‘The Germans Are Prisoners of Their Past’
World-famous Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim is noted for his strong views on the Middle East peace process and for performing Wagner’s music in Israel. In a SPIEGEL interview, he explains why the Israeli antipathy toward Wagner is grotesque and argues that Israel shouldn’t depend too much on Germany and the US for support.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Barenboim, why are you fighting to perform the music of Richard Wagner in Israel? No other composer is as hated there as this anti-Semitic German composer.
Barenboim: It saddens me that official Israel so doggedly refuses to allow Wagner to be performed — as was the case, once again, at the University of Tel Aviv two weeks ago — because I see it as a symptom of a disease. The words I’m about to use are harsh, but I choose them deliberately: There is a politicization of the remembrance of the Holocaust in Israel, and that’s terrible.
SPIEGEL: Please explain what you mean.
Barenboim: When I came to Israel from Argentina in 1952, as a 10-year-old, no one talked about the Holocaust. The catastrophe was still much too close for the survivors, and young Israelis wanted to create a new Judaism. They wanted to show that Jews were not only able to be artists and bankers, but could also pursue farming and sports. They looked forward and didn’t want to talk about the suffering of their parents.
SPIEGEL: When did that change?
Barenboim: With the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion thought at the time, and rightly so, that it was necessary for the Israelis to experience, based on the example of a perpetrator, what had happened there. Seeing all the savagery, coldness and inhumanity of the Shoah in this individual, Eichmann, was unbelievable. It was the first time that I, like all my school friends, thought about World War II in detail. Suddenly they were saying: We have to do something so that this sort of thing will never happen again.
SPIEGEL: What was wrong with that?
Barenboim: Nothing, of course, but a misunderstanding also arose at the time, namely that the Holocaust, from which the Jews’ ultimate claim to Israel was derived, and the Palestinian problem had something to do with each other. Six years after the Eichmann trial, the Six-Day War erupted, and after that war Israel was different than before. Whereas there had been no political opposition to the government’s development policy until then, a fierce debate suddenly began after the 1967 victory: Should Israel return the occupied territories or not? The Orthodox Jews even said that they weren’t occupied territories, but Biblical regions that had been liberated! An enormous alliance started growing after that, the same alliance of the right and the Orthodox Jews that rules Israel today.