It was so moving on Tuesday at the President's Residence and so stately; another celebration of Israeli democracy, which so loves to effusively praise itself. The honorable Supreme Court justices posing for a group photo; the retiring court president taking leave with tears in her eyes; the incoming court president making an emotional speech - everyone complimenting one another, praising one another and lauding our exalted democracy.
And then, suddenly, something went wrong. Who was that man whose lips remained sealed during the singing of "Hatikva?" Why did the words remain stuck in his throat? And how, for God's sake, did he dare?
Justice Salim Joubran, the first Arab to win a permanent appointment to the Supreme Court, didn't sing about how "the soul of a Jew yearns." Even the words, "We have not lost hope ... to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem," he refused to sing.
A holy (right-wing) tumult immediately ensued. "Judicial sources" criticized him anonymously, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) called for his removal, as did MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), and MK Michael Ben Ari of the National Union proposed a bill: Only those who have served in the IDF can be a Supreme Court justice.
This is what will be done to the man who refuses to sing: We'll teach him to sing, or he can go live in Gaza.
All at once, the fig leaf was torn, the deceptive mask was removed and our shame was revealed to all. That's how you act, Joubran? That's not very nice, Your Honor. After all, you were appointed to your exalted position solely to cover our nakedness, and now you're biting the hand that feeds you? That's how you treat your benefactors who gave you, out of the goodness of their hearts, this great honor?
But Joubran did it his way. He was not prepared to sing this hymn of hypocrisy. Not only did he give us an original voice lesson on Tuesday - proving that sometimes not singing echoes more forcefully than singing at full voice - but also an instructive lesson in democracy.
Joubran on Tuesday put us to the test, and the vaunted Israeli democracy failed miserably. Among all the speeches (yada, yada, yada ) at the new Supreme Court president's inauguration ceremony, it was Joubran's silence that taught us an important lesson: That Israeli democracy is paper-thin and fragile. All it needs to ruin it is one judge who refuses to join the choir.
Listen to the violent responses and you'll understand. Hear the ringing silence of his fellow justices, not one of whom spoke out in his defense. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Minister Moshe Ya'alon did defend him, and for that they are worthy of esteem. But it was the court that should have issued a statement saying that Joubran had refrained from singing in accordance with his conscience, which we must accept and respect.
Another Joubran, the Lebanese poet Joubran Khalil Joubran, once wrote: "A man opens his mouth when he stops feeling satisfied with his thoughts." The Israeli Joubran didn't open his mouth, but remained silent, and his silence echoed further than any of his verdicts.
Something's going on with our Joubran, they're probably mumbling in the halls of our temple of justice. Last week he didn't join the choir of justices who backed the amnesty granted to anti-disengagement protesters, and this week he didn't join the choir singing "Hatikva."
A fifth of this country's residents, the state's Arab citizens, must now express their gratitude to their justice; in his silence, he gave expression to their voice. But lovers of democracy must be even more grateful, because he reminded all of them that the supreme test of democracy is how it treats those who don't join the choir.
It could be that Joubran's mistake was joining the court in the first place, since his appointment was solely to show everyone how great we are, we have an Arab justice on the Supreme Court - the same court that automatically approves most of the orders issued by the defense and occupation establishments; the court that now has a member violating international law by living in occupied territory, the top court in a judicial system that routinely discriminates against the Arab citizens who come before it.
Perhaps that's what was going through Joubran's head when he refused to sing. When he remained silent, there are many Israelis who should have been singing in their hearts; here, finally, we have a courageous judge. He couldn't sing "Hatikva," the anthem of the state that is disloyal to his people. It's not his song; it can't be the song of any Arab citizen.
Joubran's silence on Tuesday was, in fact, a song of protest.
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