Forgive the absence of links, but I don’t feel like searching for them right now. Here are the basics of the story:

– Richard Wagner, though a great composer, proved that musicians should keep out of politics and social issues by spending his most popular years as an outspoken and vitriolic antisemite.
– The Nazis were inspired by Wagner. He was their touchstone in some respects.
– For many years, playing Wagner in Israel was taboo and no symphony played his music.
– Daniel Barenboim, an Argentinian-born Jew who had lived in Israel and is considered one of the finest classical musicians and conductors of this period, lobbied to play Wagner in Israel.
– After much wrangling and lots of anger and wasted newspaper ink, Barenboim foisted his personal feelings upon Israelis of all stripes by breaking the taboo and playing Wagner in Israel. He played a portion of Tristan and Isolde after arguing, from the stage, before the performance for almost an hour with members of the audience.
– Having foisted his feelings and beliefs, in the free country of Israel, upon many who didn’t want to have to deal with the disgust of having the antisemitically inspired music of a man who inspired Nazis with his music, Barenboim left Israel again to continue galivanting around the globe with his successful career.

-Edward Said was a prominent and highly regarded scholar who spent many years and many words representing the Palestinian struggle for…well, we suppose for the destruction of Israel, but that’s not what he said. He vacillated between a two state solution and a one state solution and, of course, ended up recommending the latter.
– Edward Said worked at Columbia University.
– Edward Said was a very effective scholar opposing Israel because he was well known and because he was able to couch his attacks on Israel in academic prose and supposed research and their publication.
– Edward Said lied, like Arafat, about his “Palestinian” origins.
– One could argue that much of his academic work was also built on lies, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
– I will note that “Orientalism,” his most famous work, was the catalyst for a significant shift in academe toward a different approach to studying the Arab world, Islam and the Middle East (basically he said that if ya ain’t from there, shut up and don’t pretend to be able to objectively study that world because your bias is inherent to the fabric of your being and growing up in a Western culture). Essentially, it was a big F you to most North American born and raised scholars of the day, while exhorting his own background and that of others of Middle Easters descent as the only valid one in studying the history, culture, society and politics of Middle Eastern cultures (and by extension, any culture can only be truly represented by people who came up from within it). By the way, he didn’t seem to have a problem analyzing Israel.

– Columbia University has somehow become a hotbed of anti-Israel intellectualism and instruction.
– Several professors have come under attack for their poor treatment and, in some cases, squelching of speech, by anybody who seemed to have a positive disposition about Israel.
– Some people actually caught this behavior on film.
– The university, and its President Lee Bollinger, have not done much to control the difficulties and egregious behavior described and filmed.
– The university has been getting a lot of press about this situation.

– Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim were close friends.
– Although they had many agreements about the Middle East, it was music that brought them together.

– Daniel Barenboim was invited to give the inaugural Edward Said Memorial Lecture.
– The talk was, of course, to be given at Columbia.
– The talk was intended, people thought, to be a lecture about music. After all, Barenboim is a musician.
– Barenboim, however, wanted to talk about more than music.

According to the Financial Times, his talk evolved into describing how he had to fight to play Wagner in Israel and how he believed he had succeeded in imparting a message. He then proceeded call on Israel

to accept the Palestinian “narrative even though they may not agree with it”.

“The state of Israel was supposed to provide the instrument for the end of anti-Semitism…This inability to accept a new narrative has led to a new anti-Semitism that is very different from the European anti-Semitism of the 19th century.”

– If you require a translation, this means that it’s all Israel’s fault and the curious resmblance of a lot of people harboring antisemitic feelings now to the past is actually, well, Israel’s fault.

He also added, according to the Financial Times,

“You cannot have equality without freedom and you cannot have freedom without brotherhood. And this is what Edward and I tried to do, in a completely non-violent way.”

– Translation: since both men were very well off and had their own stylish pads, they never had to fight over who gets the apartment and thus were able to resolve differences over some sweets and tea while discussing, in a very genteel manner, the music that was, err, rocking their world.

The New York Times, gave a little more detail about Barenboim’s pronouncements on music how the Israelis are shits and the Palestinians are not:

Mr. Barenboim said Wagner’s anti-Jewish vitriol had to be placed in the context of 19th-century European nationalist feeling. He said that he understood the pain of Holocaust survivors but that it was hypocritical to keep Wagner off the concert stage when audio and video recordings of his work were available, and even cellphones in Israel rang with “The Ride of the Walkyries.”

He blamed the taboo on a lingering sense of minority status and victimhood. “It is this fear, this conviction of being yet again the victim, that does not allow the Israeli public to accept Wagner’s anti-Semitism,” Mr. Barenboim said. “It is the same cell in the collective brain that does not allow them to make progress in their understanding of the needs of the Palestinian people.”

Mr. Barenboim said that the failure of the Israeli government to accept the Palestinians’ “narration” had led to a new wave of anti-Semitism, and that suicide bombings in Israel had “to be seen in the context of the historical development at which we have arrived.”

– Translation of Part A: Jews are drama queens. They are such drama queens that their unique Jewish brains, as expressed in their society, do not allow them to stop being afraid of, uh, you know, people who hate Jews and were effective at killing off one-third of all of them on the planet.

…And therefore they can’t “understand” the Palestinians’ needs.

If you understand the logical leap here, you should be studying for a Ph.D in philosophy. Preferably at Columbia University.

– Translation of Part B: Suicide bombings are the fault of the Jewish mindset as expressed by Israeli society.

Needless to say, suicide bombings in Sri Lanka, Bali and Iraq were not part of Barenboim’s discussion because Sri Lankans allow Wagner to be played in their symphony houses.

How did the People of the Warped Victimhood Brains Book describe the evening? With the kind of mindset that leads to war and suicide bombings. How else?


– Columbia has idiots running the place and allowing this type of speech to be given while its very integrity as an institution is being questioned.
– The President of Columbia has no balls.
– Said remains with us after his death.
– Barenboim has a twisted view of the universe that makes little sense.
– Musicians should just play their music and stop giving speeches – would you ask Mick Jagger or Celine Dion to give lectures about British or Quebecois politics at respected universities?

About the author



  • Wasn’t Barenboim the guy who married Jaqueline Dupre and then dumped her when she got MS? Or something like that? I guess that must be his warm, loving, accepting personality at work.

    I had to read a lot of Edward Said while doing research for my college papers on Lawrence of Arabia. I have managed to avoid it since then.

  • That is correct if you buy the claims of Du Pre’s family. I believe he has a different take on it.

    On the other hand, while googling that, I came across this great article about him by cigar afficionado. I’ve never read an article from this publication before. It is unintentionally hilarious.

  • Can’t agree more.
    Thank God that my parents taught me early on not to be easily influenced by actors, rock stars, brand names, and fads and gradually it finally sunk in.
    I was even skeptical about ‘good’ rock start propaganda from U2, and now couldn’t be bothered with Bono with his AI and Jesus which is really too bad because I still like their music.

  • Muffti is a little disgusted by all of this, and agrees that it is a little odd to let complete non-experts in a field speak about matters in that field. However, he also notes that when musicians say things that TM likes, TM doesn’t start ranting. So, let’s all be honest: we don’t mind when musicians do politics, we just don’t like it when they do politics we don’t like.

    The policy of not playing Wagner was rather silly as far as I can tell. A consistent application of this type of ideal would lead Israeli logicians to not use modern logic (since Frege, its inventor, was a proto-nazi). Let’s face the unfortunate fact: genius and anti-semitism are regretably compatible. In any case, calling Wagner the Nazi’s ‘touchstone’ is rather misleading. They basically (mis)appropriated any symbol they could, including the ridiculous attempt to link Hitler to Charlemagne.

    Finally, say what you like about Said, but the executive summary of ‘Orientalism’ is unfair. The message so far as I can tell is that studies of regions that import the goals, standards and biases of another culture are bound to miss important facts about the people they study. This is hardly surprising, really, in retrospect. Most groups at some point have an author that argues a similar point: du Bois for african americans, DeBeauvoir for women, perhaps all neo-marxists for the proletariat…you get the point. Since they are generally radical, the authors tend to say a lot of stuff that will piss you off and often will sound pretty ridiculous. But it’s a shame to let that colour the value of some of the better work they do. Just like (to bring it back home), it’s a shame to let Wagner’s anti-semitism colour the value of his music.

  • Oy, Grandmuffti, did you say that antisemitism and genius are compatible?!?!

    How about antisemitism and deep personal conflicts are compatible?

    I’ll respond to the rest when I get a moment.

  • Muffti indeed said that anti-semitism and genius are compatible. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t struggle over works of genius created by anti-semites. I thought that was the whole source of the conundrum with Wagner. I would suspect that anti-semitism and deep personal conflicts are compatible as well. In any case, the evidence is totally obvious, isn’t it? Wagner: genius and anti-semite. Frege: genius and anti-semite. (I think this is bullshit myself, but I’m sure many readers would agree that) Chomsky: genius and anti-semite. Voltaire: genius and anti-semite. I’m certainly not endorsing the combination, but I take it that the examples are rather compelling.

  • Agree with Grand Mufti above.

    I think your summary was pretty biased, especially against Said.

  • Okay, so with respect to using artifacts, ideas or creations developed by antisemites, who is to say what is silly? Is it crazy to buy Mercedes cars and buses in Israel while boycotting Wagner? Perhaps. But perhaps the cars aren’t imbued with antisemitic ideal? Perhaps Frege’s work is not imbued with his antisemitism? Music – its creation, playing and listening – is an emotional and resonant activity. Perhaps many people felt it was wrong to put such a passionately hateful creation on a stage in a country full of people who were indirectly and powerfully affected by the music and the philosophy of its creator.

    Either way, if this is a social taboo that affects many people, what purpose did it serve to play it? His message to Israelis, we know from this speech, was to tell them that their inability to listen to Wagner indicated a [mad] obsession with victimhood and this cancerous victimhood was the reason Palestinians blow themselves up in family restaurants with Jews inside.

    Forgive me, but I think that is insanity of, uh, Wagnerian proportions. It was their taboo to break, not his to break. Think about it, he was doing it mockingly and derisively.

    Your idea of compatibility of genius with antisemitism confuses me a little…

    If antisemitism is a hallmark of a particular culture and those people who have greater access to means of public expression (such as an actor like Brando in a talk show, a composer considered among the greats of his age, a philosopher with a penchant for writing whose work is widely read, or a linguist whose theories are beginning to falter under the test of time but whose impact is such that all he needs to do is open his mouth and he is listened to), then all I get from that is that those people who hold certain popular cultural views have a voice-box from which to communicate those views. However, there is no correlation between their genius and the hatred. The only other consideration I would have in this instance is that as men of higher intelligence and ability, ANY idea or philosophy they espouse will receive heightened attention and consideration.

    I would suggest that you could say there have been some geniuses who were/are antisemitic, but there have also been many who are philo-semitic or Jewish. There is no correlation whatsoever.

    Forgive me about disagreeing regarding Said. I am not questioning that he was an intelligent scholar. Nor am I doubting that he represents the cream of the Arab-oriented ME scholars. Nope, I am saying that his theory was self serving and can be turned on its head. First, it was self serving because after expressing it he could, and did – as did those scholars who bought his argument – ridicule other scholars on the basis of this theory. In other words, I am from there and therefore no matter what you study and say, you cannot really challenge my views. The impact of this has been to shut out very fine scholars from certain debates because they were born of the wrong place.

    The other part that can be turned on its head is the issue of closer proximity to the topic at hand. I guess that works if you have no hidden agenda or a closeness to your origin which you don’t want to betray. However, it becomes difficult for a person to really attack his own “source” and may even be diplomatically challenging once as a scholar you achieve certain prominence. On the other hand, an outsider who has spent years studying and understanding another culture, may be able to provide a much more honest assessment without concerns about possible repercussions.

    In fact, many of Said’s colleagues would pooh pooh “Zionist” historians precisely on that basis. They were happy to espouse the views of the “new historians” when it came to the Middle East because, well, they were the “good” Jews. But somehow, and I’m pretty confident I can find an article or two that I’ve read in the past where Said did this himself, they will disparage an authority because he is a Zionist wo is pro-Israeli.

    However, what it boils down to is that he used Orientalism as a blunt instrument to promote himself and others who held a certain approach to his culture, while denigrating others ON THE BASIS OF THEIR ORIGIN.

    Furthermore, there is the issue of integrity in terms of the objectivity of a scholar about the subject they are researching. Forgive me, but while Said was critical of certain aspects of Arab and Muslim cultures and political regimes, somehow his work frequently seemed to be imbued with additional negativity toward Israel and its supporters. It was a theme he espoused throughout his academic career, and dare I say, Barenboim may have been paying homage to his old friend in making some of his remarks. Many of the things I’ve read by Said have been tainted by my sense that he has another agenda…


    Of course my summary was biased. I am opposed to what Barenboim said and what he did. I am also concerned about Columbia and whether there really is fire where we see all that smoke.

  • Muffti is impressed with the breadth and scope of TM’s comments in general. However, he thinks he detects a few slippery argument in the paragraphs above. Let’s see.

    First, I wasn’t saying that dude’s performance was well motivated or intended. I was criticizing the idea that we should be quick to put taboos on using or enjoying things whose source is patently anti-semetic. Perhaps his music was imbued with hatred, perhaps not. I suppose that’s a question for metaphysics to answer. In any case, I’ve yet to see a principle that is both plausible and justifies the piecemeal approach post holocaust generations have towards German artifacts, intellectual achievements and aesthetic productions. So, yeah, I think picking taboos and then expecting people to respect them is a little bit silly. Anyhow, to apply it inconsistently seems to be totally ridiculous.

    Second, by ‘compatible’ with, I didn’t mean that there was a definite correlation. I just said that being anti-semitic doesn’t mean that you aren’t a genius. Producing works of genius makes them worthy of reading/enjoying. Being an anti-semite makes you worthy of contempt and your work suspect. So there is a balance to consider between your hatred of the genius and your admiration of the work. I never meant to say that being anti-semitic and a genius had an affect on one another.

    Finally, w/r/t Said, your argument is a clear tu quo que. It’s wrong to judge a person’s work by the effect they put it to. Or by how they violate their own strictures. What he did with the work and whether the things he said are true are obviously separable both in thought and practice.

  • Muffti is impressed with the breadth and scope of TM’s comments in general. However, he thinks he detects a few slippery argument in the paragraphs above. Let’s see.


    I kinda stopped reading there and had a quiet, small heart attack as I pictured the daggers that were forthcoming.

    You know, really, I’m a nice guy and this combative posture is just for entertainment. 😀

  • Muffti must admit, he’s absolutely sure that TM is a stellar, smart, entertaining guy. Unfortunatly, Muffti can’t say the same for himself.

  • You forgot to mention that my breath always smells spearmint fresh. Don’t worry about it though, I’m also very understanding.

  • Thanks, A! You’re a divine creature yourself. Muffti wouldn’t kick you out of bed for, well, for anything!

  • What a maniac–ranting and raving a conspiracy theory of “Arts + Politics = Insanity”. But as Willy S. wrote, “Though does’t protest too much!” Then several posts later, you bring it down a notch–typical flip-flopper. Did you vote for the Frog-price Kerry?

  • Um, would you mind quoting the passages so I could at least know about what you’re complaining?

  • You continue to harbor the belief that the entire world is made up of a vast, right-wing, antisemitic conspiracy. Personal predilictions aside, Barenboim and Said seem to have been trying to live up to the ideals that one would hope all people ascribe to–mutual respect. No matter the artifice (derived from the privileged class that each belonged to) of the situation.

    What the hell does Wagner’s music have to do with Israel–not a damn thing! And Said’s less-than-forthright acknowledgement of his Palestinian birthright is no less forgivable than Menachem Begin’s denial of terrorist activities in the 1940-50’s.

    Your original post rants on and on about these two and then, in response to Steve you wrote, “…I think that is insanity of, uh, Wagnerian proportions.” Hence, my equation:

    Art (read Barenboim) + Politics (read Said) = Insanity (T_M)

    And as for protesting too much, Steve’s admonition sends you to the point where you’re obliged to write, “of course my summary was biased.”

    Clearly you stopped taking your med’s when you wrote the OP, and were then brought back to reality by Steve–at which time you felt compelled to give a mea culpa. That’s why I categorize you as a fli-flopper of the highest Kerry-like order!

    As gilda Radner’s Emily Litella-character from the original SNL days was fond of saying, “NEVERMIND!”

  • Uh, JC, forgive my disrespect, but nobody forces you to read my writing whether you consider it a rant or not, and I gave no mea culpa, and I stated that my summary was biased because it certainly was meant to be, and I did not mean what you thought I meant by “Wagnerian proportions” since I was not responding to Steve but to Muffti’s post #4, and I think the friendship of Said and Barenboim was a beautiful thing which achieved an ugly outcome, and Wagner’s music has a lot to do with the feelings of many Israelis, and your “less than forthright” is quite disingenuous (and undermines any credibility you could have had) and actually means “outright lie upon which he played out his career,” and your introduction of Begin into the discussion from left field suggests that you’re reaching and very bad at analogies, and I don’t do drugs or take meds, nor did I flip flop anywhere here although I’m not surprised based upon your skewed, confused comprehension that you didn’t get this, and you are welcome to categorize me all you want since I’m afraid I’ve categorized you in my mind rather dismissively.

    As to your point about “a conspiracy theory of “Arts + Politics = Insanity” which you later pursue by adding “You continue to harbor the belief that the entire world is made up of a vast, right-wing, antisemitic conspiracy,” I fear that you are coloring my views with your tiny little biases.

    Nowhere did I write that the entire world is made up of a vast, right-wing, antisemitic conspiracy. Left wing, maybe. 😆 (the 😆 indicates laughter before you translate that incorrectly as well).

    As for Art + Politics = insanity, I never wrote that or suggested it in the subtext unless you twist what I wrote with your own impoverished comprehension.

    But if you want to make equations, here’s one: Artist with Pretensions of Political Prophet Status + lying, scurrilous Politics colored by incorrect perception of a Society + Public Stage from which to express those views = Waste of Time that Generates Negative Press for Israelis and Jews, Offends Some, and Makes Good Fodder for Blog Discussion.