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West-Eastern Divide: Barenboim concert postponed due to ‘normalisation’ fears

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, brings together musicians from all over the Middle East. Although Barenboim is Israeli the orchestra is based in Spain. It has played in many countries including, of course, Israel and the Palestinian territories.  Barenboim has caused controversy by championing the music of Wagner and by breaking Israeli law to play in Gaza.

WEDO had been going to give a concert in East Jerusalem on 31 July, an event supported by the UN.  But the UN has now caved into pressure from some (pro)Palestinian voices, and the concert has been postponed.  One of the organisations which expressed strong hostility to the event is PACBI.

It seems curious that an organisation ostensibly dedicated to breaking down barriers of nationality/ethnicity should take such issue with an orchestra which shares the same goals and which doesn’t appear to have formal ties to the Israeli state.  Doesn’t the composition of WEDO in many ways reflect what supporters of a one state solution ought to want that state’s own national orchestra to look like?

Barenboim is hardly a hawk, and, as the UN’s Robert Serry points out, this concert could in fact be seen as a (peaceful) expression of Palestinian aspirations:

But to Serry, the concert would “have sent a strong message that Palestinians must be able to experience their cultural rights and freedoms in the unique city of Jerusalem, which the United Nations believes must emerge as the open capital of two states, living side by side in peace and security”.

PACBI’s letter puts me in mind of a stage villain, perversely expressing disdain for qualities most of us value:

In other words, the Orchestra’s self-definition turns occupation and colonial oppression into a mere “problem” or “barrier” to be discussed between “traditional rivals” who hope to settle their “differences” and build “bridges” of understanding through music and dialogue to encourage “listening to one another” and to set “a good example of democracy and civilized living.”  As such, [sic]

By promoting this false symmetry or balance between the “two sides,” WEDO is indeed promoting normalization.

As Craig Dershowitz puts it:

PACBI – let us get to normal.

Update: I just read a tweet pointing to this story about students from Gaza being prevented from studying in the West Bank despite the apparent backing of the Israeli  Supreme Court. Clearly Israel has legitimate, pressing security concerns, but if there are none in this case it would seem desirable for the students to be able to take up their university places.

Hat Tip: Bella Center