HaTikva: Jewish Hope or Jewish Despair?
If every country has the right to select its own anthem and vote the anthem into law as is customary to do, then Israel has the same inalienable right to our anthem – HaTikva. Jews have the right to sing out about our nationalistic pride without that reflecting badly on our democracy – or our character.There are some Israelis – Jews and Arabs alike – who argue that we need to write a new national anthem that is not abhorrent to our non-Jewish citizens. After all, our anthem sings out about the yearning of the Jewish soul for Zion. So how, they ask, can we expect our Christian and Moslem citizens to stand up and sing this song? How can we call ourselves a democratic country if our national anthem speaks to the Jewish heart alone? Is that really what it says?
“To be a free people in our land” – Is That Really a Problem?
The line states that we Jews yearn to be free in our own land – it says nothing about anyone else not being free. It says nothing about oppressing non-Jews or discriminating against them.
Here is how I understand that line of HaTikva: Finally, we are free to decide what kind of nation we want to build. We are free to determine our own destiny and to design a future that is consistent with our values. Our Zionist nation will be discriminatory, racist and exclusionary only if that is the kind of nation we want to build. On the other hand, our Zionist nation can be a model of democracy, a model of inclusiveness, a model of respect and accountability if THAT is what we want to build.
For the first time in modern history, we have within our grasp the opportunity to build a Jewish home to which we invite our minority citizens to partake and contribute according to the highest principles of democracy and freedom. There are no dhimmis here.
We need to ask ourselves – are we Jews ready yet to be a free people in our land?
- Are we ready to take pride in our accomplishments and hold our heads up high?
- Are we ready to work peacefully and respectfully at resolving the differences among us so that all of us together get to contribute to our self-definition?
- Are we Jews ready to confront our own misgivings, our own sense of lack of entitlement, our own fears, our own lack of confidence given that we are such a young modern nation pulling ourselves together on our ancient homeland after centuries of displacement?
And just how do we define a nation as Jewish and include the non-Jews among us in building that very definition without giving up on the Jewish part? That is the challenge we are working on at this very moment – and I have a feeling many of the non-Jews here with us, at home in Israel, think we are going in the right direction.If we are up to the challenge, then we will truly have come home, a free people in our land and HaTikva will forever guide us.
This article is based on a blog post first uploaded onto Times of Israel, 18 January 2015. I immediately sent the TOI blog post to Stav Shaffir because she had been rumoured to have come out against the anthem, claiming it to be racist and discriminatory against our non-Jewish citizens. Was it a coincidence that just a few days later, she gave what became her famous “Zionism” speech in the Knesset? Watch if for yourselves and see what you think (her speech is translated into English in subtitles and the relevant part begins at 2:48).