This is the time for a protest anthem, not for the Hatikva national anthem
The protesters who sang the Israeli national anthem at Tel Aviv’s Habima Square [on 14 January] are not downtrodden citizens, and it would be better if they stayed at home. Do you want a change? Look at what they did in Tahrir Square in 2011
Every successful protest needs an anthem that reflects the anger of the citizens who decided to take to the streets, the people who know what they are fighting for. In 2011, musician Ramy Essam took the stage at Cairo’s Tahrir Square in front of tens of thousands of protesters and accompanied the tune of his guitar with words he pulled from his hip: “We are all one hand, we asked for one thing: go away, go away, look. He will fall, he will fall, Hosni Mubarak.” Essam yelled out the protestors’ battle cry and they followed him. The spontaneous words that demanded the ruler’s resignation became the song “Irchel” (go away). Later the song became a protest anthem against the former president of Egypt.
Habima Square in Tel Aviv will never be like Tahrir Square in Cairo. The Israeli musicians who performed at the demonstration on the previous Saturday night at the Habima Square honed the message to the right-wing camp: we haven’t come here to challenge Netanyahu’s regime and we haven’t come to upset the settlers. The moment when Miri Mesika sang Hatikva and the protesters sang with her nonchalantly, was enough to understand that the fate of this protest is to die — like the Balfour St protest outside the PM’s residence protest and the 2011 Social Justice protests. The Israeli public isn’t ripe and ready yet to step out of its comfort zone and rise up against the Israeli regime, which also oppresses the Palestinians. A demonstration of 80,000 participants will not deter Netanyahu or make him think, even in the slightest way, about the concerned citizens — who are themselves the flesh and blood of the State of Israel, and some of whom are directly or indirectly complicit in the oppression apparatus masquerading as democracy.
With all due respect to the State of Israel’s national anthem, this is not the right time to sing it in a demonstration. He does not challenge Netanyahu and nor does it challenge [Religious Zionism Leader] Smotrich. it is boring. Hatikva leaves everyone with the perception that the justice system is “in danger” and prevents a critical look at the way it itself failed and gave the stamp of approval to the settlement enterprise at the expense of private Palestinian lands. The Israeli public has not yet realised that this is not a demonstration to save democracy, because there has never been a real democracy here.
The 2019 Democracy Index had Israel at the bottom of the list among OECD countries. It is evident that the protesters are not aware of the hidden mechanisms that help oppress citizens, embracing the decisions of its legal advisers [equivalent to Australian solicitors-general], including Avichai Mandelblit who in 2016 approved with his own hands to pass the Law of Loyalty in Culture, according to which it is possible to cancel or cut back financial support for cultural and art institutions that work against the principles of the state. So precisely what kind of democracy are the protesters fighting for?
Clinging to the symbols of Jewish superiority will lead nowhere. The Israeli protesters should learn from their Iranian and the Egyptian counterparts, who in real time wrote protest songs that managed to convey the depth of the oppression and even arouse the world’s attention regarding what is happening in their countries. Israelis who sing of hope are not oppressed citizens, and it would be better if they stay at home. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, as the American writer and feminist Audre Lorde wrote. This is the paradox of the Israeli protester: on the one hand, they want to demonstrate and regard themselves as fully responsible for their state, and on the other hand, they take part in silencing positions that challenge the prevailing discourse. The protesters do not understand or are unwilling to accept that the Occupation is part of their set of norms, attitudes and values. The Occupation has oozed into the very heart of Israeli society, affecting everything that happens in it and leaving a destructive.
The second-last demonstration reflects the success of Netanyahu and his associates in getting the liberal camp to be doubly careful, and to protest within the framework of the boundaries drawn by Netanyahu for years. Protesters, musicians and political movements from the centre and the left are afraid to yell out the truth. The Right not only took over the political space, but also set out the way people protest. Hatikva is a demonstration of loyalty to Bibi’s messages. Hatikva does not challenge the oppression of Palestinians on either side of the Green Line.
In 2019, demonstrators in Lebanon went out to yell out and rise up against their government’s failure to find solutions to the economic crisis. In Beirut, Tripoli and the Beqaa Valley, the only song heard during demonstrations al-thawrah (the revolution).
Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, they carry the torch, sing the anthem, to reject the accusations of disloyalty to the state. And this is the face of the failed struggle for democracy, which amounts to a silent demonstration that does not express the true anger of the entire social spectrum. This is the time to learn from the protests in the neighbouring countries, to create and sing a protest anthem that challenges the internal social mechanisms and expresses the voice of the oppressed — who have never seen real democracy in Israel and never felt that Hatikva is their song.
Original Haaretz (Hebrew edition) translated by Sol Salbe, Middle East News Service: