You don't have to be Jewish to listen - or to take part
PUBLISHED: 13:20 10 March 2008 | UPDATED: 14:51 07 September 2010
The recent presence in London of Daniel Barenboim to play a complete cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas made a deep impression on me, even though, like many others, I couldn t get into his sold out concerts. For a few weeks he seemed to be on every page and
The recent presence in London of Daniel Barenboim to play a complete cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas made a deep impression on me, even though, like many others, I couldn't get into his sold out concerts. For a few weeks he seemed to be on every page and programme, not simply performing with a ripened authority and depth, but through argument and debate conveying how music evokes peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a cause which he pursues with the same passion he plays music.
Six years ago he co-created with the Palestinian writer Edward Said an orchestra of young Israeli and Arab musicians, the West/East Divan - not "an orchestra for peace", he insists, but "an orchestra against ignorance". In January, he accepted a Palestinian passport, the first Israeli to do so.
This month he will conduct a concert in Jerusalem to mark the 60th anniversaries of Israel's creation and Palestine's nakba (their 'catastrophe' - their expulsion from their homes in what became Israel in 1948). The music will be performed by the best Jewish and Arab adult musicians - assuming the players from Palestine are allowed to cross the border into Israel.
Barenboim's example challenges us to do our bit for peace. Working with other British Jews and non-Jews, I have organised this month an event called Another Israel. It will bring to London a cross-section of alternative Israeli voices, who believe that neither the Israeli strategy of occupation nor the Palestinian tactic of Qassam rockets is getting anywhere and who oppose human rights abuses and violent solutions.
The panel of speakers ranges from veterans to young men and women. Michel Warschawski, son of the Chief Rabbi of Strasbourg, emigrated to Israel to study the Bible and became a leading peace activist. Matan Kohen, 30 years his junior, lost an eye demonstrating against the 'separation fence' cutting off the village of Bi'ilin from its land. There will be journalists, architects and film-makers, mothers and wives mounting a permanent scrutiny of army checkpoints.
These Israelis are not what the Chief Rabbi recently dismissed as "armchair critics". They are agonised and angry citizens of a state in some respects more democratic than Britain - a state which, with the Winograd Commission's recent judgement on the conduct of the 2006 Lebanon war, has shown more transparency than Britain has done about our war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Writing about the tradition of Jewish dissent, from Spinoza to Sigmund Freud - a tradition alive and kicking today in the work of Harold Pinter and Tony Kushner - Isaac Deutscher noted that Jews in the Diaspora "lived on the margins or in the nooks and crannies of their respective nations... It was this that enabled them to rise in thought above their societies, above their nations, above their times and generations, and to strike out mentally into wide new horizons and far into the future."
These Israelis coming to London are not 'self-hating Jews' or propagandists, but people speaking from the front-line, bearing witness to the effects of this war throughout their society and beyond.
You don't have to be a Barenboim to listen to them. You don't even have to be Jewish. Attention, as Arthur Miller said, must be paid.
Michael Kustow is a writer and producer, author most recently of a biography of Peter Brook. Another Israel is on Wednesday March 12 at 7pm at the National Union of Teachers, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, Euston Road, London, WC1H 9BD. Doors open at 6.30pm for exhibition and bookstall. The event is free, but seating is limited. To guarantee entrance, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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