By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Israel’s minister of culture Miri Regev and her Iranian counterpart have something in common: they both objected to the attempt by Daniel Barenboim to take the Berlin Philharmonic to Teheran for a concert because Barenboim is an Israeli citizen.
Whereas the Israeli minister and many in her country believe that such a prominent citizen of Israel shouldn’t grace the Iranian regime with his presence, the Iranian minister of culture barred him from coming because he believes that his country would be disgraced if this or any other citizen of “the Zionist regime” came to visit. Daniel won’t be allowed into what Jews might describe as the lion’s den.
The irony is compounded by Barenboim’s staunch and very vocal criticism of the policies concerning Palestinians of Ms Regev’s government. That’s presumably why he has chosen to add to his other passports also that of the Palestinian Authority, probably granted him not because of his residence but because of his sympathies.
Barenboim was not only friends with, but also greatly influenced by, the late Arab-American academic and public intellectual Edward Said, who made it his business to oppose Israel. Together with Said, Barenboim founded in 1999 the Palestinian West Eastern Divan Orchestra that encourages young talents from across the Israeli-Arab divide to make music together as a way of bringing them closer to each other.
That was also part of the theme of Barenboim’s BBC 2006 Reith Lectures two of which I heard in Jerusalem as they were being delivered to a mixed Arab-Jewish audience.
Despite his views, Israel doesn’t vilify Barenboim. I haven’t heard accusations of this “self-hating Jew.” In fact, he’s the recipient of Israel’s very prestigious Wolf Prize granted almost annually to a living scientist or artist from anywhere in the world for”achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among people.” In Barenboim’s case, the friendly relations are more in evidence in his dealings with Palestinians than with his own people in Israel.
Some time ago he managed to upset Israelis by playing Wagner for them. Though Jews’ refusal to listen to Wagner may be irrational, Barenboim’s need to challenge and upset them is consistent.
If the Iranians were rational they’d welcome him as a friend and ally, but there’s never any rationality when it comes to hating Jews, especially when they’re citizens of that odious “Zionist regime.”
It hasn’t taken long for those who had hoped that the nuclear deal would soften Iranian attitudes to find out that this isn’t the case. Since the deal has been made public, Iranian official spokesmen have repeated on more than one occasion their anti-Israel invective. In fairness, President Obama has never suggested that it would be different; the snub to Barenboim has provided yet another illustration.
We’ve reason to admire Barenboim’s efforts to promote peace between Jews and Arabs and, more generally, between Jews and Muslims. He’s not alone in this, but being world-famous he has a much bigger stage on which to act. No doubt the proposed visit of the Berlin Philharmonic was in that spirit. It’s sad that the Iranian hatred of Israel has made even this modest gesture impossible.