Fledgling MK Ruth Calderon of the Yesh Atid party was attacked by Shas chairman Eli Yishai on Sunday after asking on Facebook if there were efforts under way to change Israel’s national anthem to make it more inclusive to Arab-Israelis.
“I was quite saddened when the Arab Knesset members left before singing the national anthem,” Calderon wrote, referring to an incident at last week’s swearing-in ceremony for new MKs. “Does anyone know of efforts to fix the words in order to include all Israeli citizens?”
Her post set off a thread of scores of comments, largely supportive, but Yishai released a statement that he was “shocked to hear this morning that on the social networks, there is a suggestion from Yesh Atid to take out the word ‘Jew’ from ‘Hatikva’ so Arab MKs will not leave while singing the national anthem.”
“Yes, there are differences of opinions between us and Yesh Atid,” Yishai continued, “But there are ideas that I thought were beyond dispute, that the State of Israel is a Jewish state… I doubt that Yesh Atid voters hoped their party would seek to change the identity of the state.”
In reply, Calderon, who is an academic and a leader in bringing Torah learning to Israel’s secular population, wrote on Facebook that “Minister Eli Yishai’s interpretation of my desire for compromise and a civil partnership between Jews and Arabs living in Israel is a cheap political stunt and a sacrilege. I did not suggest, or hint at, removing the word ‘Jew’ from the national anthem.”
Israel’s national anthem “Hatikva” — The Hope — is adapted from a 1877 poem which speaks to strongly Zionist and Jewish themes, and has been criticized by non-Jewish Israelis for its explicit Jewish content.