by Isi Leibler
A debate over whether it is appropriate for an Israeli orchestra to play the music of the notorious anti-Semite Richard Wagner has again been resurrected.The Jewish boycott of Wagner’s music was initiated in 1938 following Kristallnacht when the Nazis burned synagogues and instituted massive nationwide pogroms against Jews. In 2001 during the Israel Festival in Jerusalem Daniel Barenboim conducted a selection of Wagner’s music which led to demonstrations and the then mayor Ehud Olmert condemned Barenboim’s initiative as “brazen, arrogant uncivilized and insensitive.”A few weeks ago Katherina Wagner, the German composer’s great granddaughter, sought to visit Israel to formally invite the Cameri Israeli Chamber Orchestra to inaugurate the forthcoming session of the Bayreuth Festival in Germany – an annual event promoting Wagner’s music. Her intentions were leaked to the media and created such a maelstrom, that she canceled the visit. But Cameri announced that it still intended to perform at the festival, although it undertook not to play or even rehearse Wagner’s music in Israel. There certainly is a case to be made that if we were to boycott all anti-Semitic writers, artists and composers, we would be isolating ourselves from a very substantial proportion of the culture of the Western world. Besides, many pose the question “What has music got to do with politics?” Moreover, why should there be so much fuss over the music of a lone anti-Semitic composer who died nearly 130 years ago? And if we are going to ban Wagner, why not also ban music created by other anti-Semitic composers such as Richard Strauss, Sibelius and Chopin? Yet if one drew a red line in the gradation of anti-Semites, identifying those who had a real impact on events leading up to the mass murder of Jews, Wagner would certainly stand out far beyond “traditional” anti-Semites.