Thursday, March 1, 2012
Justice Joubran, Arabs and Haredim in Israel: Loyalty, Hatikvah and Universal Conscription?
(Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran - from Haaretz)
Justice Asher Grunis was sworn in on Tuesday as the new President (Chief Justice) of the Israeli Supreme Court. Among a range of impressive qualifications, Justice Grunis also has a Toronto connection - a PhD from York University. Justice Grunis replaces Justice Dorit Beinisch, who was the first woman to hold the post of President of Israel's highest court.
The induction ceremony was held at the residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres. Along with a number of speeches, the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah ("the Hope") was performed and the panel of Israeli Supreme Court judges sang along. That is, with the exception of Arab Justice Salim Joubran. Justice Joubran apparently has idealogical objections to singing Israel's anthem. His public non-participation has touched off a debate in some circles about the level of loyalty to the State of Israel that ought to be required for a justice of the Supreme Court.
On one level, the issue that has been raised related to "Hatikvah." The Israeli national anthem speaks of the yearning of the Jewish soul to return to the Jewish homeland, the land from which the Jewish people were exiled. The anthem concludes with the dream of being a "free nation, in our land, the land of Zion, Jeruslem." The anthem is glorious and it captures the essence of the Zionist project - to build a Jewish homeland in which the Jewish people can live as a nation. For Israel, as a Jewish state, the anthem is appropriate and relevant.
But for Israel as a democratic State, which protects the rights of all citizens to live in the country, to practice their religious beliefs and to maintain their own national, cultural or ethnic identities and aspirations, it is understandable that Arab citizens would refuse to sing this particular anthem. I really don't see a problem with that. Other countries have equally offensive anthems. In Canada, the French version of the national anthem includes the line "they know how to carry the cross," suggesting that only Christians are true citizens. I cringe every time I hear it and would certainly refuse to sing it publicly at this type of induction ceremony, but I really don't believe that would be used as a litmus test to measure one's commitment to the country. In fact, in a country like Canada, it is particulary obnoxious because Canada purports to treat all Canadians equally, regardless of religious affiliation. Israel declares openly that it is a Jewish and democratic State, so there is a difference.
On the other hand, the issue of "loyalty" does have other aspects to it and is not confined to the question of whether or not a Supreme Court Judge should publicly sing Hatikvah. Israeli Jews are subject to universal conscription and must serve in the Israeli army or perform national service. There are currently exemptions to this requirement. Ultra-religious Jews, who are studying full-time in Yeshivas are exempt, for the time being. I have written about this in other blogs. Arab Israelis are also exempt, though Druze Israelis serve in the army. Overall, this means that approximately 75% of Israeli citizens of draft age are now eligible to be conscripted with the remainder exempt. Israeli army service can greatly affect a person's future employability with many employers placing a great deal of weight on the type of military service that a candidate performed.
The issue of military service is quite different than that of the public singing of Israel's national anthem. Here, changes should be made. If Israel, as a democracy, takes steps to ensure that rights and freedoms and all types of employment are open to all citizens, then all citizens should share the responsibility of protecting the State.
Steps are already being taken to conscript the Ultra-Religious Jews. This will assist the State of Israel and it will also improve the post-army employability of these Haredim. There may still be an exemption for a very small number of exceptional students, who are studying full-time in Yeshivas, as envisioned by Israel's founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. However, the vast majority of Haredim should be expected to perform military or national service.
With respect to Israel's Arab population, this is another group that should also be expected to perform military or national service. Israel's Arabs work in Israel in every conceivable profession, from blue collar jobs to working as professors, judges, doctors and lawyers. Surely, as part of "equality," military or national service is a reasonable requirement in a country in which universal conscription is a necessity and a reality.
Israel's politicians and military leaders will need to take steps to ensure that the army or the national service can and will accomodate any unique needs of Arab conscripts, just as they have begun to take steps to ensure that Ultra-Religious soldiers can be properly integrated. They will also have to sort out security and loyalty issues. The flip side is that Israel's Arab minority population will also have to recognize that there is a price to be paid for living in the only truly free and democratic country in the Middle East. They should be prepared to participate in protecting that privilege. Ultimately, an army with full universal conscription in Israeli is likely to lead to better integration and understanding between diverent religious and ethnic groups.
If Israel does implement truly universal military or national service, it will then make sense to ask candidates for high level positions, including Supreme Court positions, about their past military or national service. They will probably still not be required to publicly sing "Hatikvah" but it seems entirely reasonable to expect that a Supreme Court judge would have performed military or national service in a country with universal conscription, provided that minority rights are fully protected.