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Red Rag column: Wagner, brainwashing, Medal of Freedom for what?
By: Gideon Spiro
17 June 2012 (English translation posted 25 June 2012)

Hebrew original

Grating sounds

Richard Wagner is a famous German composer (1813-1883) whose contribution was mainly in the realm of the opera. Since 1876 there has been a Wagner festival every year in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth. It is a major event, in which everyone who is anyone in German politics, culture and art takes part.

As well as an admired composer, Wagner was also an anti-Semite. In 1869 he published an essay called `Judaism in Music` (German: `Das Judenthum in der Musik`) in which he claimed that the Jews were capable only of `shallow and artificial music that bears the signs of religious music and which is nourished by Jewish synagogue rituals, which superficially imitate real music which has its roots in `the genuine spirit of the Folk`.` [1] At the end of his essay Wagner addresses the Jews as follows: `But bethink ye, that one only thing can redeem you from the burden of your curse: the redemption of Ahasuerus: Going under!` (from Wikipedia). [2] Wagner advocated the assimilation of the Jews into German culture, so as to put an end to their `foreign` influence. Nevertheless he had Jewish friends, such as the conductor Hermann Levi, a religious Jew.

Wagner saw the Jews as a foreign and rootless influence, thereby anticipating by several years the theoreticians of the Zionist movement who spoke in similar terms about the `Jews in exile`; only their conclusions were different. He proposed assimilation and they proposed dissociation and departure from exile towards national independence.

Wagner`s anti-Semitism made him a cultural hero of the Nazi regime. Chancellor Adolf Hitler was of course a guest of honour at the Bayreuth Festival. For many in Israel, Wagner`s special status in the culture of the Nazi regime converted him into a symbol to be boycotted. And indeed, Wagner`s works have not been played by Israeli orchestras. An attempt by the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim to play a selection of Wagner with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was met with catcalls from the public and organizations of Holocaust survivors came out against him.

Time does what it will, and hostility to Wagner has diminished to a great extent. In Israel there is a group or association of admirers of Wagner who believe that a distinction should be made between Wagner the politician and Wagner the composer, and to them he is a giant in the world of music. One of those Wagner-supporters rented a room in Tel Aviv University for an evening to be devoted entirely to the works of Wagner. It was reported in the press, a Holocaust survivors` organization issued a statement against the planned concert, and not many hours passed before the president of Tel Aviv University withdrew agreement to rent the room on the grounds that he had not known that it was for a concert of the works of Wagner.

The boycott of Richard Wagner looks a little anarchistic to me, in view of the fact that musicians in Israel perform the works of composers who collaborated with the Nazis, like Richard Strauss, who served as `President of the Reich Music Bureau` from 1933 to 1935. And Richard Wagner, it should be noted, died before Hitler was born. He was not responsible for the elevated status he was accorded during the Nazi period. He was a man of contradictions: an anti-Semite who had Jewish friends, and a pacifist who supported the assimilation of the Jews within German culture. Far from the positions of the Nazis.

At the same time I would be inclined to exhibit understanding of the position of the Holocaust survivors who insist that the boycott of Wagner should continue, if their stance against honouring racists in Israel were a consistent one. But in a state that praises to the skies and holds official memorial days for racists like the former general and minister Rahavam Ze`evi, who advocated the transfer of the Arabs, a state whose Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, is orchestrating the shameful expulsion of asylum-seekers and propagates libel against Blacks from Africa like a Ku Klux Klansman, a state in which the grave of a mass murderer like Baruch Goldstein becomes a site of pilgrimage, and when a right-wing activist, Abba Ahimeir, who in his day wrote a column called `From the Notebook of a Fascist`, exhibited sympathy to fascism and its leaders and in anticipation of Jabotinsky`s visit to the Land of Israel, wrote `upon the visit of our Duce`, and who in another article wrote `positive words about nationalist movements in Europe and their leaders such as Jozef Pilsudski, Benito Mussolini, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Adolf Hitler - until their anti-Semitic plans became known, of course` (Hebrew Wikipedia) [3], has streets named after him in various cities in Israel - a state like that should have no trouble digesting a composer like Richard Wagner.


The biggest news website in Israel, Ynet, recently published an illustrated report on a year`s end ceremony at a kindergarten in Gaza. The children, dressed in uniforms, carrying wooden and plastic guns and photographed against a backdrop of the al-Aqsa Mosque, committed themselves to fighting the Zionist enemy. They swore to be soldiers in the service of the Jihad. One of the children declared that he wanted to blow himself up in a Zionist bus and another boy, whose father was killed by the missiles that Israel rained down on Gaza, said that when he grows up he will drop bombs on Israel, like the ones that were dropped on Gaza.

To be sure, this is sad and dangerous brainwashing, which certainly will not contribute to the spread of peace in the Middle East. The raising of children in the shadow of the cult of death is typical of regimes that combine tyranny with religious fundamentalism. In a democratic state, or one that at least has pretensions to democracy, such education - all the more so in a kindergarten - is inconceivable.

Inconceivable? If so, that means that you have not visited or were not educated in a state that has pretensions - arrogantly in my view - to being the only democracy in the Middle East, a `villa in the jungle` as Defence Minister Ehud Barak put it.

Here is a story from life: 30 years ago my 3-year-old son was in pre-school. On Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, the teacher took the children to a military base `to see our heroic soldiers`. This led to a run-in with the teacher. At age 3, I told her, is it the time to begin to educate children in militarism, with the soldier as a role model? You should lose your permit to teach, I angrily told her.

A few days ago I read an article in Haaretz in which the author complained about that same phenomenon in the preschool attended by his daughter - or maybe it was it his son: the army as a model for identification. Thirty years have passed and not only has the situation not changed, it has become worse with the present government. The psychological and spiritual preparation for enlistment in the army begins in preschool and continues throughout all the subsequent years in the educational system. High-ranking officers visit schools to give motivational talks to pupils before their enlistment. And the teaching staff is ordered by the Education Ministry to meet with senior army officers so that the educators can be educated to serve as the long arm of the military in the schools. And let us not forget the Gadna (Youth Battalions) programme, in which high-school classes receive preparatory military training. In other words, when it comes to the perpetuation of a death-cult and the willingness to die for religious sites like the Western Wall or the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel is not far removed from the educational values that are imparted by the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements.

For what did he get the medal?

President Shimon Peres has been awarded the American Medal of Freedom by US President Barack Obama. It is the highest civilian award the US President can confer. The ceremony was solemn, and everyone who was anyone in Washington was there.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu congratulated Peres and said that that Medal of Freedom was also for the State of Israel. A share of the great honour to Peres filters down to me as well. According to Netanyahu, I have one of seven million shares of the Medal, and it nearly fills my heart with great pride. The President of the greatest Power in the world honours the president of the state of which I am a citizen. Whose heart would not rejoice?

For all that, a small question about this Medal of Freedom business troubles me. What did `Shimon` (as `Barack` calls him) get the medal for?
Obama presented Peres as a man of peace and vision. When was he ever that? He was the godfather of the accursed settlement enterprise, he planted the first tree in the settlement of Ofra, he was a partner in the Ministerial Committee for Settlement, which decided to acquire lands to create the settlement of Ariel. He initiated wars and military operations. He is one of those behind Israel`s acquisition of a nuclear arsenal and thereby set the Middle East onto a nuclear arms race. He is among those responsible for Israel`s becoming an exporter of arms to tyrannical regimes, he is among the most senior figures responsible for denying the freedom of millions of Palestinians by manuring, irrigating and fertilizing the regime of Occupation and apartheid that Israel has created in the Occupied Territories. If Peres can get the Medal of Freedom with a record like that, then the man is a genius of deception.

Mocking the world

Bashar Assad continues to slaughter his people. More civilized states condemn and seek ways to punish and intervene, but they are blocked as long as the Syrian regime enjoys the support of at least one powerful state. With the support of two powerful states, China and Russia, the army is still with him, and Bashar Assad can mock the world and continue with his crimes. In that regard Israel is a leading example. Despite countless condemnations from nearly all the countries in the world over everything connected to the Occupation and the building of settlements, including Security Council Resolutions, Israeli governments mock the world because they have the support of the USA.

If the international community is to take action against criminal states, assuming that the will exists to do it, one of the basic conditions is that no powerful state stand behind the criminals.

Breaking the silence

The book The Occupation of the Territories (Heb: Kibush ha-shetahim) has just been published by the Breaking the Silence organization. [4] The book`s 347 pages are filled with the testimony of 183 soldiers about the daily routine of the Occupation, without the sanitized language of the IDF Spokesman. The testimony covers the ten years between 2000 and 2010. The picture that emerges is a terrible one. Here is just one example, and not the worst: an army unit will occasionally enter a village without any connection to any security incident whatsoever, but just to show a presence. The soldiers burst into houses in the middle of the night, wake up all the residents, the children tremble with fear and urinate in their clothes, old people are addressed with rudeness. The residents are concentrated into one room and then the work of `searching` begins. They turn the house upside-down, break the furniture and the electrical appliances, they do not refrain from looting, especially cash, and then they leave the house. Such actions are done nearly every night. What is the point of such raids? To sow terror and fear, says one of the soldiers. That is the classic definition of terror. Thus the Israeli army in the Occupied Territories is an army of terror.

An armed militia of settlers operates alongside the army of Occupation, an Israeli version of the thugs of the Shabiha in Syria, which shoots at Palestinians, wounds and kills them, beats them with clubs, burns their mosques and fields, uproots their olive trees, carries out pogroms, sabotages property such as vehicles and solar panels and steals their land, all under the protection of the army. The Israeli Shabiha have not yet reached the level of cruelty of their counterparts in Syria, but they are headed that way. They are an octopus whose arms reach into government departments and the military command, and they also have representation in the Knesset. And the courts too treat them with a tender hand.

Instead of travelling to Hebron to visit graves in the Cave of the Patriarchs, it would be better for high-school pupils to learn this book in their civics education.

The nightingale`s visit to Florence

The wonderful singer Ahinoam Nini appeared recently at a concert in Florence. My daughter, who was at the event, told me about a group of Palestinians or their supporters who waved Palestinian flags and began to disrupt the event. Ahihoam responded with wisdom and sensitivity: `Shalom to my Palestinian and Israeli brothers, let`s make peace right here.` The Palestinian group put away the flags and the disruption stopped. My advice to my Palestinian brothers and their supporters is not to act on automatic pilot, but to learn about the Israeli reality. Ahinoam Nini bears an olive branch wherever in the world she goes. You should take an olive branch to her concerts, and sing in a resounding voice, `We shall overcome` - a song I first heard sung by the great Pete Seeger.

In praise of a refuser

Yaniv Mazor, a 31-year-old tour guide and sergeant first class in the armoured corps reserves, is sitting in a military prison for refusing to serve in `an army the main activity of which today is to reinforce the Occupation regime over millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza` - in his accurate words. In the reality of Israel today, to refuse to serve the mechanism of oppression is an act of true heroism. Congratulations!

Translator`s notes

1. This quote is a paraphrase except for `the genuine spirit of the Folk`, which is a direct quote from an English translation of Wagner`s essay. (`Judaism in Music`, by Richard Wagner, translated by William Ashton Ellis, from The Theatre: Richard Wagner`s Prose Works, Volume 3,
Pages 79-100, Published in 1894) (

2. This is a direct quote from the English translation of Wagner`s article the link to which appears in the previous note. The German words translated as `Going under` are `Der Untergang`.

3. These quotes do not appear in the English Wikipedia article on Ahimeir.


Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

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