SPIEGEL Interview with Daniel Barenboim 'The Germans Are Prisoners of Their Past'


Part 2: 'It Isn't the Bomb that Makes Israel Secure'

SPIEGEL: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu currently governs with a two-thirds majority in the Knesset, which is unusual for a parliamentary democracy. Does it worry you that Israel no longer has a real opposition?

Barenboim: I believe that the biggest mistake made by the last governments was that they had no real strategy, and that they were actually operating in a merely tactical way: You promise me this and I'll promise you that. In the long term, Israel's security rests on only one pillar: the Palestinians' acceptance of the country. It isn't the atom bomb that makes Israel secure.

SPIEGEL: How do feel about the fact that Germany has provided Israel with submarines that are apparently equipped with nuclear missiles?

Barenboim: All I can say is that it's absurd to ban Wagner while buying German submarines at the same time. Germany has dealt with its past in exemplary ways. That's the only reason I can live in Germany as a Jew. But as impressed and grateful I am about this ability to address the past, I can also see that the Germans are prisoners of their past. Germany will never be a real, free thinking and free feeling friend of Israel, because it will always fall under this shadow. Look at how the world felt about Israel and the Palestinians 40, 20 and 10 years ago, and how it feels today. The reaction of many Israelis is that the world has always been against them. But I don't believe that the entire world is constantly anti-Semitic. Rarely have morality and strategy gone hand-in-hand in quite the same way as in our conflict. There are many Palestinians who would have been willing to accept the reality of Israel. The pessimists say today that the time for two-state solutions is over. If that's true, do we seriously believe that a single country can function on Palestinian territory, after all the hate that's been sown? If we continue in this vein, we won't have any solution at all.

SPIEGEL: It's been said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has a lot of influence on Netanyahu. Do you think the chancellor takes full advantage of this?

Barenboim: I have put the following question to three German chancellors, Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel: Given our shared history, which extends well beyond the 12 terrible years between 1933 and 1945, don't you think that you should help the Jews solve their conflict with the Palestinians? All three had the same response: How do you envision that? How can a German chancellor tell the Israelis how to solve their conflicts?

SPIEGEL: Do you feel reassured by Merkel's statement that Israel's security is part of Germany's national interest?

Barenboim: It's a moral statement that I believe is 100 percent honest. But history shows that the marriage between morality and politics is a shaky one. If I were the Israeli prime minister, I wouldn't rely on such a statement in the long term. There's a historic reason for that: It was France that made it possible for Israel to develop a nuclear program in the 1950s. But in the 1960s, (then President Charles) de Gaulle realized that this was contrary to France's strategic interests, because the French needed oil from the Arabs. So he said: That's enough.

SPIEGEL: And Israel turned to the United States.

Barenboim: And that's exactly where Israel is today. It's something like the US's 51st state. The Israeli government should be concerned about that. Yes, Israel has a strong lobby in Washington. At the same time, however, I see how America's hegemony is shrinking and how much the world's economic growth is shifting to completely different countries, like China, India and Brazil. I ask myself: Where exactly is the Jewish lobby in Beijing, New Delhi and Brasilia?

SPIEGEL: In July, you and your West-Eastern Divan Orchestra will give guest performances in London, where you will perform all Beethoven's symphonies, including the Ninth on the opening day of the Olympics. Isn't this an act of bold confidence?

Barenboim: Of course. Israelis and Arabs each make up 40 percent of the orchestra, and none of them represents his government. We are a thinking alternative.

SPIEGEL: Or a real utopia.

Barenboim: I prefer to look at it like alternative medicine. It doesn't work that quickly, but it works differently. An Israeli who thinks that his government is doing everything right wouldn't join the Divan Orchestra in the first place. That's why those Arabs who don't allow our country to perform in their countries are making a mistake. They don't want to differentiate among different groups of Israelis. They also attack me constantly.

SPIEGEL: Most recently in April, when Qatar excluded you from a festival.

Barenboim: That was because of the situation in Syria. The concerts were delayed. But many Arabs haven't learned anything from the great Edward Said, with whom I founded the orchestra, namely that the Palestinians cannot deny the Holocaust. I understand it completely when Palestinians boycott Israeli institutions. But I don't understand why they would boycott individual Israelis who expressly distance themselves from the Israeli government.

SPIEGEL: You had to give a concert in Gaza City last year without the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Instead, you took along musicians from the Berlin Staatskapelle and the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic. But at least you got in.

Barenboim: And I received what was probably the nicest compliment of my musical career. A man there thanked me so effusively and so many times for our performance that, at some point, I had to ask him why he was so happy. He said: "We feel like the world has forgotten us. We receive aid supplies, and we're grateful for that. But the fact that you have come here with your orchestra gives us the feeling that we are human beings."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Barenboim, thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Joachim Kronsbein and Bernhard Zand. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.


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katjoeus 06/22/2012
1. Fantastic interview!!
This is a great interview with a fantastic musician and human being. What he says makes so much sense - if only there could be more like him, then the Middle East (and Israel!) wouldn't be in the mess they're in. Unbiased, unresentful arguments. Chapeau!!
Ariram 06/22/2012
2. Wagner was the first modern personality to speak about exterminating the Jews!!!
Barenboim should remember that Wagner was the first modern personality to propose genocide of the Jews. In his article he compared the Jews to parasites harming the German music and culture and the solution is extermination. As long as there are survivors of the Holocaust who object to playing his music in any official Israeli institution, one has to respect their feelings. Barenboim does not tell us that the Palestinians not only objected to the partition. They started a war hoping to prevent by force the implementation of the UN plan. That war cost the lives of 6,400 Jews, a whole one percent of the total Jewish population in Palestine at that time. Contrary to Birenboim's assertion, Israel would have come into being with and without the Holocaust.
phillipwh 06/24/2012
3. Supporter of Daniel
Who can pretend to understand the Middle East? Who is not shamed by the holocaust? Many of us go silent although very concerned by Israel's current course. We go silent because Jews have suffered too much. I always follow what Daniel does and say and hope that he has a following in Israel, because I have great difficulty believing in the course set by the current Prime Minister of Israel.
altagir 06/24/2012
Mr Barenboim makes many good points. However one side of the Israel/Palestine story is generally forgotten. Muslims have a long and generally positive relation with the Jewish people. The Prophet Mohammed PBUH was sitting with some of his companions when a funeral passed by. He stood out of respect. One of his companions asked why he had stood for the funeral of a Jew. He replied, 'Was he not a soul'. The second Caliph, Omar ibn al Khattab was asked to personally accept the keys of Jerusalem when the Muslims captured it from the Byzantines. One of his first acts was to invite the Jews to return to Jerusalem. When Salahudin Al Ayubi took back Jerusalem from the Crusaders he also invited the Jews to return. I think it will be impossible for the Jewish people to forget the Holocaust. All I would ask them to remember is who invited them to share the Holy City of Jerusalem and share it accordingly.
shragakelson 07/01/2012
5. Barenboim uses harsh words. Me too
Mr. Barenboim said he is going to use harsh words. I am going to use harsh words too. Barenboim's answers are filled with self righteousness, half truths, lies and worst of all hypocrisy. 1. Barenboim: "It saddens me that official Israel so doggedly refuses to allow Wagner to be performed". Not True. The official Israel DOES allow, contrary to Barenboim's claim, Wagner's Music to be sold, consumed and played but NOT in public halls and public institutions, which are supported by the public, part of which are still the Holocaust Survivors which are getting less every. 2. Barenboim: "I have the greatest respect to the holocaust survivors". Is that so? Barenboim's last concert at the Hall of the Israeli philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv with the Berlin's Orchestra, in which he played Wagner at the encore, contrary to the specific agreement no to, was nothing less then a hypocritical Schweinerei. It is not enough to claim to "have the greatest respect to the holocaust survivors", but then to present them with the Fact "Listen to Wagner or the Door is Open". Is that "the greatest respect" he is talking about? I do regret for having missed this concert myself, because although I personally do listen to Wagner's music among others, but in this case I would have prevented this disgusting filthy trick played by him, telling those who cannot tolerate this music to get out. 3. Barenboim: "Wagner cannot be held responsible..." Barenboim's claim that Wagner had nothing to do with the Holocaust is similar to the claim that the Swastika is an ancient Hindu Symbol of Magic and it was even discovered in one of the ancient Jewish Synagogues in Ein Gedi next to the Dead Sea, Israel. It is not what it is, but what it represents as a symbol, and what emotions it raises in holocaust survivors who upon hearing this music re-live this terrible traumatic episode they went through, and this is what Barenboim and his alike hypocritically refuse to recognize. 4. Barenboim: "The Palestinians weren't primarily anti-Semitic. They just didn't accept their expulsion". Absolute nonsense. Mr. Barenboim like many other left oriented circles & "Peace Seekers" in Israel and outside are constantly covering the fact that Anti-Semitism and Nazism goes like a thread between the religious leaders of the Palestinians long before World War 2, the Mufti Haj Amin El Husseini who was actively involved in promoting the "Final Solution" and recruited Islamic S.S troops to join the effort which got him the recognition of The Führer making him an S.S General, all the way to the present leader of the Palestinian Authority Abu Maazen, who is the only one in the world carrying a Doctorate Degree in Holocaust denial from a Soviet University, and insisting that a Palestinian State must be "Judenrein". 5. Barenboim: "Israel's security rests on only one pillar: the Palestinians' acceptance of the country". Really?, Was there such an acceptance ever before, and is there an indication that upon withdrawal to the 67 borders there will be such acceptance. Have Mr. Barenboim heard about the Palestinian National Covenant and its content? The simple truth is: if the Arabs will lay their arms there will be peace, if Israel will lay its arms there will be no Israel. 6. Barenboim: "it's absurd to ban Wagner while buying German submarines at the same time". Another Barenboim's nonsense. The whole issue of reparations from Germany was very controversial in Israel. In Germany it is called Wiedergutmachung, but never so in Israel. For preventing another Holocaust we will be willing to buy from the Devil himself. Again Mr. Barenboim hypocritically ignores the real issue of Wagner's Music in Israel. 7. And lastly few words of optimism. Mr. Anwar Sadat in his memoirs wrote that only after having realized that there is no way to beat Israel in a war, he chose peace. He paid for it with his life. When I was a child peace with our neighbors seemed a remote dream. So far Israel has peace contracts with 2 Arab countries and unofficial relations with several others. The only way for peace is to develop the mutual economical interests and to make it clear to all sides that WAR ITSELF IS THE TRUE ENEMY. Artists have a tendency to seek short term gratification and have no patience for the long processes, they are also so hung up on their skill and fame that I find no imagination in them to think outside the box.
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