Photo: Hagai Aharon
Afu Aghbaria
Photo: Hagai Aharon
Yesh Atid's Ruth Calderon
Photo: Yaron Brener

Israeli-Arabs feel left out of national anthem

Lyrics of Hatikva form focal point for argument over identity as Arab MKs claim symbols of state must connect with whole of country, not just one part of it

The scene in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, was not typical on Monday. Dozens of Arab women, most of them from villages in northern Israel wearing traditional dress, packed into the Galil Hall for a discussion about Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, (The Hope).


They came alone, without their husbands, and participated frequently in the discussion. Many of the speakers, which included several Arab members of Knesset, said the lyrics of the anthem are alien to them.


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The verses in question, written by Naftali Herz Imbar, who immigrated to Palestine from Eastern Europe in the 1880s, read:


As long as deep in the heart,

The soul of a Jew yearns,

And forward to the East

To Zion, an eye looks

Our hope will not be lost,

The hope of two thousand years,

To be a free nation in our land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.


“The symbols of the state must connect with the whole country and not just one part of it,” Afu Aghbaria, a member of parliament from the Hadash party told The Media Line. “This song just doesn’t represent me.”


Aghbaria, along with the Citizen’s Accord Forum, organized the gathering to discuss the question of Arab citizens and the anthem. It is not the first time the issue has been raised in Israel. In February, when the new Israeli government was sworn in, 10 of the 12 Arab members of the incoming parliament walked out before the national anthem was sung, sparking controversy.


Of the two who stayed, Hamad Amar is from the Druze community and a member of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party. While the Druze are Arabic-speaking they do not consider themselves to be “Arabs.” Unlike the vast majority of Israel’s Arab citizens, Druze citizens serve in the army.


The other lawmaker who stayed was Issawi Frej, from the dovish Meretz party. The other 10, including Aghbaria, are members of Arab parties or the joint Jewish-Arab Hadash party, associated with the Communist movement.


Last year in another case, Israel’s sole Arab Supreme Court justice Salim Jubran stood, but did not sing Hatikva at a swearing-in ceremony for the new chief justice.


Israel defines itself as a Jewish, democratic state. Some on the panel said that is inherently a contradiction for the 20% of Israel’s citizens who are Arabs.


Growing racism

On one hand, Arabic is one of Israel’s official languages, although some legislators are trying to change that. Arab citizens vote in elections and pay taxes, yet many say they are not completely equal. The wording of the national anthem which refers to the “Jewish soul” is just one example of what Israeli Arabs find difficult to embrace.


“There is growing racism against Arabs in Israeli society,” Aghbaria charged. “Even when we were under military rule (in the years after the state was created) there was not this much racism against us.”


As an example, Aghbaria cited the Law of Return which grants automatic citizenship to anyone with one Jewish grandparent. Yet, if an Arab citizen of Israel marries a Palestinian from the West Bank, his spouse is usually not given Israeli citizenship.


When it comes to employment, only about 7% of state employees are Arabs. Average wages for Arabs are 40% lower than for Jews, according to the Israeli government.


At the panel, several participants offered creative solutions for making the national anthem relevant to Arab citizens. One idea was to change the expression “Jewish soul” to “Israeli soul.” Another was to write two versions of the lyrics to the same melody, similar to what Canada has done with its anthem.


“Hatikva is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself,” panelist Ruth Calderon of the Yesh Atid party suggested when it was her turn to speak. “Israel is a state of two nations, but we have not decided on the border. I am a Zionist and I want Israel’s character and identity to be Jewish.”


“That means there’s no room for us in the country,” shouted one woman from the audience in response.


Calderon has offered legislation which would make Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which calls for complete equality and freedom of religion, education and culture, part of Israel’s Basic Law, which functions in place of a constitution.


Most of the Arab members in the audience listened carefully but had a different take on the question of Hatikva.


'It's a nice song, I have no problem with it'

“I live in this state, I hear Hatikva and I have no problem with it,” Maha Mafra from Kfar Sulam, a village in northern Israel told The Media Line. “It’s a nice song. Arabs and Jews need to live together in this country.”


She seemed more concerned about day-to-day problems.


“There are people with large families who have no place to live,” she said.


Arab citizens of Israel say it is often difficult to get permits to build so some build without permits. Israeli officials say anything built without a permit, whether by a Jew or an Arab, is illegal and could be demolished.


But Madicha Zoabi, 28, argued that it is more difficult for Arab citizens to get building permits than for Jews.


“We have been trying to get permission for my brother to build a house here in the village, and they keep saying no, no, no,” she told The Media Line. “I am Israeli. I was born here and I have Jewish friends, but I feel like this country is only for Jews.”


Article written by Linda Gradstein


Reprinted with permission from The Media Line



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פרסום ראשון: 06.26.13, 07:39
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