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Arab Justice Ignites Controversy After Refusing to Sing Israeli National Anthem

Arab Justice Ignites Controversy After Refusing to Sing Israeli National Anthem

"He spat in the face of the state of Israel."

Last week, Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran ignited fierce controversy when he refused to sing the country's national anthem during a swearing-in ceremony of a new chief justice. Joubran, an Arab Christian, has inadvertently re-sparked a debate over how Israel relates to its non-Jewish citizens.

The New York Times recaps how the incident unfolded:

What happened was this: after the departing chief justice, Dorit Beinisch, issued her final rulings at the court and made her farewell speech — her eyes tearing as she recalled the deaths of grandparents in the Holocaust — she, her colleagues and others gathered at the president’s house for more speeches, rising at the end to sing the national anthem.

As the television cameras panned, they showed Salim Joubran, the only Arab among the court’s 15 justices, standing but not singing. It did not take long for a controversy to ensue.

Some critics of the anthem, which is entitled "Hatikva" ("The Hope") and includes patriotic language about Israel, say that it is understandable that non-Jewish citizens, like Joubran, would oppose uttering it. The song reads, in part, "Our hope is not yet lost, the hope of two thousand years, to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem."

Haaretz carried an editorial that defended the justice last Friday. "Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran has the right not to sing the national anthem. The law doesn’t oblige him to do so, and the song’s lyrics don't enable him to do so," it read.

The article continued, saying that the anthem isn't appropriate for the nation's 1.5 million Arab citizens, as these individuals purportedly face discrimination. Thus, according to the piece, they should have the right to refuse singing it. The piece continues:

The lyrics of Israel's anthem were written in 1878 by Naphtali Herz Imber as an expression of the national sentiments of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people only. No Arab citizen who had any self-respect, political awareness or national consciousness could sing these words without commiting the sins of hypocrisy and falsehood. [...]

In choosing not to join the choir singing "Hatikva," the justice made an important contribution to our public discourse. He adroitly reminded Israeli society of the complex situation faced by Arab citizens in the Jewish state. The right to remain silent (his own and that of every Arab citizen ) is the flip side of the right to freedom of expression, and both must be held sacred.

Not everyone sees it this way, though. According to Al Arabiya, David Rotem who is a part of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party and who chairs the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, had strong words for the justice.

“He spat in the face of the state of Israel,” Rotem said, going on to claim that those who oppose to the Jewish hymn "can find a state with a more appropriate anthem and move there."

Rotem followed these comments up by claiming that Joubran should step down. And Michael Ben-Ari, a member of the Israeli Parliament (the far right National Union Party) has even introduced a bill calling for only those who have served in the Israeli military or national service to be eligible for the Supreme Court. The measure, called the "Joubran bill," would exclude most Arabs.

While Haaretz calls for a change to the anthem so that all citizens can relate to it, others -- like Rotem and Ben-Ari -- likely won't endorse such a measure. But most people don't see a conflict, it seems, between keeping the same hymn and simply allowing people to opt in or out based on personal preference.

"Arab citizens should not be required to sing words that do not speak to their hearts and which do not reflect their roots," said conservative Justice Elyakim Rubinstein on Wednesday.

Still, the debate surrounding Israeli identity continues to rage.

(H/T: Al Arabiya)

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