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.
- Part 1: 'The Germans Are Prisoners of Their Past'
- Part 2: 'It Isn't the Bomb that Makes Israel Secure'