There are some Israelis – Jews and Arabs alike – who over the years have argued that Hatikva is abhorrent to our non-Jewish citizens and should be changed. It is (bad) enough we are a Jewish country, they seem to imply; no need to add insult to injury by vocally and emotionally proclaiming our eons-long Jewish dream to be free in our own land. Where does that leave the Arabs and other non-Jews? How can we resolve that tension between being a Jewish country (and trying to be proud of that) and still be democratic and not discriminate against our non-Jewish citizens?
Well, too late! It is now fixed in law. Hatikva is our national anthem.
In any case, in a separate article, I discussed the issue: I argued that as sovereigns in our own indigenous homeland, we are free to write our future according to our values. If our values are Jewish supremacist, then that is the way the country will grow, but if our values are moral and inclusive, that means that all our citizens, Jews and non-Jews, will continue to have equal rights to pursue their individual and family goals (but not national goals that would undermine the nation of Israel).
For those who contend that non-Jews cannot stand up and sing Hatikva, let me present you with one Druze man’s feelings about HaTikva:
Now I would like to look at national anthems from several other countries. They can be problematic in general.
National Anthems That Ignore the Presence of Indigenous Peoples
Did you know that the Australian anthem (no, it is not Waltzing Mathilda, but Advance Australia Fair) once spoke of Australian sons? In consideration of the fact that about half of all Australians are female, they just removed the exclusionary word, sons. In fact, many anthems have evolved over the centuries or decades and attuned themselves to contemporary thinking on gender relations and other issues. But, one thing that seems to be ignored in national anthems is that some nations started as colonies that marginalized their native populations. Look at these lines from the Australian anthem:
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
What do the Aborigines make of this: an imperialist nation (and originally criminals to boot) inviting other foreigners to come share in the boundless plains that were stolen from them?
The Canadian anthem begins with: “O Canada! Our home and native land!” Pardon me, but whose native land are they talking about? The native land that was usurped from the First Nations? How do First Nations peoples feel about O Canada? Has anyone asked them? Has anyone even felt the need to consider how this song might feel for them? There are many other similar examples from Central and South America that glorify having wrested the land (or “inherited” as Peru claims) from the natives.
At least we Jews can lay claim to the fact that the Land of Israel is our ancestral homeland.
National Anthems with Religious Themes
I grew up in Canada, so a friend asked me how I would feel if the anthem of that country started off with: O Christian Canada, etc etc. I don’t need the word ‘Christian’ in the anthem to know that Canada is a Christian country. And because I wanted to live in a Jewish country, I moved here. My curiousity aroused, however, I began to explore the anthems of other countries and funnily enough found many that proclaim to be protected by God, for example, the Swiss anthem, that is actually called “Swiss Psalm”, is entirely devoted to praising God:
Thou, O Lord, appeareth in their light.
When the Alps glow bright with splendour,
Pray to God, to Him surrender,
For you feel and understand,
That he dwelleth in this land.
Does anyone wonder how atheist citizens feel singing national anthems that praise the Lord and claim Divine Protection?
Some countries’ anthems have clear Christian themes. For example, From the Dutch “Wilhelmus”:
Pray God that He may ease you.
His gospel be your cure.
Walk in the steps of Jesus
This life will not endure.
While not the official anthem of the USA, the Battle Hymn (Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!), is sung at Republican and Democratic Party conventions, presidential inaugurations and other official ceremonies. Here is one stanza:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on.
I have not heard Jews raise issue with any of these national songs. Did anyone think to ask Dutch or American Jewish citizens how they feel about them? How do Moslem citizens feel about these songs? Has anyone heard discussions focused on these? Do these clearly Christian official patriotic songs belie the democratic nature of Holland or of the USA?
Then, of course, there are Moslem countries that are not shy about proclaiming that they are Moslem, as in the final stanza of the Afghan anthem:
We will follow the one God
We all say, Allah is great,
we all say, Allah is great,
we all say, Allah is great
From the Saudia Arabian anthem:
My country, may you always live,
The glory of all Muslims!
Under your flying flag rests the glory of all Arabs.
So why is it that Israel is being singled out? Why is it legitimate to question the right of Jews to sing from their hearts about our longing for Zion and our happiness at being home?
Blood, Sweat and Tears
In many countries, the national anthem is a way to recite national history. For example, the Danish anthem speaks of the Viking past of all Danes – does anyone wonder how that feels to new immigrants? Do they have to adopt a Viking identity? Others speak of overcoming enemies in war; Italy, for example:
they’re feeble reeds.
The Austrian eagle
Has already lost its plumes.
The blood of Italy
and the Polish blood
It drank, along with the Cossack,
But it burned its heart.
It was useless that your beloved Indian
Rushed into the fight with ire,
Because, covered with his blood, Lempira,
In the deep night he sank;
And others proclaim the determination to lay down one’s life to protect one’s country. Argentina, for example:
Let us live crowned in glory…
or let us swear in glory to die!
For the sons of the mighty Bolívar
have sworn, thousands upon thousands of times,
to die rather than see the country’s
majestic banner humiliated.
Then, of course, there are national anthems that speak only of national pride, such as Sierra Leone:
High we exalt thee, realm of the free;
Great is the love we have for thee;
Firmly united ever we stand,
Singing thy praise, O native land.
We raise up our hearts and our voices on high,
The hills and the valleys re-echo our cry;
Blessing and peace be ever thine own,
Land that we love, our Sierra Leone.
And What About The “Palestinian” National Anthem?
Did you know that in their anthem, Fida’i, the Palestinian Arabs call Palestine “The Land of my revenge”? But that is okay, I suppose. The lyrics do not spell out the target of their revenge but figuring it out is not rocket science. I wrote more about Fida’i here.
The Right For Self-Definition
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 that same inalienable right. Jews have the right to sing out about our nationalistic pride without that reflecting badly on our democracy.
And each and every non-Jewish citizen of this land has the right to decide how to position himself or herself among us.