Perhaps We'll Cancel the Flag?

Those who are bothered by "Hatikva" because Israeli Arabs cannot identify with it are seeking a much deeper change - they do not accept Zionism as a super-ideology.

Nadav Shragai
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Nadav Shragai

Why should only "Hatikva" be canceled? Why should we not also cancel the blue and white flag, in the colors of the prayer shawl with the Magen David in the center? And the symbol of the state with the menorah of the Temple? What connection do the Arabs of Israel have to David? To the talit? And the menorah of the Temple? Even "Israel," the name of the state, is taken from the Jewish past to which the Arab citizens of the country have no connection whatsoever.

Those who are bothered by "Hatikva" because the Arab citizens of Israel are not able to identify with it ("Toward the next 60 years", by Amos Schocken, Haaretz, April 19), are actually seeking a much deeper change, not merely something symbolic. They do not accept Zionism as a super-ideology and the definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish state and the state of the Jewish people.

In a reality in which the Arabs of Israel hold processions of return to towns and villages where three generations of Jews have lived, and where many of the Arab Israelis who are alienated from the state define themselves as part of the Palestinian people, and some of them even consider an armed struggle and terror against Israeli citizens "a legitimate struggle," contests of equality such as changing the national anthem have one significance only: a preference for a multinational togetherness (a binational state) over the Jewish togetherness. From here the way to assimilation and mixed marriages - to which Amos Schocken has in the past made clear he is not averse - is short.

"Hatikva," which is supposed to be old-fashioned and archaic, is today more relevant than ever. Naftali Herz Imber, who was not a religious person, defined in the nine verses of the song "Tikvatenu" ("Our Hope," as the original was called) the notion of "know where you come from and where you are going" of all of us as a people. We come from the land of Zion and Jerusalem (in Imber's original text, "the city in which David stayed") and we are going there. That is the essence of the history of the Jewish people since it went into exile and returned to its land, whose basis is Zion - Jerusalem.

The two verses of "Hatikva" that were adopted as the national anthem are our historical memory. In 1966, the writer Shai Agnon gave expression to this inner truth when he said in his speech on receiving the Nobel Prize that because of a historical accident - the destruction of Jerusalem - he was born in one of the towns of the Diaspora.

Together with "Jerusalem of Gold," but a long time before it, "Hatikva" was the best known Hebrew song in the Jewish world. It was sung for generations by Jews who did not know a word of Hebrew - one common Hebrew song whose words are not taken from either the siddur prayer book or the Bible. It is still relevant because its lines manage to include even today a broad common denominator of the Jewish public, or as Natan Alterman put it, the Jewish point.

"The land of Zion and Jerusalem," in whose presence a Jewish soul still yearns and is stirred, reminds us that the State of Israel is not a "normal" state like all other states, it is not merely a country of refuge for those suffering from pogroms and anti-Semitism (as Herzl thought) or a center for Jewish culture in the public domain (as Ahad Ha'Am said), but rather a state whose "vitality is in the present, which has a right in the present but for which everything stems from the past" (as Dr. Yaakov Herzog defined it).

The past and the future are our joint Jewish memory. Without them it would have been possible also to establish a Jewish homeland in Uganda. Why here expressly? Because we were born here? The Arabs were also born here. Jerusalem is one of the central factors that still prevents boiling down national consciousness exclusively to what is self-evident - the place of birth - and "Hatikva" gives this expression.

Rabbi Kook, who composed the Song of Belief, "Shir ha'emunah," a counter-anthem to "Hatikva", mentioned once that the Jews do not have "hope," but rather "belief." Despite this, "Hatikva" made it possible for years for even those Jews who are not religious to "believe," in a somewhat different way, in a Jewish secular way, because it gave expression to Jewish memory and continuity. If there is the slightest chance that the Arabs of Israel, to say nothing of our neighbors, will one day recognize that our presence here is a presence that will continue and not that of a passing guest, we are the ones who must first recognize this. No one will respect our Jewish roots and our unique position here if we ourselves do not respect them.