Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran has the right not to sing the national anthem, "Hatikva." The law doesn't oblige him to do so, and the song's lyrics don't enable him to do so. As a loyal citizen of his country, the justice did not want to betray his conscience during the new Supreme Court president's inauguration by singing a song whose words are alien to every Arab citizen of Israel. And the uproar that erupted following Joubran's refusal damaged the delicate fabric of Israeli democracy far more than his silence did.
Against the background of the chorus of denunciations from the right, the position taken by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, both of whom came to Joubran's defense, was particularly noteworthy. They deserve high praise for this.
The lyrics of Israel's anthem were written in 1878 by Naphtali Herz Imber as an expression of the national sentiments of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people only. No Arab citizen who had any self-respect, political awareness or national consciousness could sing these words without commiting the sins of hypocrisy and falsehood.
An Arab citizen cannot sing "a Jewish soul yearns" or "the hope of 2,000 years," words that ignore the existence of an Arab minority in the State of Israel - a minority for whom this land is also their land.
In choosing not to join the choir singing "Hatikva," the justice made an important contribution to our public discourse. He adroitly reminded Israeli society of the complex situation faced by Arab citizens in the Jewish state. The right to remain silent (his own and that of every Arab citizen ) is the flip side of the right to freedom of expression, and both must be held sacred.
Israel's Arab citizens, who face discrimination in almost every area, are entitled to exercise this right even when it comes to the national anthem: With its current lyrics, "Hatikva" is not their song. The time has come for Israel to consider changing the words of its anthem, so that all Israelis can identify with them. But until that happens, we need to allow anyone who chooses not to sing the anthem to do so, without becoming the target of an ugly witch hunt by the nationalist right.