Despite mounting right-wing criticism against Israeli Arab Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, who refrained from singing the national anthem during the swearing-in ceremony of the Supreme Court president on Tuesday, the Knesset on Wednesday voted against a bill that would prevent individuals who have not served in the IDF or national service from being appointed Supreme Court justices.
The media frenzy began on Wednesday when Justice Joubran, the first Arab Israeli to receive a permanent appointment on the country's highest court, attended the ceremony that saw outgoing Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch hand the reins over to incoming Chief Justice Asher Grunis. During the traditional singing of the national anthem, Joubran, scion of a Christian Arab family from Haifa, did not sing along. When asked why he refrained from singing, he declined to comment. The incident sparked outrage among rightists who speculated that the Arab judge objected to the wording of the anthem.
Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beitenu), who initiated the bill requiring justices to have served in the military, was planning to ask Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to remove Joubran from his post over what he termed an “inappropriate act,” Army Radio reported. Rotem’s bill, had it passed, would also have prevented Joubran from being appointed Supreme Court president or vice president since he did not serve in the IDF.
Joubran did, however, have his defenders. Vice Premier and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon entered the fray, saying on Wednesday that “the onslaught against the judge was bizarre, unnecessary, and emits a bad odor of racial oppression. I don’t understand the insistence on hearing an Arab citizen sing the words ‘the soul of a Jew yearns.’”
Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of general staff, added that, “even in the IDF, we never demand that Arab, Druze, Bedouin or Circassian soldiers and officers sing the national anthem. They stood and saluted the flag while the anthem was sung, as they should. The insistence on forcing Israeli citizens who aren’t Jewish to sing the words of the anthem is tantamount to warmongering and incitement.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also criticized Joubran’s opponents, saying “what would happen to a non-Jewish reserves soldier? Would we kick him out of the IDF? He is a part of this country and has linked his fate to ours. I can’t be stupid and tell him to sing ‘the soul of a Jew years.’”
MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) went even further, saying “I propose writing a new stanza for the national anthem, instead of the part that says ‘soul of a Jew,’ that Arab citizens could sing to the Hatikvah tune.”
On the other side of the debate stood Yisrael Beitenu Chairman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who condemned the justice’s actions. “I expect him to learn his lesson, and fast,” Lieberman said. “It is unthinkable that a judge ignores the symbol of an entire nation. Jews also served in foreign lands during the course of history, including in Arab nations, and they were part of the nation and respected its symbols.”