time member of the Labor Party, defended his decision, saying he does not believe that “enlightened and sane Jews” would request a Muslim to sing a song which speaks to the Jewish people. “The Arabs are not in a mood to sing right now,” the Arab minister commented.

“Of course I would not sing the anthem in its current form,” Majadle said. “But before we talk about symbols, I want to talk about equal education for my children. It’s more important that my son would be able to buy a house, live with dignity.” — Arutz Sheva

We have predictable reactions from both sides. The Right says that this shows that he’s disloyal, that any Arab would be disloyal, and that Israel should not have an Arab cabinet minister. The Left says that it’s undemocratic that the symbols of the state discriminate against one-fifth of its citizens, and that Israel should get a new national anthem.

Both types of reaction are wrong.

Israel is a Jewish state. That means that it is the expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. It is the only nation in the world where Jews are more than guests. It must have a Jewish national anthem, a Jewish flag, a law of return for Diaspora Jews, and so forth.

But on the other hand, Israel is a democratic state which is committed to equality for all her citizens, and it is not forbidden for a non-Jew to be a citizen (as it is forbidden, for example for a Jew to even set foot in Saudi Arabia). This does not contradict its being a Jewish state or having a law of return.

As a matter of fact, there is no law which forces an Arab to sing Hatikvah. Majadle says that he does stand up in respect when it is sung, and that he obeys the laws of the state.

The democratic nature of the state requires that all of its citizens are treated fairly, and it could be that a loyal Arab minister can help ensure that this is the case. So the Right is not correct.

On the other hand, the Left is, as usual, confused. Bradley Burston wrote:

I adore Hatikva. But it’s time it was changed. It’s time its words were changed. It’s time it was replaced by an anthem that all Israelis can sing in good conscience, non-Jews as well as Jews. An anthem in which more than a million Arab citizens can join in full voice. — Ha’aretz

What underlies this is the view that the state is simply an expression of the collective will of the people who live in it. So the symbols should be appropriate to all of them. This may be true of the United States, but it is not the case for Israel, which was explicitly created as the expression of the collective will of the Jewish people (see Israel’s Declaration of Independence).

A democratic state and one which honors the civil liberties of its citizens guarantees them the right to vote and participate in government, and the right to be free of discrimination in various arenas such as housing (see my article, Can a Jewish State be Democratic?). It does not guarantee a minority the right to satisfy its nationalistic aspirations.

Majadle has chosen to live in a democratic Jewish state as a Muslim Arab. If he were to move to the PA, he would not have a problem with the national anthem, but apparently he prefers the democracy and respect for law he finds in Israel.

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One Response to “Democracy and Hatikva”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    There is a long piece by Ruth Gavison in the recently published ” New Essays on Zionism” in which she argues that in a democratic state the majority has the right to give preeminence to its cultural values and symbols.
    But again we face the situation in Israel where the Arab minority simply refuses to reconcile itself to and act like a respectful minority, and a share of the majority ( the Jews of the Left) cannot understand what it is to be part of a dominant majority culture.