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18 May, 2017 14:32

Israeli university declines to play anthem at graduation to respect Arabs

Israeli university declines to play anthem at graduation to respect Arabs

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at a university for choosing not to play the Israeli national anthem at a graduation ceremony, out of respect for Arab students. The leader called the move “shameful.”

Hebrew University of Jerusalem said the anthem – which emphasizes Jews’ historical aspirations for statehood – won't be played at the event “out of consideration” for participants who are Arab.

The move has been widely criticized across Israel, including from Netanyahu, who called it “shameful.”

“This is the peak of subservience, the opposite of national pride,” Netanyahu said, as quoted by the Jerusalem Post.

“We are proud of our country, our flag, our national anthem, and this only reinforces my opinion to pass the national law that we are leading in order to anchor into law the national symbols that are so dear to us,” he added.

The move also prompted the education minister and head of the Council for Higher Education, Naftali Bennett, to call the university’s president, Menahem Ben Sasson, for an explanation.

Bennett stressed during the conversation that the anthem is to be played at every official university ceremony, according to the Jerusalem Post. He went on to state that playing it does not cause any harm, so a fear of hurt feelings should not be part of the equation.

The minister also told Ben Sasson that as a public institution, the university should respect Israel. He added that academic freedom does not equate to harming the values of the country.

In response, Ben Sasson said he would ensure that the anthem is played at official university ceremonies, vowing to look into this particular incident.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu wasn't the only politician to express outrage over the university's move.

“In a place where the ‘Hatikva’ is canceled – there is no hope and no spirit,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein wrote on his Facebook page, calling on the university to reverse its decision.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he was “shocked” by the “odd decision,” and also called on the university to reverse it.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also weighed in, tweeting that “canceling your self-identity in order not to harm others’ feelings is akin to national suicide. I hope the university administration will come to its senses.”

Others on social media also chimed in, with one user calling the university a “pitiful institution” over its “disgraceful” decision.

Some, however, seemed fine with the decision not to play the anthem, predicting that the incident would be used to advance the agenda of Israel’s right-wingers.

Despite Ben Sasson’s apparent vow to look into the situation and ensure the anthem is played at official graduation ceremonies, Hebrew University issued a statement which didn’t at all align with his words.

“There is no statutory provision and/or guidance from the Council for Higher Education regarding the singing of anthems at academic ceremonies, hence there is no basis for complaints to the university on the subject. At official state ceremonies at Hebrew University, the national anthem is played as usual. At academic ceremonies there is no obligation to play the anthem,” the statement reads.

The Council for Higher Education is preparing to release recommendations with an “ethical code for the politicization of Israel academia,” at Bennett's request.