A little self-respect, please. We are not ashamed of the Jewish character of Israel; on the contrary, we enthusiastically affirm it.
That was my reaction when I read reports that there was no singing of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, at the University of Haifa’s law school graduation. The University is now investigating the reasons for omitting the anthem. According to these same reports, the thinking of University officials was that Israeli Arabs present at the ceremony would be uncomfortable with references in Hatikvah to “the Jewish spirit” and to the return of the Jewish people to its homeland.
Such views are not new. A few years back, an Israeli Jew wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times calling on Israel’s leaders to adopt a new anthem. Such arguments are part of the demand, heard sometimes from Arab citizens of Israel and sometimes from Jewish citizens of Israel, that Arab culture should be given equal status with Jewish culture. In this view, the purpose of Israel is to “normalize” the existence of the Jewish people, and this means that Israel should shed its specifically Jewish character…
To all who make this claim, we must offer a clear answer: Zionism’s purpose was to create a society that is “normal” socially and politically, but not ethically or religiously. More specifically, the Zionist founders were always clear that the Jewish state exists to promote the religion, civilization, and culture of the Jewish people and its dominant Jewish majority.
Does this mean that Israel’s Arab citizens must suffer certain disabilities? It does. They are a minority, and there is a price to be paid for minority status. Jews have paid that price for the last 2000 years, and nearly half of the Jewish people continue to pay it today. In Great Britain, for example, there is an established church headed by the British sovereign. Britain’s Jewish minority cannot embrace that church, yet it does not occur to them to demand the de-establishment of the Church of England or the severing of the Queen from her religious role. It does not occur to them to refrain from singing God Save the Queen. British Jews understand that for minorities, complete identification with Britain’s national symbols and culture may not be possible.
Israel’s Arab citizens, therefore, are being asked to accept no more than what Jews have always accepted as minorities. We need not be apologetic about enjoying majority status in the country established specifically to create a Jewish majority and the conditions that accompany it.
But – and this is critical – Jews as a minority have always demanded that their host countries grant them full civil and political rights. So yes, Israel’s majority culture should be aggressively Jewish, but there is no excuse for discrimination against individual Arab citizens in housing, employment, or education, and neither can discrimination in public funding for Arab municipalities be tolerated. Also, maintaining a secure Jewish majority is the foundation upon which Israel’s Jewish character is built; therefore, taking the necessary steps to protect that majority – including ending settlement activity outside of the major settlement blocks – remains a priority for any government of Israel.
The State of Israel is a Zionist enterprise, and the essence of Zionism is this: The creation of a Jewish state with a secure Jewish majority that maintains a national culture that is assertively Jewish, while also treating its minority citizens with fairness, dignity, and respect. And in this state, Hatikvah, the national anthem that gives expression to Zionist values, should be sung with pride at graduations, cultural events, and all state occasions.