Michael Oren
Michael Oren Official Photo

Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and currently a Kulanu MK, has proposed that the Knesset open its winter and summer sessions with the singing of the national anthem, Hatikvah.

In recent years, said Oren, there has been a gradual deterioration in the conception of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people – a theme that is the basis for Hatikvah. “One of the signs of this deterioration is the refusal of minority groups to respect the national anthem,” he said. “This kind of insult to the nation would never be accepted in any other democratic country.”

Among those countries is the UK, where the national hymn, “God Save the Queen,” is played in Parliament, with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim MPs standing at attention. If Muslims can respect the national anthem of the UK and other countries, “why can't they do so for the Israeli national anthem, or respect the flag of Israel?

The national anthem, like the flag and the state symbol of the seven-branched Menorah, are important signs for all of us. We must ensure that these symbols are treated in a dignified manner,” Oren said, adding that this was the rationale behind his proposal.

The law, said Oren, is more relevant now than ever. “I am proposing this during these crazy times, because Israel must continue to ensure its position as a democratic and Jewish state. Insulting the symbols of the state like the national anthem and the flag is the start of a slippery slope that lead to other things, such as incitement and violence. Protecting the symbols of the state will strengthen the state's standing.”

In 2012, Arab High Court Judge Salim Joubran refused to sing Hatikvah with his fellow judges, and in September MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), now a member of the Knesset's Judicial Selection Committee, said that he would never approve the appointment of a judge who refused to sing Israel's national anthem, whatever his or her background.

I will not allow the appointment of anyone as judge who does not believe in the concept of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people,” a sentiment expressed clearly in Hatikvah, he said, adding that “we will examine all candidates for their background and beliefs, as well as their capabilities and accomplishments. I intend to make an in-depth study of the appointment process.”

In 2012, when High Court President Asher Grunis was sworn in, all those in attendance at the swearing-in ceremony stood up and sang Hatikvah together.

Arab-Israeli judge Salim Joubran, however, chose not to participate in the singing. According to Joubran, the matter is a “very sensitive” one for him.

He elaborated on this in a 2014 speech, in which he said Israel was a racist society.

“I could talk about equality and fairness for many hours, but instead I will quote the Declaration of Independence,” he said. “You be the judge. The Declaration spoke about equality, but unfortunately we do not see equality in society. According to the Or Commission on equality in society, Arab citizens of Israel live in a different reality from Jews and are discriminated against.”

Under pressure, Ilatov later backed down from the idea.