The pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim has been known for quite some time as an advocate of Palestinian rights, and a fierce critic of the policies of various Israeli governments. His best friend was the late Edward Said, with whom he founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. You can read about his views of the conflict in the Middle East here. He has accepted honorary Palestinian citizenship as a gesture of solidarity, and as an example of “Israeli-Palestinian co-existence.”
Now, Barenboim is the author of a new petition, that appears in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. It is short enough to reproduce:
For the last forty years, history has proven that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be settled by force. Every effort, every possible means and resource of imagination and reflection should now be brought into play to find a new way forward. A new initiative which allays fear and suffering, acknowledges the injustice done, and leads to the security of Israelis and Palestinians alike. An initiative which demands of all sides a common responsibility: to ensure equal rights and dignity to both peoples, and to ensure the right of each person to transcend the past and aspire to a future.
The petition is a perfect example of a meaningless gesture, a feel-good effort that makes the long list of signers feel very good and self-righteous. As anyone can read, the text fails to address any of the hard and very real issues that could lead to peace. These are replaced by verbiage about opposition to the use of force, the need to find new resources of “imagination and reflection” and a “new initiative,” that will lead to a “new way forward.” What this new way and new initiative might be is not specified.
Who is not for “equal rights and dignity” to both Palestinians and Israelis? As Mr. Barenboim well knows- or should know- Israeli governments have worked in the past decades to work out a two-state solution; while the various Palestinian regimes have missed every opportunity to move towards building their own state, in favor of a never-ending declaration of war to destroy the Jewish State.
Now look at the signers. The list includes Chomskyites like Arundhati Roy, Palestinians such as Rashid Khalidi, the Marxist writer John Berger, the left-wing activist/actress Susan Sarandon, and many others. It is largely composed of writers, filmmakers , musicians and artists who have never been known to have been politically interested in the issue at all, and who have never publicly expressed themselves one way or the other. That is why, I suspect, the Barenboim petition is so vague and general—too many specifics and half the list would not sign.
One must wonder what Debra Winger, Neil Young, Charlie Watts, (he couldn’t get Mick Jagger?) Uma Thurman, Stephen King, Jonathan Demme, Ellen Burstyn, Ralph Fiennes, Jeanne Moreau, Meryl Streep and Tilda Swinton know about the situation in the Middle East. For all any of us know, they have read and thought about it a great deal; or perhaps they only want peace and want everyone to know it, and as for the thorny issues that are to be dealt with, they know nothing. But we now know that they are on the side of the angels.
After all, their signature appears on the same list as the sainted Desmond Tutu. Perhaps they are unaware that Bishop Tutu is an advocate of the campaign for divestment from Israel, and like Jimmy Carter, says Israel is an apartheid state. He also believes that Zionism has many parallels with racism, and complained that it is hard to criticize Israel in the United States, since the “Jewish lobby is very powerful.” One wonders how a petition that reeks of even-handedness could get a signature from Bishop Tutu. I look in vain at the signers to see if there is anyone on the list who is known to be as pro-Israeli as Bishop Tutu is an opponent of Israel.
There are, indeed, many distinguished artists, filmmakers, musicians of note and writers who have signed. I suspect many of them know and respect Daniel Barenboim, and when he asked them to sign on, they did so quickly. They are now on record: they want peace. Good for them. They will find that the petition will be quickly forgotten. It is one more meaningless gesture, that says a great deal about the culture today’s writers and artists live in. How one wishes George Orwell was around to comment.