An extraordinarily controversial figure in his lifetime, composer, conductor and essayist Richard Wagner remains a controversial subject well over a century after his death.

He is officially persona non grata in Israel, not only because of the blatant anti- Semitism in is writings but also because his concepts of nationalism were taken up and expanded on by the National Socialist party and he became an icon of Nazi ideology. At various times, Wagner retracted some of his anti-Semitic statements and had many Jewish friends and admirers, not the least of whom was Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl who, though incensed by Wagner’s anti-Semitic declarations, was entranced by his music and never missed a performance of Tannhauser if he happened to be in the same city at the same time. Wagner was also the favorite composer of Arturo Toscanini, the first conductor of the Palestine Orchestra, which was the forerunner of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Despite the ban on Wagner, many Israelis have recordings of his compositions, played by some of the world’s finest orchestras. There is even an Israel Wagner Society, which on June 18 will host a symposium headlined “An Academic Musical Encounter: Herzl- Toscanini-Wagner,” with conductor Asher Fisch, musicologist Dr.

Meir Stern and Israeli art and music expert Prof.

Yehoash Hirshberg, who will discuss how Wagner inspired both Herzl and Toscanini. The trio will also explore various aspects of Wagner’s work. But what may really set the fireworks going will be a Wagner concert recital by 100 musicians who have been brought together to form an interim orchestra for the occasion.

The concert will take place in the Smolaarz Auditorium on the Tel Aviv University campus.

The performance is privately funded and each of the musicians was hired in a private contract.

■ GERMANY’S LEADERS will not allow themselves to forget the special relationship that the country has with Israel as an ongoing act of atonement for the horrors of the Holocaust.

German President Joachim Gauck, who was born during World War II, did not learn about the Nazi atrocities until he was 17 years old. It still weighs heavily on him that the German people could be so inhuman, he revealed at the state dinner hosted for him by President Shimon Peres in the garden of his residence.

Gauck, who had been to Israel several times prior to becoming president in March of this year, devoted the bulk of his address to how moving it had been for him to sit in the Bundestag in January 2010 and listen to Peres talk about his grandfather Rabbi Zvi Meltzer, who had taught him Torah in Vishniev, the town in which Peres was born. When the Nazis had come to Vishniev, Peres related that they ordered all the members of the community to congregate in the synagogue. Rabbi Meltzer had marched in front, together with his family, wrapped in the same tallith (prayer shawl) in which he had enveloped Peres as a young child, huddled in his grandfather’s embrace. The doors of the synagogue were locked and the wooden structure was torched with all of the community’s Jews inside.

Gauck was so touched by this account that he remembered it in detail and repeated it in Jerusalem two years later.

He also recalled the last sentence in Peres’s address: “Permit us, allow yourselves, to dream and realize the dreams.”

The reference was, of course, to peace and security, something to which Gauck is committed.

Germany’s reparations to Israel have been not only financial but also moral.

Among those moral deeds is one yet to be enacted. When Gauck met earlier in the day with members of the Israeli Olympic team who had survived the Munich massacre, he pledged to ask the Olympic Committee to call for one minute’s silence at the forthcoming London Olympics in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered by members of the Palestine Liberation Organization at the 1972 Munich Olympics. So far all appeals, including those of the Israel government, have fallen on deaf ears. But because Germany is such a powerful force in Europe, Gauck may succeed where others have failed.

In welcoming Gauck at the State dinner, Peres could not refrain from invoking the Holocaust, but did so primarily to illustrate the difference between the Germany of then and the Germany of now. He said: “The Holocaust remains a bleeding wound in our hearts, and the memory of the heinous deeds of that era have not faded, nor will they ever fade... Today’s Germany instills the horrors of the Holocaust and the lessons it has taught in its sons and daughters, and fights with all its might against any budding signs of racism.”

■ THE CHANGING face of the Middle East is both an exciting challenge and a pain in the neck for political analysts and commentators. Dennis Ross and David Makovsky had to put out an updated edition of their book Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East, which was published as recently as 2009, because so much has changed since then. Ross served as the director of policy planning in the State Department under president George H. W. Bush, as special Middle East coordinator under Bill Clinton and as a special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, including Iran, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Makovsky is a former editor- in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, where he previously worked as a diplomatic correspondent.

He is now director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Project on the Peace Process as well as an adjunct lecturer in the Middle Eastern studies program at John Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

■ THE NETANYA Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) held its annual general meeting on Wednesday night, during which it was announced that Hilton Share would take over as the new chairman from Arthur Opolion, who served in the position for four years. Share said he hoped to attract more young people to the Netanya AACI during his tenure.

David London, the executive director of the National AACI, traveled from Jerusalem for the special event. Longtime director Rachel Rubin Hirsh oversaw a raffle draw (first prize was a trip to Europe for two). At the end of the evening, the audience was treated to a guest lecture by Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde on “Issues of the day,” followed by a lively question- and-answer session.

Despite claims from readers unhappy with several left-wing columnists, Linde stressed that the Post is a politically balanced newspaper.

■ THERE’S A lot of talk about integrating Arab university graduates into hi-tech and other areas in which they can become part of the mainstream work force and earn enough to improve the quality of their lives. Some people are not only talking about opening the gates of opportunity but are actually doing something about it. A business conference sponsored by the Arabic business and economics publication Malakom together with Tsofen, which trains Arabs for work in Israeli hi- tech companies, was held at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Nazareth this week, with nearly all the addresses geared toward Arab integration. The conference, an annual event, was initiated in 2010.

Among the participants were founder and publisher of Malakom founder and publisher Basel Ghattas, who has a doctorate in environmental engineering from the Technion, Tsofen CEO Smadar Nehab, Tel Aviv Stock Exchange CEO Esther Levanon, chairman of the board of directors of Bank Hapoalim Yair Saroussi, chairman of Israel Association of Electronics and Software Industries Elisha Yanai, CEO of Motorola Israel Shimon Dik, founder and director of JVP Venture Capital Fund Erel Margalit, CEO of IDC Israel Gideon Lopez, chairman of Palestinian Information Technology Association and co-manager of Dimensions Multimedia in Ramallah Hassan Qasem, scientist and founder of Plorol Biotech Prof.

Fuad Fares, CEO of Jasper Design Automation’s Israel Development Center Ziad Hana, senior associate in IBM R&D Group Shadi Qupti, hitech entrepreneur in interactive media for education purposes Elia Abu Shamis, CEO of E Paper Sign Bilal Lahwani, governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority Dr. Jihad Al Wazir, British Ambassador Matthew Gould and various Jewish and Arab entrepreneurs and financiers. Ghattas, who initiated the conference, noted the wealth of talent in the Arab sector that has been held back by many obstacles and that must be overcome not only by potential Arab employees but also Arab entrepreneurs.

There has been progress since the first conference, he acknowledged, but there could be a lot more. If given the chance, talented Arab hi-tech people could make a significant contribution to the Israel economy, he stated.

■ ALL JOURNALISTS work in a vacuum, not knowing how many people out there are reading what they write but aware that there are readers just waiting to pounce on any mistake. Many journalists, when corrected by readers, are often surprised to discover who actually reads their material.

The writer of this column was mistaken, according to former long-time Israel director of the Rothschild Foundation Moshe Berlin, when writing earlier in the week that the representative of the Rothschild Foundation at the launch of Educational Television in March 1966, had been Lord Jacob Rothschild.

According to Berlin it was Lord Jacob’s father, Lord Victor Rothschild, who represented the Rothschild Foundation.

There have been so many generous members of the Rothschild family who have contributed so much to Israel that it is easy to get confused.

The family’s gifts to Israel include more than 500,000 dunams of land for settlements and agriculture in the pre-state period, educational facilities, scholarships, dance, music, science, the Knesset and Supreme Court buildings, magnificent museum collections and much more. The Rothschilds continue to contribute through the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation as well as in other capacities.

greerfc@gmail.com

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