Salim Joubran - Tomer Appelbaum - 10112011
Salim Joubran Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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It turns out that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message of support to Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran after the jurist chose not to join in singing the Israeli national anthem at the recent ceremony marking the installation of Asher Grunis as the court's new president. In his message, which was transmitted by diplomatic envoy Isaac Molho, Netanyahu informed the justice that he didn't expect an Israeli Arab like Joubran to sing lyrics such as "a Jewish soul yearns," which are in "Hatikva."

It's strange that Netanyahu, who is known for his fine rhetorical skills, found it necessary to use an envoy to convey such a simple message. Could it be that the prime minister couldn't find Joubran's telephone number and therefore needed to make use of an emissary? Or perhaps Netanyahu's vocabulary has diminished to such an extent that - as seen in Washington last week - he makes a historical comparison between the threat from Iran and the Holocaust?

It appears that the answer is related to how the premier tries to placate everyone without forfeiting his popularity. The supportive message to Joubran enables him to be seen among the public for whom democratic values are important as someone who is on his guard, even in a period tinged by McCarthyism. But the fact that Netanyahu conveyed the message through an intermediary gives him a way out - the possibility of denial, for example - in the event that he is attacked by those same McCarthyites.

Instead of acting like a prime minister and announcing his support for Joubran publicly, thereby silencing racist Knesset members such as Michael Ben Ari (National Union ) and David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), Netanyahu is choosing to hide behind a third person so as not to harm the protective shield provided by his electoral base.

The fact that, of all people, he used the services of Molho, his diplomatic envoy, is grotesque. The last time he served in such a capacity, Molho conducted talks involving the Palestinians over a formal renewal of peace negotiations. Relating to Joubran as if he were a diplomatic interlocutor like a Palestinian minister or a Jordanian ambassador was an insult to Israel's Arab citizens.

Nevertheless, appreciation is in order for Netanyahu's recognition that "Hatikva" cannot be considered the national anthem of one-fifth of this country's citizenry: its Arab population. It seems he has the capacity of proposing an alternative that includes them, too.

Read this article in Hebrew