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A Jewish Soul

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ON THE face of it, it was a trivial incident. In the presence of the entire political and legal establishment, the liberal President of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch, who has reached the age limit of 70, was replaced by the conservative Justice Asher Dan Grunis.

At the end of the ceremony, the national anthem was sung. The camera panned from face to face. For a moment, it framed the face of Justice Salim Jubran. He was standing respectfully, like everybody else, but his lips were not moving.

A country-wide uproar broke out. Justice Jubran is the first Arab citizen ever to serve as a regular judge on the Supreme Court.

The right-wing parties were livid with rage. How dare he! An insult to the symbols of the state! He must be dismissed at once! Better still, deport him to a country whose anthem he would deign to sing!

Others treated the judge with respect. He did not violate his conscience! If he had sung the anthem, it would have been sheer hypocrisy, if not mendacity! So he did the right thing!

THE NAME of the anthem, Hatikvah, means "hope" in Hebrew.

It was written in 1878, almost a decade before the founding of the Zionist movement, by a so-so poet, as the anthem of one of the new Jewish "colonies" in Palestine. It was later adopted as the official anthem of the Zionist movement, then by the new Jewish community in Palestine and finally by the State of Israel. The melody was adapted from a Romanian folk song, which in turn was probably adapted from an older Italian song.

The words reflect the spirit of the time:

As long as in the heart within / A Jewish soul still yearns / And onwards towards the end of the East / An eye still gazes towards Zion.

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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.

For a Jewish Israeli, the words are hopelessly outdated. For us, Israel is not in the "East," our hope to be a free people in "our" land has already been fulfilled.

But for an Arab Israeli, these words are an affront. His is not a "Jewish soul," his eyes never gazed towards "the end of the East," his homeland is not "Zion" (a hill in Jerusalem). The only words that could appeal to him are the "hope to be a free people" in his land.

How can an Arab citizen, no matter how loyal he be to the state, sing these words without being ashamed of himself? Justice Jubran may be a perfect human being, but a "Jewish soul" he has not.

FOR ME personally, this incident awakened a very old memory. This caused me to sympathize deeply with the courageous judge.

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I was 9 years old when the Nazis came to power in Germany. I was a pupil in the first grade of high school, the only Jew in the entire school. One of the marks of the new regime was the frequency with which national events -- such as victories of German arms throughout the centuries -- were commemorated by ceremonies in which all the pupils were assembled to listen to patriotic speeches.

At the end of one of these events -- I think it was to commemorate the conquest of Belgrade by Prince Eugene in 1717 -- the entire student body stood up and began singing the two official anthems, that of Germany and that of the Nazi party. All the pupils raised their right arm in the Nazi salute.

I had to make a decision in a split second. I was probably the smallest boy in the hall, since I had started school a year younger than my classmates. I stood at attention, but did not raise my arm and did not sing the Nazi hymn. I think I was trembling with excitement.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the Israeli (more...)

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