The Debate on the Israeli National Anthem

In 1877, Naftali Herts (Herz) Imber (Galicia, 1856 - New York, 1909), a young man in his early twenties, authored a Hebrew poem called "Our Hope". The pioneers in Palestine liked the poem, and from the beginning of the 20th century the first two stanzas of the nine-stanzas-poem became the anthem of the Zionist Movement (called "The Hope"). When the State of Israel was founded in 1948 "The Hope" became its national anthem, but only in 2004 it became the anthem of the State of Israel by legislation.


Naftali Herts Imber

The author of the poem, after travelling in Europe, immigrated to Palestine in 1882. He published articles and poems expressing appreciation to the Jewish pioneers. In 1887 he went back to Europe and in 1892 he came to the US, where he married a physician (who was a convert) and got divorced. In his last years Imber lived in the Lower East Side in New York, he was sick and poor and at age 53 he died from kidney illness due to his drinking. He was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery in New York, and in 1953 in Israel, in accordance with his wish. Imber is not recognized as a significant contributor to Hebrew literature.

Israelis have debated if the anthem should be changed or replaced or not. Here is "The Hope":

As long as in the heart, inside
A soul of a Jew still yearns
And toward the end of the East, onward
An eye gazes toward Zion -

Our hope is not yet lost,
The two-thousand-year-old hope,
To be a free nation in our country,
The country of Zion and Jerusalem.


The Western Wall

"The Hope" says that as long as the soul of the Jews yearns to Zion, our hope to be free people in Zion has not been lost.

The melody of the anthem was written by an agricultural worker in Palestine, Shmuel Cohen, who was clearly influenced by a popular Moldavian melody about farmers who accelerate their oxen as they travel by wagon. There are, however, musicologists who argue that part of the melody was composed by a Rabbi in Spain at about 1400.

Various arguments have been presented for and against replacing the anthem. Those who are for replacing the anthem or changing some of it, state that it is written in a kind of accentuation (Ashkenazi) that is not used in the Hebrew vernacular anymore. Its style is outdated, "archaic", and it should be refreshed or replaced. Some also say that the music is not innovative, and certainly not completely original. The poem mentions the soul of the Jew in the masculine form, how about the Jewish woman? In the anthem, Jewish hearts yearn for the East - Israel is in the east for Jews in Europe, but this neglects the Jews for whom Jerusalem was in the West, such as Iraq and Syria. The anthem suits a Jewish national movement from East Europe that looks west bound and desires the Israeli state, but not the people who are already free and independent in Israel. The hope to be a free nation in Israel that is expressed in the poem has been fulfilled already. There are many Hebrew poems that are better suited to be the anthem, they are applicable to every person, regardless of religion, race and gender. "The Hope" does not suit the multi-cultural world in which we live. There are countries that have modified their anthems that Israel can be inspired by. For some, even simply Imber's lifestyle (for example, his abuse of alcohol) justifies changing the anthem.

Those pro-change point out that the anthem expresses the yearning of the Jews - that constitute now about 75% of the Israeli population - to return to their land, it does not express the minorities in Israel - Arabs, Druze, Bedouin, and Cherkessk. It is essential to make some changes in the anthem so that the minorities in Israel can feel that they are a part of it, for example, replacing the line "the soul of a Jew yearns" with "the soul of the Israeli yearns". Israeli minorities deserve an anthem that can help them to identify with their state. There are also those who claim that it would be good a progressive social step to add to an entire additional national song with which minorities in Israel could identify.

Those who object to changing the anthem are against changing the national symbols of Israel. Israel is a Jewish state and the Jews live in it with head held high and their anthem expresses this fact. The minorities don't have to identify with the anthem, only to respect it. There are nations whose anthems include harsh utterances that the relevant minorities do not like, yet they do not consider replacing or modifying their anthems. The Jewish people chose "Hatikva" as their anthem and the government does not have the right to change it. There is one anthem for the one country the Jews govern. With this anthem on their lips Jews went to the gallows, fought their way to come to Israel, and currently express their love to their land; suggesting to change it is ridiculous. The minorities in Israel should internalize that it is a Jewish state, they would affirm.

The most challenging disputes are those in which both sides have highly emotionally charged arguments, and this one certainly has plenty of that.

You may listen to the Moldovan song

You may listen to the Israeli anthem