Jewish Ideas Daily has been succeeded and re-launched as Mosaic. Read more...

Independence Day

Every spring, within a single week, Israel commemorates Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Ha'atzma'ut.  These days revisit the core drama of the modern Jewish experience: the Holocaust, the losses suffered by Israel in its early wars, and the country's present independence.  These days are also among the most controversial in the Israeli calendar.

Relevant Links
Remembering the Fallen  Jewish Ideas Daily. The themes of death and loss that occupy the days from Yom Hashoah to Yom Ha’atzama’ut have occupied the best of Israel’s poets.
Hatikvah at Bergen-Belsen  BBC. On April 20, 1945, the BBC visited the newly liberated Jewish inmates of Bergen-Belsen. They sang Hatikvah.
Rewriting Hatikvah as an Anthem for All  Philologos, Forward. Israeli Arabs find it unnatural to sing an anthem about the “Jewish soul.” But if you changed just two words . . . .

With adjustments for Shabbat, Independence Day is celebrated on the fifth of Iyyar, the Hebrew correspondent of Israel's May 14 declaration of independence.  Certain ultra-religious Jews have long protested the occasion.  The Neturei Karta have declared it a "day of mourning for Torah-faithful Jews" and burn Israeli flags in protest.  The next day, May 15, is commemorated by Palestinians as "Nakba Day," the day of "catastrophe."  It is entirely negative: It mourns Palestinian dispossession at the hands of the Jews rather than celebrating any idea of Palestinian nationalism.  Nakba Day speaks volumes about Palestinian political psychology.

There are also protests against Independence Day from within Israel, from Israeli Arabs—that is, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship—and leftist Israelis who want Israel to be a "state for all its citizens."  This critique parallels the criticism of Israel's national anthem, "Hatikvah": The state, say the critics, celebrates the experience of the majority and further alienates the minority.

Independence Day is especially vexing to non-Israeli leftist commentators, who see in it a means of repression.  One journalist recently said, "If I was [sic] a Palestinian citizen of the state, I don't think I would want to participate in the torch-lighting.  I would also find the inclusion of Arabs to be dishonest, a way of whitewashing the reality of life here as a minority. . . .  Independence and freedom here mean independence and freedom for Jews."

But to what extent to the symbols and rituals of Yom Ha'atzma'ut include and exclude?   It is useful to look at other independence days and national anthems.  Greece celebrates March 25, the beginning of its War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire in 1821.  It is also a Greek Orthodox holy day, the Annunciation of the Theotokos, on which the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a child.  Greece's anthem, "Hymn to Liberty," looks to this past for the nation's legitimacy.  "From the graves of our slain," says Rudyard Kipling's 1918 translation, "shall thy valor prevail as we greet thee again: Hail, liberty, hail!"  Independence and freedom mean independence and freedom for Orthodox Greeks.

Hungary celebrates March 15 to recall the unsuccessful 1848 revolution against the Hapsburg Empire.  The Hungarian national anthem, "Himnusz," begins, "God, bless the Magyar with Thy plenty and good cheer!"  It goes on to recount the country's beauty and bounty and to give thanks for the Magyars' freedom from "the Turkish yoke we knew, which a free-born nation dreads."  On September 16 Mexico celebrates its 1810 independence from Spain.  Its "Himno Nacional Mexicano" warns, "Mexicans, at the cry of war, make ready the steel and bridle. . . . If some enemy outlander should dare to profane your ground with his step, know, beloved Fatherland, that Heaven has given you a soldier in every son."

The Palestinian national anthem, "Fida'i," is even more blunt: "Palestine is my home, Palestine is my fire, Palestine is my vendetta and land of resistance."

Such examples can be multiplied.  The objection that Yom Ha'atzma'ut and Hatikvah are insufficiently inclusive or representative of all citizens fails the comparative test.  A nation-state frequently begins with one group that subsequently defines its culture and politics.  Nearly every independence or national day depicts the specific journey of a specific people, which is then musically celebrated—with usually martial and sometimes mixed results.  It is the specificity of those experiences that gives most nations the core of their identity, which is then broadened by law, culture, and experience.

Objections to independence days are occasionally seen around the world—usually in protests held on the same day, for maximum effect.  Protests against July 4th are common.  They complain less about America's independence from Great Britain than about its despoliation of North America and its native peoples and U.S. imperialism.  The very existence and nature of the United States are viewed as original sins.  This is a close parallel to the objections against Israel and its Yom Ha'atzma'ut.

There is another symmetry between one of the world's oldest people, the Jews, and one of the youngest, the Americans.  Both people's national anthems recognize that independence—indeed, survival—is fragile and conditional.  America's principles, the ideas of liberty and fundamental equality, are tested by challenges whose outcome is by no means certain.  "Does that star-spangled banner yet wave/ o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?" This is the question we Americans ask ourselves—unfortunately, without much knowing it—every time we sing our national song.  In Hatikvah, the uncertainty is expressed as an ancient yearning: "Our hope, the hope of two thousand years, will not be lost: to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem."

Neither will give up a hope.  Indeed, this stubborn determination may account for the unique acrimony that both nations attract on their independence days and throughout the year. 

But there is a key difference.  Americans are the quintessential modern, sprawling "invented people," who "brought forth on this continent a new nation."  Israel is based on a peoplehood that is small and ancient.  Protests again Yom Ha'atzma'ut ultimately reject this idea of peoplehood—not simply the idea that Jews deserve a state but the idea that they exist at all as a people through time, with a spiritual center in Zion and Jerusalem.  

Greeks, Hungarians, and Mexicans are rarely called upon to give up their symbols and anthems in the name of inclusion; they do not face the eagerly-sought possibility of their disappearance as peoples.  Jews are told to give up these symbols precisely so as to hasten such a disappearance.  Hope requires symbols and ceremonies, and such hope is the ultimate target of the protests against Yom Ha'atzma'ut.  To lose hope is to lose all.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Andy V on April 26, 2012 at 8:04 am (Reply)
Another defensive right-wing reactionary article from Alex Joffe. While the Jewish people is correctly proud of Israel and her achievements, and celebrates its rebirth through the establishment of a Jewish state, it is sad that many of our people reject, out of hand, the claims of Palestinians to their own independence, and dismiss their grievances against Israel outright. When 20% of a population, the Israeli Arabs, routinely face discrimination and relegation to second-class status, when a million Palestinians languish under military occupation for, now, 44 years, isn't it reasonable to celebrate israel on one hand while leaving room for critique and "room for improvement" (to put it mildly) on the other? Not to Joffe.
Bill Pearlman on April 26, 2012 at 9:48 am (Reply)
Another "symmetry between one of the world's oldest people, the Jews, and one of the youngest, the Americans" is that the European Jews displaced the Arabs living there, and the Europeans who came to America displaced the native tribes living there.
Jack Ross on April 26, 2012 at 10:12 am (Reply)
"The Jewish people" as a modern nationality is a 19th century invention. The tragedy of Israel is that it is at grave risk of losing everything because it refuses even to acknowledge the existence of an Israeli people and stubbornly continues to hubristically insist that it is the possession and representative of an imagined transnational "Jewish people."
Jew on the street on April 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm (Reply)
"Isn't it reasonable to celebrate israel on one hand while leaving room for critique and 'room for improvement' (to put it mildly) on the other? Not to Joffe." Not to the overwhelming amount of Jews, either. Come down off your high horse and celebrate! It's Yom Haatzmaut. Today we celebrate. You can return to your sourpussed leftist preaching, and we will return to ignoring you, another time.

moshe on April 26, 2012 at 12:37 pm (Reply)
Another great piece by Alex Joffe. The reason Arab Palestinians' anthem is focused on territory rather than values, vision, or history is that they have nothing authentic to present. Unlike the Jewish people, they have no collective memory, no literature, and nothing positive to say about themselves. Their purpose is not to build but to destroy.
Ellen on April 26, 2012 at 12:49 pm (Reply)
Fascinating sophistry here, typical of products of our vaunted liberal arts education system. And whom did the Arabs displace when they conquered Palestine in the 7th century as part of the Islamic conquest of the Middle East and North Africa? They are the biggest imperialists of all, and somehow get a pass from our self-described intelligentsia.

The original Europeans, as any 3rd grade child knows, conquered North and South America and dominated (ie, took over) the original Indian inhabitants. In the same vein, the original Arabs, from the Arabian peninsula, conquered and took over the great swath of territory from Morocco to the Indian subcontinent, and imposed the Islamic religion (and in most places the Arabic language) on nonMoslem and nonArab peoples, who were thus relegated to a status of dhimmitude. In today's parlance, that would mean second-class citizenship.

Sorry to inform our poorly educated liberal Jews, but the Arabs of Palestine had and have no moral right to the territory they conquered in Palestine, which until that time had been the center of Jewish sovereignty, later conquered by Rome. Their right was simply the right of conquest. Just as the British right to its empire, or the Turkish right to its empire was not a moral right, but rather the right of conquest. If you have the power, you can take a piece of land and rule over it, and reduce its subjects to a condition of dhimmitude. That is what right of conquest means.

The Palestinian Arabs did not appreciate losing their status obtained through the right of conquest, to another group of people, who were merely returning to the land they had lost millennia before. Too bad for them. No need to shed crocodile tears here. What is good for one is good for the other. That is, unless you believe in the Koran which insists that any land once ruled by Muslims must always remain under Muslim rule. This is what the Palestinians believe, and any self-respecting nonMoslem is not going to give a fig about the dictates of Islam. That is their religion, not ours.
sonia on April 26, 2012 at 4:34 pm (Reply)
The hold of liberal/leftist/socialist indoctrination is evidenced here in a conglomerate of ignorance about Israel. Deeded to the Jewish people as an inheritence by God,as evidenced in the Torah, in which everybody in the world can see it for themselves, and which also warns, in Chapter 5 of Joshua, that it is forbidden to give any part of the land HaShem has given to the Jews to a non-people. Why would Jews go against Torah teachings and instead incorporate falsehood, libels, slander, and propaganda against the Jews for the purpose of legitimizating a non-people to replace what belongs to the Jews? Please, fellow Jews, study Torah and come home to your people. We are not an ideology distanced from Judaism, making us vulnerable to threats against our existence by our enemies.

Learn the truth your tool for survival as individuals and as a people Israel. We are one!
Ben Tzur on April 27, 2012 at 1:43 am (Reply)
The antisemitic double standard we see repeated here is that we must condone and ignore the fact that every single nation around Israel is the product of imposed, even colonially defined boundaries and subsequent autocratic dictate, and just about every one of these states has launched expansionary wars of aggression against other Middle Eastern states including Israel--but only Israel, which has fought only defensive wars forced upon it in order to survive within its boundaries, is asserted to be expansionist, colonialist-imperialist, and an illegitimate "occupying" power. All this, moreover, despite the fact that Israel is the only stable and true liberal democracy in the region even now, when Islamist parties have taken over many of the other states and oppress their peoples like the secularist/fascist parties before them. Israeli Arabs presently have more freedom and democratic rights in Israel than their fellow Arabs do in any other Middle Eastern state, and certainly more than Palestinians do in the Palestinian Authority. In fact, the term "apartheid regime" really does apply to those states, including the PA, even if we restrict ourselves just to the way they treat the Palestinian "refugees" in their midst, feeding off of the international aid that flows through them to the state, but generally prohibiting them from work, citizenship, or even such elementary rights as the right to move and live where they want. That there are such "refugee camps" even in the PA shows exactly what kind of society it is, and how much it really cares about the welfare of Palestinians. As for the specifically Jewish nature of Israel (already indicated in its name), set up by the United Nations explicitly to be a refuge for Jews and a Jewish state, established on the ancient Jewish homeland, and the direct continuity of this state with the "Jewish National Home" that the British were appointed to create under their Mandate following the first world war, the specific cultural framework for statehood is not exceptional amongst modern nations. E.g., Turks are the chief focus and beneficiary of Turkey statehood, regardless of other minorities in that country, Greeks are the chief focus of Greece, and Greeks abroad have a primary claim to a right to return and claim citizenship there, while other minorities who do not share in the ancient Greek cultural heritage nevertheless have full citizenship and must be satisfied with that and with national celebrations of Greek ancient glories, Armenians have primary claim to Armenia, their own national home where the Armenian tradition and history take center stage, but there too others can be citizens and will have to be satisfied with that. One can go on and show the same for the states of Europe and states right around the world. If you are not Hungarian, but are a citizen of Hungary, you will have to accept that the entire society around you is going to celebrate the history and heritage of Hungarians and not your own historical roots elsewhere. Similarly for non-British people living in Britain. Etc. That is just the way it is. If any Israeli Arabs take exception to the Jewish-established and -celebratory state of Israel, or refuse to identify with it or be grateful for the rights, prosperity and freedoms they enjoy there, they have other options. They are always free to move just a mile or two to the east and take up residence in the Palestinian Authority area. Then they would still be in their self-defined "Palestine," and will have only moved within it, so they are hardly "exiled." They can then rejoice in submission to their own Palestinian authoritarianism and extremism. (Interestingly, when questioned in a recent poll, an overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs indicated that they were happy to live in Israel. Even more pointedly, "Palestinians" in West Jerusalem indicated that they much preferred Israeli rule to that of the PA, and over 40% said they would move inside Israeli boundaries if they were redrawn to include them within a new state of "Palestine"). In any case, most people in other countries take for granted their move tens or hundreds of miles from their birthplace and do not regard this as any catastrophe. Only anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist propagandists make an issue of this.
SW on April 27, 2012 at 3:49 am (Reply)
The first comment begins, "Another defensive right-wing reactionary article . . . ." The right-left model is failing, and was always fallacious. When one takes all systems in the last century and more which proclaimed the noun "socialism" and the adjective "socialist," and place them together in one group, there is no longer a definition of the political jargon, "right wing." All espousing some form of socialism define themselves as a group, and the opposite side is more clearly labeled by "freedom." Not "unfettered freedom," the way some commenters in other articles have complained, but simple freedom as a human right of mankind. The United Nations statement is clear, "the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world," while Hatikvah is also clear, להיות עם חפשי בארצנו. Complaints couched in political jargon often hide the a priori content of such complaints. When socialism is examined across the last century, more generally it has fought against freedom, often by using the term freedom to mean "for one group against another." Joffe's article does not strike me a "right-wing," but rather concludes: "To lose hope is to lose all." Would a Jew wish the latter alternative over the former, all to prove a political stance? If so, perhaps a reading of German-American Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism" would help to clarify, as it discusses the historical link between the "imperial" state and anti-Semitism. The antithesis to such state power is freedom, and Israel celebrates our freedom in this moment.
Observer on April 27, 2012 at 10:01 am (Reply)
The right wing reacts too much to the left. You have to learn from your opponents. The right should do to the left what the left does to them--ignore them.
Ellen on April 27, 2012 at 11:54 am (Reply)
Better yet, let them be relegated to the trash barrel of history, as Trotsky used to predict about his opponents. That is the true victory over the left and its liberal fellow travelers. Israel is now 64 years old and the preeminent economic and military power of the Middle East. What have its enemies accomplished during this period of time? They are now in the process of internal dissolution through civil wars. That seems to be a just ending.

Comments are closed for this article.

Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pintrest!

Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham