Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Edinburgh Festivals Wednesday 17 August: T'ang Quartet; Shlomo Sand

The T'ang Quartet are from Singapore, and while they are very good they don't rise yet to the heights of the greats (Hungarian, Amadeus, Melos, Arditti, Kronos). That said, they opened up this recital with a belting rendition of the Schubert Quartettsatz. The Barber quartet which followed (and from whose slow movement the famous Adagio for Strings was arranged) contained nothing to dislike but was perhaps a little uninspired.

Many of the audience seemed to have come only to hear the first half and never reappeared after the interval: their loss. The second half opened with a favourite of mine, the Aulis Sallinen Third Quartet (Some Aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik's Funeral March), and they did a good job on that, swaggering where swaggering is called for and being cold and clinical where that's required. The final work was another Third Quartet, this time by the Chinese composer Bright Sheng. I liked the opening, but then it transformed itself into mere dissonance. I don't have a problem with dissonance per se, but this was more irritating than interesting. The last five minutes of the (one-movement) work were however remarkably beautiful, all flowing contrapuntal lines which felt as though they could go on forever. So not a work I shall be seeking out for a second hearing, but not a total waste of time.

In the afternoon I made yet another Book Festival visit, this time for Shlomo Sand, author of The Invention of the Jewish People whose thesis is that Jews (like Muslims, I suppose) are a racially disparate group united by a shared religion (and associated cultural elements). His point, basically - and he is a Jew - is that there is no such thing as a "Jewish race" or "Jewish people": just Jews. He has inevitable attracted criticism for his views, some of it scholarly and based on DNA profiling: those critics may have a point but I don't think they have done more to date than show that European Jewry has more DNA in common with Middle Eastern Jews than with Asiatic ones. In other words they may have knocked down some peripheral details of his argument but they have not refuted his main point. Most of his critics, however, are Zionists who wish to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand they claim that only a lunatic fringe ever supported the idea of Jewish racial continuty, and that for Sand to attack it is to imply that it has a centrality it never had. That may be true for mainstream Jews of my age or thereabouts, or for Jews in Israel, but it conveniently ignores Jews in the USA (centre of gravity of modern Zionism) for many of whom whom the idea of racial continuity is absolutely central. On the other hand, they claim that his theory is anti-Semitic (yawn....), though if they claim that nobody disputes it that must make everyone an anti-Semite. (Actually, that's a pretty good summation of the extreme Zionist position: nobody like me, everybody hates me, I think I'll go and eat lox....)

Shlomo Sand in the flesh was very engaging. He apologised that English was only his fourth language (after Yiddish, Hebrew and French - he teaches in Paris). He talked extensively about Israel and the fact that there is no such thing as Israeli nationality. Israeli Jews have ID cards which show their origin (or their parents'), for example Hungarian or Yemeni, while Israeli Arabs have cards identifying them as Arab. he pointed out that Zionism had created two states, the Israeli one and the Palestinian one. The Israeli government acknowledged the existence of the latter (according to what Sand called the doctrine of "I shoot, therefore I am": there are people called Palestinians who shoot rockets as us) but not of the former. There is no "Israeli state" of all Israelis, merely a "Jewish state". Ironically - and conveniently forgotten by the Western media - the Arab League recognised the state of Israel (with its internationally accepted 1967 border) and its right to secure and peaceful existence back in 2002. Israel itself has yet to reccognise such a state. Now that really is ironic.

Sand criticised the recent flood of extreme right-wing laws in Israel. Arabic has ceased to be one of Israel's official languages, despite being the first language of millions of Israelis. Mention of the Naqba is forbidden in official history texts (for example those used in schools). Sand compared this in principle to Holocaust denial, though he was at pains to explain that he did not equate the Naqba with the Shoah, not only because of their hugely different scales but also because the primary purpose of the Shoah was genocide while that of the Naqba was displacement. (It was interesting - and to me surprising - that a large part of the audience had to have the terms "Naqba" and "Shoah" explained to them - in the former case not just translated but defined. I had expected that Sand's audience would comprise mostly people familiar with Jewish and Palestinian history.) He found cause for hope in the recent Israeli anti-government protests, not just because they showed that ordinary Israelis were beginning to question the vast proportion of their national expenditure which was used for military purposes, but because the protests spanned the Jew-Arab divide. He described himself, in the words of Roman Rolland, as a "pessimist in the head but an optimist in the heart", and encouraged us all to support the declaration of a Palestinian state in the UN in September. Not because this would be good for the Palestinians, but because he believes it offers the best chance for the survival of Israel itself: and as an Israeli he wants that.


Post a Comment

<< Home