Daniel Barenboim: Hated in Israel, Unwelcome in Iran

Barenboim conducts West-Eastern Diwan Orchestra

Daniel Barenboim is far more than a brilliant orchestral conductor.  He is a human being, a mensch.  Though raised in Israel (but not born there), he has always risen above the insular world-view of many Israelis, especially regarding its relations with its neighbors in the Arab world.  Together with Edward Said, he founded the West-Eastern Diwan Orchestra (WEDO).  It is an amazing project which integrates two halves of Barenboim: the musician and the moral man.  He created a world-class orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian musicians who not only perform together, but also live out their values of peaceful co-existence through their music.  For his efforts he’s been honored the world over.

Barenboim also conducts the Berlin Philharmonic, and persuaded the German government to help organize a concert tour to Iran.  He expected opposition from the Israeli government, which hates everything he stands for.  And he got it.

Israel’s culture minister is former IDF spokesperson, Miri Regev.  During riots against African refugees, called them a cancer in Israel’s body.  When she faced criticism for her statement, she apologized: to cancer victims.  On hearing of Barenboim’s project, she flew into a rage and demanded that German Chancellor Angela Merkel cancel the tour.  She wrote on Facebook:

This melody we must stop.  Barenboim promotes an anti-Israel line against Israel [sic] and takes pains to smear it through culture; using it as leverage on behalf of his political views against the State of Israel.  This is a bad decision by Germany’s Chancellor.

I plan today to write a letter to German’s foreign ministry representatives arguing that Daniel Barenboim’s appearance harms Israel’s efforts to prevent a nuclear agreement and lends strength to the delegitimization of the State of Israel.

Iran supports terror stands behind Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas.  Its [Iran’s] leaders have blood on their hands.  I believe that Germany will act appropriately and cancel the performance of its orchestra and her conductor.  There is no reason for celebration and certainly not for an orchestra.  The notes from Tehran are grating and dangerous

In the comment section below, SimoHurtta makes a point that occurred to me while writing this, but which somehow slipped out of my mind before publication.  Note Regev’s indignation that a Barenboim appearance in Tehran will harm Israel’s efforts to sabotage the deal.  Which is of course true.  But she forgets that Germany is one of the P5 signatories to the deal.  As such, it wants the deal to work and opposes Israel’s position.  So why should Chancellor Merkel give a fig what Regev says on the subject?  This shows Israel’s deep narcissism, by which every issue is refracted in a mirror through which the nation may only see itself; a mirror that obstructs the view of anything or anyone else in the world.

It turns out Regev didn’t need to put in her two cents.

As if on cue, the hardliners in Tehran responded likewise.  Barenboim, the Israeli artist who has done as much as any to chart a different cultural course regarding Israel’s relations with the Arab and Muslim world, has been banned from Iran.  His crime: he is an Israeli.  It doesn’t matter that he’s also a Palestinian, Argentine and Spanish citizen.  It doesn’t matter that he was born in Argentina and only came to Israel when he was 7 years-old. It doesn’t matter that his entire career is based in Europe, he lives in Berlin, and that he is hated in his homeland.  What rankles the hardliners is one of his four nationalities.  The land in which he lived for a decade or so trumps values, as it trumps ideas.  It does not matter what you think or believe.  What matters is what religion you profess or the place where you lived once upon a time.  It is as if the land somehow poisons the person.  This is a tragedy.

I’ve just learned that another problem for Barenboim may be his relationship with the BDS movement.  In 2010, PACBI argued that the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was boycottable because it didn’t take a sufficiently robust position against Occupation.  The claim was that the Orchestra did not incorporate a truly progressive political analysis of the conflict into its cultural-musical mission.  While I’m sympathetic in general to this view after reading Raymond Deane’s post, it also seems a shame that WEDO is subject to an Iranian boycott when it can play an important role in offering a cultural opening for Iran to the outside world.  In the context of all the hate and ignorance offered by the Israel Lobby, Israeli government and media concerning Iran, it would be wonderful to offer a counter-narrative.

Though I’m sure Omar Barghouti would disagree, I prefer Iran promoting its own national interests.  Turning down an appearance by Maestro Barenboim advances the cause of BDS perhaps (though that’s arguable since Iran isn’t even acknowledging its refusal is based on this criteria), but spoils an opportunity to present Iran favorably to the world.

Iran cannot find a braver human being willing to do what is right without regard to nation, tribe or religion, than Daniel Barenboim.  Let’s hope it reconsiders.