Britain has millions of Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, atheist and Republican citizens, but none of them suggests changing the British anthem, which begins with the words, "God Save the Queen," and encompasses not only the sovereign of the entire world, but also the queen who heads of the Anglican Church of England.
In France, there are millions of Catholic and Royalist citizens who believe that the French Revolution and the terror it brought - the execution of King Louis XVI and thousands of others - were unforgiveable crimes. But none of them demands changing the anthem, "La Marseillaise," a violent and bloodthirsty Republican song that served as the battle cry of the post-Revolution French army when it invaded neighboring countries. "Do you hear the roar of those ferocious soldiers coming to slit the throats of your sons and companions ... Let's march so that [your] tainted blood will water our fields," the French sing.
When it comes to the issue of the national anthem, perhaps it would be wise to learn a thing or two from the way it is treated by those two shining examples of Western democracy.
The powers-that-be at the law faculty of the University of Haifa, who decided not to play "Hatikva" at the graduation ceremony last week, on the grounds that it is a "Zionist anthem," are ignoring a simple fact: The origins of "Hatikva" are of course Zionist, but today, it is the national anthem of the State of Israel. "Hatikva" is not a "Zionist anthem": It is Israel's anthem - just like the British anthem, which was born out of the historical hegemony of the Anglican state-church, is today the anthem of Britain; and just like "La Marseillaise," which was conceived in the victory of the Republicans in 1789, is France's anthem today.
One would expect law professors to understand the significance of this distinction.
One can certainly understand that it is difficult for an Arab Israeli citizen to identify with "the yearning Jewish spirit," just as one can understand the problem a British atheist may have with respect to the Royalist-religious anthem of his country, or one can identify with the distress of a Catholic-Royalist French citizen in light of his country's blatantly Republican anthem. But this is the nature of state symbols, which come to express the beliefs of the majority in a democratic state.
I don't know what a Muslim or Orthodox Jew does today in Britain upon hearing the anthem and recalling its religious significance. In all likelihood, they stand at attention out of respect for the symbol of the state of which they are citizens and in whose army they may even have served - just as in the past.
I am not aware of Jews or Muslims who have asked any British public body whatsoever not to play the anthem as it "hurts their feelings." I am willing to understand those who will suggest changing the anthem's words, and perhaps even the flag and state crest, and maybe even the name of their country, somewhere down the line - so as to bring them in line with the will of this or that minority. This, of course, would be their right. Although I do not believe that this minority position would be accepted.
It is a shame that there are individuals at the University of Haifa who are leading themselves down a path that is reminiscent of that of Neturei Karta. Democracy demands a fine balance between the majority and the rights of the minority, and Israel has failed to find this proper balance in many aspects of life. But one must remember that rights are not only for the minority, but for the majority, too - and certainly when it comes to the level of symbolism.
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