08 May '16..
Israel's national anthem "Hatikvah" is one of the best-known Hebrew songs in the Jewish world, like "Jerusalem of Gold" though much older. For generations, it was sung by Jews who did not know a word of Hebrew; a song with words that were not taken from the Bible or the Jewish prayer book, and yet it is a very Jewish song. Now, the Arab Knesset members are again demanding that the anthem's words be changed or replaced altogether. They claim, and rightfully so, that they feel its content is not connected to them, and that they cannot be expected to identify with it.
This is understandable. Truthfully speaking, what connection do they have to "the Jewish spirit yearning" or "looking toward Zion"? The blue-and-white flag, with its colors taken from the Jewish prayer shawl and its Star of David, as well as the state's emblem, with the menorah from the Temple at its center, are also far-removed from them. What connection do they have to the Jewish prayer shawl? To King David? To the menorah from the Temple? Even "Israel," the country's name, which is mentioned in the Bible more than 2,000 times, is taken from Jewish history and has no connection to the country's Arab citizens.
But the national anthem, the flag and the state emblem are not supposed to reflect the common denominator of the entire population. The anthem, Professor Shlomo Avineri once rightfully noted, gives expression to the country's historical identity, and in most democratic societies, there are people who do not agree with that identity.
As an anthem, "Hatikvah" does indeed give expression to an identity. The Bohemian believer who wrote the poem on which "Hatikvah" is based, Naftali Herz Imber, gave form to the phrase "Know from where you came [and] where you are going" in the nine verses of "Tikvateinu" ("Our Hope," the poem's original title). From the time we were exiled from our land and until we returned to it, we have come from the land of Zion and Jerusalem and we are going there. That is the essence of our historical cycle.
Jews who are bothered by "Hatikvah" because it bothers Arab Israelis -- and, unfortunately, such Jews do exist -- are actually looking for a much deeper change. Those opposed to "Hatikvah" are essentially rejecting Israel's definition as Jewish state and as the state of the Jewish people. It is possible that they also do not accept Zionism as the state's ultimate ideology. They would prefer the multinational togetherness, or a state of all its citizens, to a Jewish state and Jewish unity.
Those who see the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as meaningless and unimportant will also feel threatened by "Hatikvah." But "Hatikvah" is necessary precisely because of what poet Nathan Alterman once called "the Jewish point." He reminded us that Israel is not a state like any other; that it is not just a refuge from anti-Semitism and pogroms as Theodor Herzl believed, and that it is not just a Jewish cultural center in the public domain as Ahad Haam believed. Rather, it is a country living in the present, with rights in the present, though everything inside it comes from the past.
The past, and in large part the future, are our shared Jewish memory. Without it, we could not have created a state of refuge for the Jewish people, even in Kathmandu. Why specifically here? Because we were born here? But the Arabs were also born here! "Hatikvah" and the state's Jewish national symbols prevent our national consciousness from zeroing in on the obvious: birthplace. They draw on the Jewish historical memory from way back, distilling it into Imber's verses, the Star of David and the menorah from the Temple.
They allow even secular Jews to believe and to understand that Jewish memory and continuity are essential to our unified existence here, in the land of Israel.
A person's past does not only sprawl out over the days of his life. There is also deep significance to his historical and religious background. Arab Israelis have the right to live as equal citizens in the State of Israel, to enjoy equal opportunities, to vote and be elected, but they cannot expect to find national expression here, the essence of which is "Hatikvah," the flag and the state emblem with the holy menorah. So, on Independence Day, and on every other day of the year, we must sing "Hatikvah" and wave the blue-and-white flag without apologizing or hesitating.
These are our symbols; they tell our story. It is not the story of Arab Israelis, and it cannot be so.
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