Criticism of Arab Justice for not singing Hatikvah an excuse for bigotry
By Rabbi Dow Marmur
JERUSALEM — Despite attempts by some politicians to compromise Israeli democracy, the Supreme Court, with its commitment to the rule of law and the rights of individuals and minorities, always made sure that they wouldn’t succeed. Those on the reactionary far Right have, therefore, often regarded the judges as thorns in their flesh. The president of the Supreme Court has to have body guards, not out of fear of Palestinian terrorists but, especially after the assassination of Rabin, out of concern for the domestic variety.
The Court is often the subject of debate and controversy. Strictures against it normally come from the Right. The arguments have been particularly sharp these last days because, as the law demands, the previous president Dorit Beinisch retired on her 70th birthday and her successor Asher Grunis was sworn in.
Beinisch had a reputation of being in the mold of her predecessor Aharon Barak and seen as a liberal, which in the eyes of some is evidence of being the enemy of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. A Member of Knesset from the far Right described her as a Meretz mole on the Supreme Court.
Grunis is considered to be more centrist. At his swearing in ceremony, some observed that Salim Joubran, the only Arab member of the Supreme Court, didn’t join in the singing of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Several Knesset members on the Right reacted with vehemence implying that he was an enemy of the state. Though it’s indeed a tall order to expect an Arab, even if he’s an Israeli-born citizen and a distinguished public servant, to mouth the Jewish nationalistic words of the anthem, this need not mean that he’s disloyal or an enemy of the state.
The opportunity to denigrate an Arab, however eminent, wasn’t to be missed by people who may have been among those who didn’t want to have an Arab on the Supreme Court in the first place. In previous debates they used the argument that a member of that court must have served in the army. As Arabs generally don’t serve in Israel’s armed forces, this would have been a neat way of excluding them from the highest legal office in the land. And as the proposal came from secular reactionaries, the fact that it would also exclude haredim who don’t serve either was an added bonus.
In the present debate about Joubran, the fact that he was one of three judges who confirmed the seven-year prison sentence of Moshe Katzav, the former state president, may also have been a factor: an opportunity to pay back for having applied the law of Israel to a politician of the Right, even if he’s a convicted rapist.
In one sense, all this is trivial and doesn’t really deserve special attention. But in another, because it’s symptomatic of an attitude to Arabs that some Israelis harbour, we must take it seriously.
Those expressing anti- Arab sentiments ignore the fact that it’s precisely such “ethnic” attitude that the powerful in Europe harboured toward Jews, who were loyal citizens of the countries in which they lived yet were regarded as fair targets for discrimination. It’s the imitation of the ways of our tormentors that’s so scandalous.
Mercifully, the Jewish provocateurs are in the minority. We pray that they stay that way. Israel’s Supreme Court is the internationally recognized guarantor that the country will stay democratic. We must support and celebrate it with boundless pride.
Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. Now dividing his time between Canada and Israel, he may be contacted at email@example.com
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