The storm about Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran’s refusal to sing the national anthem shows us just what a ‘Jewish State’ means.
A political storm broke out last week, when it turned out Supreme Justice Salim Joubran declines to sing the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah” (The Hope). Many Jewish Brotherhood MKs suffered from an unusually farcical attack of national erection. This was indeed another occasion to note that there is no practical (or even ideological) difference between Kahane’s representative in the Knesset, Michael Ben Ari, or Yisrael Beitenu’s David Rotem, or the Likud’s Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin. But that is not the main issue; neither is the fact that the Jewish Brotherhood’s attack on Joubran means they think that most of the Jewish population agrees with them on this point.
The issue is the single demand made by Netanyahu to the Palestinians recently: that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Joubran brouhaha is precisely the reasons they cannot accept this demand. A Jewish state is a state, which – inherently by its very existence and by its very declaration as such – discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens. It is a state, which, by its very definition, says they do not belong, that they are unequal and never will be equal, that they are nothing but temporary guests who exist at the sufferance of the Jewish majority. A Jewish state is one that proclaims itself to contain two types of populations, separate and not at all equal.
It would be herrenvolk state, where the will of the majority wouldn’t be just that the minority make it tea (as a famous Israeli song notes ironically) but that it should kowtow as it serves it. This would be a state where people would be ordered to sing, in a broken voice and a trampled soul, “The Jewish soul is moved,” so that day by day and hour by hour, they would be forced to remember their home is not their home. As of now, the Jewish Brotherhood targets justices; soon enough it will target school principals, physicians, advocates – anyone whose head is held too high. Therefore, it is clear that Abbas or any other self-respecting Palestinian leader cannot acquiesce to Netanyahu’s demand: doing so would be selling the rights of Israeli Palestinians down the river, something no one has authorized him to do. This, of course, is precisely why he presses for that demand.
This has happened before. Most Israelis have forgotten 1949-1966, when Israeli Palestinians were under military rule; most American Jews were never aware of it. Under this rule, Zionist Israel carried out a huge land grab – legal, of course; there is no villainy which state attorneys will not commit – which deprived the Nakba-surviving Palestinians of most of their lands. Policemen and secret policemen were on the hunt for any hostile utterance, any unpleasant wedding song, and Palestinian leaders had to learn “Hatikvah” by heart to maintain their position. We are no longer in the 1950s and 1960s, thankfully, but there are people who would like to take us back there.
As usual, one should be thankful for Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin for trying to save the dignity of the Knesset and of the Likud party. One should also thank, through gritted teeth, Bogie “Moshe” Ya’alon, who defended Joubran against his own home crowd, which takes courage anytime, but particularly these days. Both of them went on record saying that Israeli non-Jews cannot be expected to sing Israel’s anthem.
This unfortunately is not enough. In this way, they accept the concept of Israeli Palestinians as a tolerated minority, since we can’t demand it pretend to be Jewish. But that should not be the case: a country with a large minority should learn to accommodate it. Former state comptroller and supreme court justice Miryam Ben Porat, who came from a Revisionist home, had no qualms about suggesting some 20 years ago that “Hatikvah” be amended and a new stanza added, and that a new symbol be added to the flag so that non-Jews could also relate to an anthem and flag that, after all, are supposed to represent them as well. There have been other suggestions, like replacing “Hatikvah” with Shaul Tchernichovsky “Ani Ma’amin” (“I Believe”):
Mock me, mock my dreams of glory
It is I who dreams, still bowed,
Mock my faith in all things human
As in you my faith stands, proud.
Yet my spirit still craves freedom
Not sold out to calves of gold
I still believe in all things human,
Human spirit, spirit bold.
(Translated by Dena Shunra)
This did not happen and is not likely to happen soon. This is where we see the importance of civics lessons in schools: the right wing has been sabotaging them for a generation now, claiming they neglect the Jewish aspect of the state. But that, after all, is precisely the point of lessons in civics: to build the supra-religious, supra-ethnic, supra-tribal infrastructure that will create a civic consciousness, for Jews and non-Jews alone. The sabotage was not incidental.
The right wing does not want a civil state: it is looking for an ethnocratic theocracy. And not just the right wing: Yair Lapid, the most accurate barometer of the precise center of Israeli politics, recently wrote he opposes the separation of synagogue and state. Even he understands such a move will undermine the ethnocracy – and he chooses it over a liberal Israel.
There will be no reconciliation in this tortured land, if the country is considered first and foremost Jewish. This would mean a total victory for the Jewish nationalists and would significantly damage (and justly so) Israel Palestinians’ ability to identify with Israel. This ability is surprisingly strong, given the country’s history.
One is led to thinking that the mass hysteria of the past 20 years, the overpowering urge to emphasis Israel’s Jewishness, is the result of a deep fear among central parts of the Jewish population that if this is not achieved, then there will be no escape from living aside Israeli Palestinians. This, in turn, leads to the worst of Jewish fears: the loss of blood purity (AKA “assimilation”). This shouted insistence on Israel’s Jewishness is in some ways tactical: it says to Israeli Palestinians “go away, no matter how hard you try to be Israelis, Israel will never be yours. Keep away from us: you’re getting too close and it’s making us scared.”
And how do you treat a whole population driving itself into post traumatic stress disorder? This is not a question I’m sure I can answer.