Music censor

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev demanded on Wednesday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel cancel talks for a planned performance in Tehran by Daniel Barenboim.

August 29, 2015 22:20
3 minute read.
Daniel Barenboim

Israeli-Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 In a political climate where it is not unusual for Israel’s prime minister to be accused of interfering in US politics, it should probably not come as a surprise when one of his junior ministers should feel justified in interfering in the affairs of Germany.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev demanded on Wednesday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel cancel talks for a planned performance in Tehran by the Staatskapelle Berlin, the orchestra of the Berlin State Opera, conducted by its musical director, world renowned pianist Daniel Barenboim.

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The 72-year-old Barenboim, who is known for his attempts to make peace through music, would conduct his Staatskapelle Berlin in Tehran during Merkel’s state visit in October. Bahram Djamali, in charge of music at Iran’s Ministry of Culture, told the German EuroNews channel on Sunday that talks were under way with the German orchestra to finalize a performance date.

What is the cause of Regev’s outrage? Is Barenboim going to conduct Wagner in Tehran? Alas, it appears rather that the deputy minister’s concern is political. The Argentinian- born, peacenik Israeli maestro is known as a harsh critic of government settlement policy in the territories.

Is Regev concerned that Barenboim might improvise a statement favoring two states for two peoples, perhaps between movements of Beethoven’s Ninth? Or is she merely concerned that Barenboim might break the law by entering Iran? The deputy minister’s outrage may be superfluous, since under Israeli law, Barenboim and any other Israeli citizen is barred from visiting enemy countries without a special permit issued by the Interior Ministry.

Although he is a dual Argentinean-Israeli national, Barenboim’s Israeli persona is forbidden – under a 2008 amendment to the Nationality Law of 1952 – to visit nine enemy states: Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – as well as the Gaza Strip.

It is unknown whether conductor Barenboim’s ethnic affiliation is a subject of the concert-scheduling talks, so the question of whether the Iranians would object to hosting an Israeli conductor has not yet been asked.

What should be asked, however, is how far should Israeli politicians go – or be allowed to go by the public – in injecting themselves into the affairs of other nations.

The current scenario is a frightening foretaste of what the present government might have in store for enhancing Israel’s democratic freedoms. Political censorship is nothing new, but in her short time in office Regev has already moved from a flirtation with censoring plays to censoring a foreign country’s choice of conductor. While it’s one thing to threaten a theater production in one’s own country, Regev has managed to insult both the chancellor of Germany and one of Israel’s outstanding artists.

“I believe Germany should do the right thing and cancel the performance along with its conductor,” Regev wrote on Facebook. This might be ambiguous, depending on what is meant by canceling the conductor, but there is apparently no limit to the deputy minister’s political reach.

“Barenboim takes an anti-Israel stance and makes sure to slander Israel while using culture to leverage his political opinions against Israel,” Regev wrote on Facebook.

Denouncing Iran as a sponsor of terrorism, she called the performance a “mistake” by Merkel and said she intends to urge the German government to “intervene in the matter.”

For our minister of culture, the Staatskapelle Berlin negotiating to perform in Tehran is not the problem, but a leftwing Israeli Jew who is threatening to harm Israel verbally.

“Daniel Barenboim’s concert in Iran hurts Israel’s efforts to prevent the nuclear agreement and boosts the delegitimization efforts against Israel,” Regev wrote. She showed restraint by not blaming the maestro’s upcoming performance for the recent heat wave.

A Spanish music festival recently rescinded its invitation to the American-Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu, after he declined to endorse a Palestinian state in accordance with the demands of a local BDS campaign. International pressure reversed the boycott and Matisyahu performed, in a resounding defeat for BDS and the political censorship it seeks to impose.

By threatening to withdraw funding from cultural institutions that in her narrow view help delegitimize Israel, and now extending her censorial reach to Germany, Regev is regrettably living up to her promise on being awarded the culture portfolio: “If it is necessary to censor, I will censor.”

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