Variations on a Misery Tune
German conductor Christoph von Dohnányi recently attracted much attention and praise for cancelling his planned appearances with the Hungarian State Opera, saying he did not want to appear in a city ‘whose mayor entrusted the direction of a theatre to two known anti-Semites of the extreme right’.
However von Dohnányi, who is the nephew of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (also grandson of the composer Ernő Dohnányi, hence my post's title), has accepted an invitation to conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in April. BRICUP is appealing to him to match his welcome opposition to anti-Semitism with equal opposition to Israel's oppression of Palestinians.
BRICUP's brilliant letter to von Dohnányi is well worth repeating here.
25 January 2012
AN OPEN LETTER TO CHRISTOPH VON DOHNÁNYI
Dear Christoph von Dohnányi,
We were impressed to read that last October you cancelled several
appearances as conductor with the Hungarian State Opera, in protest at
appointments made by the mayor to the New Theatre in Budapest. You
were quoted as saying that you did not want to appear in a city ‘whose
mayor entrusted the direction of a theatre to two known anti-Semites of the
We share your alarm at the growing power of racist and authoritarian
parties in the Hungarian state, and we salute you for the stand you have
taken. But we‘re also interested to see that you actively support the
withdrawal of cultural engagement as a means of expressing political and
moral outrage. Please allow us to suggest that moral and political
considerations might therefore argue against your appearances this coming
April as guest conductor with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Leave aside for the time being the painful fact that between 1947 and 1949
more than half the Palestinian population was driven out of what became
Israel, and has never been allowed to return (many historians, including
Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe, have documented this; and then there is this
old man, Amnon Neumann, describing on film exactly how his Palmach
unit got Palestinians to leave).
Leave aside for the moment the illegal military occupation of remaining
Palestinian land since 1967, even though every day, dunum by dunum, it
removes Palestinians from their land and abuses their rights (for example,
the Guardian newspaper has just reported the systematic mistreatment of
Palestinian children in Israeli prisons).
Please look at one event that has occurred since the start of this year.
On 11 January 2012 the Israeli Supreme Court decided that marriage to an
Israeli citizen does not give Palestinians from the Occupied Territories or
elsewhere the right to reside with their spouses inside Israel. These
people, and their children, are now liable to be expelled. Articulating the court’s majority opinion, Justice Asher Grunis said, ‘Human rights are not
a prescription for national suicide’. Presumably István Csurka, whose role
in the New Theatre in Budapest you understandably object to, might voice
similar ethno-nationalist sentiments in relation to the presence of Jews and
Roma in Hungary (and according to the Anti-Defamation League, he has
done so, many times).
Our argument is that racism is indivisible. If one is outraged by the
presence in power of racists in one place, one has to be outraged by their
exercise of power elsewhere too. Israeli poet Yitzhak Laor says the Israeli
Supreme Court decision is motivated by the desire to ‘maintain a Jewish
majority…The looming expulsion of thousands will be carried out with the
silent agreement of enlightened members of society [for whom]
maintaining a Jewish majority is an ideological common denominator’.
Some of those ‘enlightened’ members of society will be sitting in your
concerts, Christoph von Dohnányi, enjoying your interpretation of
Schumann and Mendelssohn. Meanwhile, says Laor, ‘the expulsion of
women and children from their homes will be carried out by a state that
has never held Arabs to be equal before the law’.
We could suggest further reading – this account of the harassment and
dispossession of the Bedouin in the Negev – Israeli citizens, but not Jews.
This interview with Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli
Knesset, who says: ‘Jewishness here means Zionism, not Judaism. It is
misleading to talk about a Jewish and democratic state; it is a Zionist
state…To choose Zionism at the expense of democracy is now legitimate;
you are defending the Jewish state’.
We applaud the good example you have set by withdrawing from your
concerts at the Hungarian State Opera. We respectfully suggest that
consistency should lead you to do the same with regard to the IPO. Please
don’t let those ‘enlightened’ members of Israeli society continue to believe
that their racism is tolerable and excusable because it’s directed at
Palestinians. Please don’t go.
Professor Haim Bresheeth
Professor Adah Kay
Professor David Pegg
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead