Sunday, November 23, 2014

A New Hope

Prominent in the news from Israel is the the government of the State of Israel's intention to further disenfranchise its Palestinian citizens. Prime Minister Netanyahu's swoop to the right is part of his electoral bid  to win over the voters of Naftali Bennet and others on the far right. So, added to the existing legal, institutional and social discrimination against non-Jews, the cabinet approved a bill to declare the State of Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish People." The unsustainable Israeli paradox: "Jewish and democratic" continues to be resolved to: "democratic for the Jews; Jewish for everyone else."

Media reports reflect how troubling this bill is to the 20% of non-Jewish Israeli citizens, legally classified in the Population Registry as non-members in the Jewish People. Demonstrating the bizarreness of this bill is its meaning for the Jews around the world it claims to represent. These Jews have not been asked if Israel represents them, cannot vote in Israeli elections and have no democratic authority to impact its policies, yet the bill implicates them in Israel's actions. The Israeli nationalism bill is so patently undemocratic that the United States has weighed in,  pressing Israel to drop it.

A key emblem of Israel's disenfranchisement of its Palestinian citizens is the country's national anthem, Hatikva (The Hope). Written 70 year before the State of Israel was founded, the lyrics express the dreams of the first Zionists, the secular, nationalistic Eastern European Jews. The vanguard of what was to become the new state  immigrated to Palestine 100 years ago, in the so-called "Second Aliya". They created modern Hebrew and they went on to found the institutions that formed the nucleus of the State of Israel. Hatikva is still an important expression of American Jewish solidarity with the State of Israel.

Famously, Hatikva manifests several unresolvable problems:
* Israel's national anthem does not represent the story of millions of Israeli Jews or their parents who moved there from the Arab world. These Arab Jewish communities were not "Zionist", certainly not in a European nationalist sense. Secondly, when those communities did think about Jerusalem and Zion they turned westward  Iraqi Jews, Iranian Jews, Soviet Asians and so on are beyond Hatikva's "end of the east."
* Hatikva (written: 1878)  anachronistically attributes post-dates 19th century secular nationalism  to a time two millennia earlier!
* The evocative musical setting (famously a close replica of Smetana's Die Moldau an) is representative of  19th century settings of European folk music. It does not express the soulful yearnings of North Africans or non-acculturated Hassidic Jews.

But the most egregious distortion of Hatikva is erasing any mention  of a Palestinian presence thus precluding any Palestinian stake in Israel's "Hope."

So, I am offering a new version of Hatikva. I don't expect it to catch on. Actually, I wouldn't want it to. Let the Israelis and Palestinians work out the anthem issue between them. I am only offering this to demonstrate what is missing in the original.

It might help any Jew who is stuck in a tight spot and has to sing Hatikva at a Jewish communal event. You can use these words to get by. Here is the recording. (The Jewish practice of rewriting canonical, even sacred text, to convey contemporary values is time-honored.)


In the Jewish heart
A Jewish spirit still sings,

And the eyes look east
Toward Zion.

Our hope is not lost,
Our hope of two thousand years,

To be a free nation in our land,
In the land of Zion and Jerusalem
Kol od balevav P'nimah - 
Nefesh Yehudi homiyah

Ulfa'atey mizrach kadimah
Ayin l'tzion tzofiyah.

Od lo avdah tikvatenu
Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim:

L'hiyot am chofshi b'artzenu
Eretz Tzion v'Yerushalayim

 Suggestion for a New Hatikva":

כל עוֹד בלבב פנימה
נפשׁ האדם הוֹמיה
וּלפאתי תבל קדימה
עין בעין צוֹפיה

עוֹד לא אבדה תקותינוּ
התקוה הנוֹשׁנה
להיוֹת בני חוֹרין אישׁ בארצוֹ
החפשׁ השׁויוֹן לכל בני האדם

להיוֹת בני חוֹרין אישׁה בארצה
החפשׁ השׁויוֹן לכל בני האדם

Kol od balevav p’nimah
nefesh ha’adam homiyah
ulfa’atei tevel kadima
ayin b’ayin tzofiya

od lo avda tikvateinu
hatikva hanoshana
lihyot b’nei chorin eesh b’artzo
hachofesh hashivyon l’chol b’nei ha’adam

lihyot b’nei chorin eeshah b’artzah
hachofesh hashivyon l’chol b’nei ha’adam

  1. So long as deep in in the heart 
  2. still lives a human spirit
  3. let us look across the globe
  4. hand in hand moving forward
  5. Our hope is not lost - 
  6. that aspiration from time immemorial -
  7. to live freely every human being in their land
  8. liberty and equality for all humanity!

  1. No change 
  2. Change from Jew to all human beings
  3. Universal. Gets away from the eastward boundedness of the original.
  4. The change to "ayin b'ayin" (lit. eye to eye) comes from Isaiah 52:8 which appears to be Naftali Imber Herz's source too.
  5. No change
  6. A variant of the original Hatikva
  7. Change from a national to individual and universal aspiration.
  8. Keeping "freedom" but adding equality and a universal vision


  1. Hi Michael,

    In the anthem of YOUR country there is quite a lot of prattle about the land of the free and the home of the brave.
    This is a "nation" that committed genocide toward the indiginous American population and pillaged its land.
    So free for who? For all humanity?
    But I can imagine that a post to rewrite the Star Spangled Banner wouldnt make you as popular as rewriting the anthem of the Jewish People.

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    2. David,
      The State of Israel explicitly sees itself as the country of non-Israeli Jews. It is "the Jewish State." Unlike non-Jewish Israelis, non-Israeli Jews can buy land anywhere they wish and have a whole range of legal privileges and benefits solely on account of being Jewish.
      I'm not a fan of flags or anthems. What does the British anthem even mean? The star-spangled banner shines a light on popular hypocrisy. "Bombs bursting in air" was fine for George Washington's war of independence but the Palestinians must commit to non-violence or risk losing the world's support. But implied hypocrisy is not the same as explicitly limiting national identity to one group - as the Israeli anthem does. I'd love to see the Israeli national anthem aspire to a hypocritical ideal.
      Regarding usage, it's easy to get around the Star Spangled Banner. My preference for an American anthem is This Land is My Land. America the Beautiful works too.
      Israelis options are either Hatikvah or Jerusalem of Gold - also highly problematic.