It's Time for Israel to Embrace All Citizens, Arabs Too

Where is Mandela when we need him? This is the time to leave the ghetto on the one hand, and the alienation on the other, and move toward a state that will embrace all of its sons.

When Justice Salim Joubran raised a storm by refraining to sing the national anthem during the inauguration ceremony of Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discreetly informed him that he did not expect him to have to sing it. And thus, through the whispered message from Netanyahu, 20 percent of the population were doomed to live without a national anthem. This is a scandal!

How is it possible to leave more than one million citizens without a national anthem? If not for the anthem, what was standing erect created for? Let's just hope that Netanyahu will leave the Arabs with the flag, which, despite all the dizziness, has managed to remain with its head in the skies.

In my Oriental imagination, I could see Netanyahu explaining to his associates what his revolutionary whisper was about. "Gentlemen, I've reached the conclusion that it's impossible to write a joint national anthem for the two peoples, so there is no choice but to excuse the Arabs from this anthem. Let them write an anthem of their own."

In my imagination, Netanyahu continued explaining his theory: "Zionism, to my great regret, has failed to share with the others universal goals that go beyond religious and national relevance." And to this he added: "What can one do? It's impossible to wipe out the long years of the Diaspora so offhandedly. True, we are out of the ghetto, but the ghetto has left a permanent mark inside us."

The source of the dilemma that was half-solved by Netanyahu lies deep in history. In 1948, it was not the State of Israel that was established but the "state of the Yishuv" [the Jewish settlement in Palestine]. The state symbols were in effect the symbols of the Jewish Yishuv, and these took over the place of the state - the anthem of the Yishuv, the flag of the Yishuv and bravery of the Palmach [prestate underground Jewish militia] of the Yishuv. And the Arabs who were located outside the Yishuv were counted as subjects.

The state that was established did not have the slightest scent of statesmanship or of normalcy. (What then followed, which was completely abnormal, was that for more than two-thirds of its existence, this state has played the role of one of the last occupying powers in history. ) It is possible to say that the Arab citizens recognized the state, but that the state did not recognize them. This is also true with regard to the state's symbols. Both the anthem and the flag ignored the Arabs' existence. And so it is that even in the symbolic spheres, the Arabs are present but absent.

The universal principles in the Declaration of Independence are the reflections of the principles of the new world that emerged from the ruins of a terrifying past. When the new world gave its seal of approval to the state of Israel, it demanded that it behave in accordance with those principles. But the reality was just the opposite, and when the [Balad] slogan "A country of all its citizens" was coined - an axiomatic slogan that is totally saturated, even dripping, with Israeliness - this was seen by the Jews as a threat to their very existence, of course.

If Netanyahu's whisper is not followed by another step, this will leave him serving as the prime minister of an ethnic majority. And with that whisper, he had praised the reaction of the judge of the ethnic minority who showed respect for the singing of the anthem of the ethnic majority.

My feverish imagination did not cease working, and this is how I imagined a statement in the form of an address to the nation by Netanyahu: "Dear citizens, the present national anthem does not give expression to Israeli society with all its different components. Therefore, let's have the courage to make a thorough change. Let's break through the circles within which we have delineated ourselves. Let's look for what is common to all of us - and we have a great deal in common. Let's write a national anthem that all the citizens can identify with."

At that point I stopped. I was afraid that my imagination, with too much excitement, would start turning Netanyahu into Nelson Mandela. Where is Mandela when we need him? This is the time to leave the ghetto on the one hand, and the alienation on the other, and move toward a state that will embrace all of its sons.