JERUSALEM — An Israeli university department’s decision not to play the national anthem at a graduation ceremony on Thursday has sparked outrage from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
A Hebrew University of Jerusalem spokesman confirmed an Army Radio report that the Humanities Faculty will not play the anthem at the event “out of consideration” for Arab participants and said there was no requirement to do so.
“Hatikvah” (“The Hope”) was made the official state anthem in 2004, but Israel’s Arab minority feels excluded by its emphasis on Jewish historic aspirations for statehood.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “shameful,” adding that it “strengthens” his resolve to pass a controversial bill entrenching the state’s Jewish identity.
Considered a flagship of Israeli academia, Hebrew University is a public institution that receives government funding. A similar move by the school last year drew protest by faculty member and students.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said he spoke with the university’s president, and informed him that as a public institution, it ought to honor the state that stands behind it.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that as an alumnus he was “shocked,” and called on the university “to change this peculiar decision.”
Center-left Zionist Union party lawmaker Tzipi Livni, a member of the opposition, called it “a mistake” that plays into the hands of right-wing radicals.
The university rebuffed the criticism, saying there was no legal requirement to play the national anthem at academic functions.
“At official state ceremonies at the Hebrew University, the national anthem is played as usual,” the university said in a statement. “At academic ceremonies there is no obligation to play the anthem.”