Want to be a judge in Israel? Get in line and sing the national anthem

The Israeli national anthem, a Zionist hymn that excludes Israel’s Palestinian population, could soon become part of the job requirement for  judges. 

Illustrative photo of a man wearing an Israeli flag at the Western Wall. (By Shutterstock.com / Robert Hoetink)
Illustrative photo of a man wearing an Israeli flag at the Western Wall. (By Shutterstock.com / Robert Hoetink)

Do you want to be a judge in Israel? Then according to Yisrael Beiteinu MK Robert Ilatov, you must sing Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem.

Although Ilatov was only elected to the judicial appointment committee early Thursday morning, it did not take him very long to voice his thoughts on the job requirements. In an interview for Army Radio, Ilatov stated that potential judges should display the appropriate devotion to the State of Israel.

“In my view, a judge who is unwilling to sing Hatikva cannot be a judge in the State of Israel, which is the nation state of the Jewish people,” said Ilatov. He continued: “I will not appoint someone who on principle is opposed to the idea of the State of Israel as a Jewish state… So we will have an Arab judge who sings Hatikva. What is the problem?”

The problems are manifold. Chief among them is Ilatov’s conflation of nationalism (Hatikva, as a Zionist anthem, excludes the 20 percent of Israel’s non-Jewish population) with the ability to adjudicate on legal matters. Also troubling is the expectation that Palestinian judges will be prepared to pledge allegiance to a state that systematically discriminates against them, or risk damaging their career.

As outlandish as Ilatov’s views appear to be, they are entirely consistent with the internal logic of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. Such casual ethnocentricity is unsurprising in a Knesset where the deputy interior minister tells Palestinian MKs that they should be grateful they are even allowed to be elected to the parliament (remarks that received no challenge from the prime minister). A misplaced sense of noblesse oblige dictates much of the Right’s attitude towards their Palestinian peers.

The demand fits perfectly within the contours of a Justice Ministry led by Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked, whose weak protestation Thursday that a judge “needs to believe in a Jewish, democratic state” does not mask the fact that she is currently pushing profoundly undemocratic legislation on both sides of the Green Line.

MK Ilatov, for his part, is no stranger to taking a hardline approach to Palestinian sensibilities. In October 2014 he revived a bill that aimed to restrict the Muslim call to prayer. Last month, he co-sponsored a bill proposing that in order to be elected to the Knesset, political candidates would have to actively prove that they have never advocated for armed struggle against Israel. Ilatov currently heads a Knesset caucus that, inter alia, is assisting with the progress of a U.S. bill pushing for to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on American documents.

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