It is difficult for those who enjoy Daniel Barenboim’s music to criticize an artist like him. Yet the famous Israeli conductor just led an ensemble of European musicians to Hamastan, including Italians from world-renowned opera house of La Scala in Milan.
Indeed, the Israeli pianist and conductor crossed a red line with a most unethical gesture.
“We are playing this concert as a sign of our solidarity and friendship with the civil society of Gaza”, Barenboim said. He also wished “success” to the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement signed in Egypt.
Barenboim’s performances of Beethoven and Mozart can’t be an excuse for his political irresponsibility. For global public opinion he is an icon of tolerance and he must be judged by his actions. Barenboim refused to take part in Israel’s 60th anniversary festivities and in 2005, while signing a book that he had written with late anti -Israel activist Edward Said, he refused to be interviewed by a reporter for Israel’s Army radio simply because she was wearing an IDF uniform.
In 2008, Barenboim obtained a Palestinian passport, a gesture approved by the former Hamas-led Palestinian unity government. He then pledged allegiance to an anti-Semitic entity trying to eliminate the other country where Barenboim has a passport: Israel. In March 2002, Barenboim performed in Ramallah, when terror groups were launching suicide attacks against Israeli restaurants, malls and cafés.
To promote the "cause of peace" - as he always claims to be doing - Barenboim could have protested last year when a Palestinian youth orchestra was disbanded in Jenin after performing to Holocaust survivors in Israel. He could have also denounced Hamas when all musical instruments not mentioned in the Koran were banned in Gaza.
Barenboim has always insisted that his choices were inspired by social needs. If true, he could have denounced the Palestinian repression of homosexuals (who seek refuge in Israel) and Christians. Yet he never even said a word on behalf of the right to life of his fellow Israeli citizens blown up to pieces by his Gaza audience. Instead, in 2005 he compared Israeli soldiers to Nazis during a lecture at Columbia University in New York.
Barenboim’s silence has been telling. In August 2003, he was conducting a Concert for Peace in Spain with an Arab orchestra. Meanwhile in Jerusalem, a Route 2 bus full of Jewish faithful returning from the Western Wall was blown up. There were many infants among the dead and injured, in some cases several children from the same family. The genocidal strike has come to be called “the children’s attack” due to the large number of babies. Barenboim could have use the Spanish concert to denounce the massacre of Jews. But he remained silent.
Having conducted the Tel Aviv Philharmonic Orchestra, Barenboim certainly knows the history of music in the modern state of Israel. It might be helpful to refresh his memory. In 1936 a Polish man, Bronislaw Huberman, put his violin in his case and left Warsaw to begin a long journey. Huberman said to his fellow musicians: “Come with me to Tel Aviv, something really terrible is going to happen in Europe.” The violinists and pianists who did not believe Huberman were murdered in the gas chambers. That was the beginning of the Israeli orchestra directed by Arturo Toscanini on its debut. David Ben Gurion and Chaim Weizmann attended the concert, while Huberman wept silently during the conduction.
Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, David Oistrach, Arthur Rubinstein, Rudolf Serkin and Glenn Gould have all honored the marriage between music and Israel. During the 1948 War of Independence, Bernstein led the orchestra in Beersheba. All around there were young soldiers, boys and girls with a gun on the shoulder and the music of Ravel and Mozart in their ears.
During the 1967 war, a young Indian conductor, Zubin Mehta, arrived in Israel on a plane loaded with ammunition and arms. It was the only way to reach the Jewish State. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Mehta returned to conduct concerts almost every night. Mehta is the living example of a great musician who is also a peacemaker. In 1991, when Saddam Hussein rockets hit Tel Aviv, the Israeli auditorium was full of people. Mehta, a non-Jew, played Bach when the siren started to sound. He wore a gas mask.
Another musical virtuoso, Isaac Stern, who in 1973 played in Israeli hospitals and often at patients’ bedsides, performed with Mehta in 1991 when a rocket was fired from Baghdad. Stern stood his ground and calmed the people at the auditorium with a solo Bach Sarabande. Last year Mehta went to Sderot, the most bombed city in the world, to play for Gilad Shalit. It was a simple yet powerful gesture against the enemies of peace.
Barenboim could have done the same in Gaza. A visit of solidarity with the victims of terror would have also been an appropriate gesture to balance his conducting for Hamas. In the Negev there are thousands of Israeli children who have physical disabilities after the rockets. There are children who want to stay inside the bunkers, or in the safe rooms of their homes. There are children who don’t get out of bed anymore. But again, Barenboim remained silent.
In the past, Barenboim drew much criticism for the decision to perform in public the works of Richard Wagner. The informal ban on the playing of Wagner’s music in Israel predates the establishment of the State, going back to the infamous 1938 night of anti-Jewish rioting in Nazi Germany known as Kristallnacht. Will Barenboim remain silent again in the face of another Kristallnacht in Europe or in Israel?
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism
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