Richard Wagner photo

Who can explain why people with stinking rotten ideologies like racism & antisemitism can produce magnificent art? But if we had to excise all those who have combined hate & art, it would be a considerable body of works. It makes sense that Jews would recoil from listening to Richard Wagner because he so inspired Hitler but if you listen to his operas without knowing his politics, they are truly majestic. I was introduced to them by a boyfriend & Das Rheingold, Der Ring des Nibelungen, & Tristan und Isolde are as thrilling to me now as when I first heard them in my 20s.

The can of worms about Israel’s political relationship to Cuba

Israeli foreign minister Golda Meir, president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Ricardo Wolf 1960: May 13 2018

The importance of the Israeli Wolf Prize has to do with its direct relationship to the academic boycott of Israel. But another thing of importance about it is that it opens up the whole can of worms about Israel’s political relationship with Cuba because Ricardo Wolf who founded the Wolf Foundation which grants the prize was a former Cuban ambassador to Israel. Wolf was a German-born Jew & an inventor who emigrated to Cuba before the first World War & earned considerable wealth for his inventions used in steel manufacturing all over the world. He was a supporter of Fidel Castro & the Cuban revolution & was appointed by Castro to be the Cuban ambassador to Israel in 1960. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Cuba withstood pressure from several Arab countries to sever diplomatic ties with Israel but after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Cuba, like many other countries, did eventually sever ties with Israel. Wolf then resigned his position & took up residence in Israel. He was a philanthropist & may very well have set up the Wolf Foundation from motives of largesse but he was also a committed Zionist & that ideology impacts the politics of the foundation.

Although uncritical apostles of Fidel Castro resent the question, it must be asked why he was so compromised about the colonization of Palestine by Zionist terrorists. It may have to do with ignorance on Castro’s part; it may have to do with his sense of solidarity being less political & more rooted in charity. Whatever the reason, it is deplorable since support for Palestinians against genocide is a touchstone for human rights activists & cannot be subject to political expedience.

In August 2015, the Obama administration reopened the American embassy in Havana, reestablished full diplomatic relations with Cuba, & lifted the embargo. The Israeli foreign ministry made overtures to Cuba through Canada & in 2016 Cuba invited an Israeli delegation for secret discussions. The election of Trump & his hardened attitude toward Cuba put a freeze on those negotiations. Israeli officials see resumption of diplomatic ties with Cuba as legitimizing & invaluable for fostering favorable public opinion towards Israel among Latin American liberals & leftists.

It’s deeply regrettable that Cuba does not stand four-square with Palestinians & in fact supports a bantustate (two-state) solution. In 2010, Castro even expressed his belief in the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish-only state. As a small, beleaguered country Cuba may not have the luxury of always standing on principles but in the case of Israeli apartheid & genocide against Palestinians, Cuba cannot be expedient any more than those who stand with Cuba against US overt & covert intervention. What’s the point of calling yourself socialist if you don’t take a stand against genocide?

This photo is Israel’s foreign minister Golda Meir & president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi with Cuban Ambassador Ricardo Wolf (on the far right) who is presenting his ambassador credentials to Jerusalem in1960.

(Photo from Wikipedia)

Daniel Barenboim & the compromises of ‘liberal Zionism’

Gaza July 2014 (Lefteris Pitarakis:AP) May 13 2018
There was another controversy over Israel’s Wolf Prize concerning the 2004 recipient Daniel Barenboim, a Jewish Argentinian conductor & pianist. Barenboim provoked a furor in 2001 when he defied Israel’s informal ban on playing Wagner, an antisemite & the favorite composer of Hitler & the Nazis, by playing “Tristan und Isolde” as an encore at an Israeli festival. The Israeli president Moshe Katsav accused him of “cultural rape” for performing Wagner–showing that even before BDS was initiated in 2005, Israel knew a thing or two about cultural boycotts. The politics of the controversy in 2004 highlight the dramatic changes in Zionist politics caused by the betrayal of the Oslo Accords which elaborate the terms of Palestinian surrender & by the Palestinian call for BDS in 2005.

Barenboim performed for Israeli troops on the front lines in the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, & the 1990 Gulf War when he & the orchestra performed in gas masks. In 1999, Barenboim & Palestinian scholar Edward Said jointly formed the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a youth orchestra based in Spain comprised of Israeli & Arab musicians to promote intercultural dialogue between Israel & the Palestinians. The problems of that concept would become fully manifest under the encroachments of the Oslo Accords, the blockade of Gaza, & with the initiation of BDS six years later because it posits a false symmetry between Israel & Palestinians & ignores the institutional character of Israeli occupation, apartheid, genocide. There is no moral parity between oppressor & oppressed, between Israel & Palestinians, as is more than evident from Israeli snipers shooting down unarmed protesters at the Great Return March. It was only a matter of time before the Divan Orchestra would come up against the cultural boycott of Israel & be viewed as too politically compromising. And it is probable Said, were he still alive, would have no part of such an apolitical, equivocal response to genocide.

Barenboim is a contradictory political person whose contradictions are absolutely intolerable today though left & liberal Zionism seemed progressive nearly 20 years ago before the Oslo Accords & the advent of BDS. Although born & resident in Argentina, he took out dual citizenship in Israel & Palestine to promote his support for a bantustate (two-state) solution for Palestinians. He used that dual citizenship in a grotesque way during Israel’s seven-week carpet bombing of Gaza in 2014 by speaking in a public statement both as a Palestinian & an Israeli. It was titled “Both Israelis & Palestinians are losers in this conflict.” He did not condemn Israel for the genocidal bombing campaign but took that moral parity thing to its logical dead-end by criticizing both Palestinians & Israel for equal parts of violence. Where Barenboim was hailed & vilified as a supporter of Palestinians before 2004, his equivocations on BDS & support for a cloistered, Jewish-only state bordered by a Palestinian bantustate put him on the side of Israel. It effectively disarms Palestinians politically so that they must be passive in the advance of genocide. There is no moral parity when Palestinians are under seven weeks of carpet bombing & Israelis are sitting in easy chairs sucking down beers watching Gaza be blown to smithereens.

It’s good that Barenboim, like Natalie Portman, is compassionate toward Palestinians & opposes the extremes of Israeli violence against them. But pity will do nothing to stop the genocide. The photo is a scene from Gaza on July 24th, 2014, just two days before Barenboim issued his statement speaking as both a Palestinian & an Israeli which called the violence two-sided.

(Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Israel’s Wolf Prize & the academic boycott of Israel

GRM May 11 (Muhammad Smiry on Twitter) May 12 2018

The musician Paul McCartney just announced that he was honored to receive but due to a schedule conflict will not be able to visit Israel to pick up what Haaretz calls the “prestigious” Wolf Prize. The prize is awarded by the Wolf Foundation & presented by the president of Israel in six areas–agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics & one in the arts. The ceremony is in the Knesset building in the presence of the Wolf Foundation Council comprised of high-ranking Israeli academics & the Israeli Minister of Education & Culture who acts as president of the council. Whether McCartney has a scheduling conflict or is just weaseling around BDS is not that relevant. It only matters if he has the courage to stand with Palestinians openly against apartheid, occupation, & genocide & reject the honorific.

Since the Wolf Prize was only founded in 1975, there really is nothing particularly prestigious about it other than it is one of those academic honorifics, like the Lasker & Abel Prizes & Fields Medal that serve as feeder awards to identify nominees for Nobel prizes. The Nobel Peace Prize, founded in 1901, may be prestigious but politically it has the value of chicken feed after Kissinger & Suu Kyi received it. What’s important about the Wolf Prize is its direct relationship to the academic boycott of Israel & what’s interesting about it is that it opens up the whole can of worms about Israel’s political relationship with Cuba since Ricardo Wolf who founded it is a former Cuban ambassador to Israel under Castro.

Beside handing out awards, the Wolf Foundation has given out nearly 6,000 scholarships & grants to Israeli undergraduate & graduate students in Israeli universities. Data isn’t available on whether Palestinian-Israelis are eligible for these scholarships. In 2008, David Mumford, a professor emeritus in mathematics at Brown University, was one of three recipients in math. In 2002 he had visited Birzeit Univeristy in the West Bank & witnessed the stringent restrictions Israel placed on Palestinian students & academics, not allowing them to travel outside the West Bank. Not long after he received a third of the $100,000 prize money Israel denied permission for Palestinian students in Gaza to leave the country to go to the US on Fulbright Scholarships. The US State Department then rescinded the scholarships rather than censure Israel. Mumford donated his entire money award to Birzeit University & Gisha, an Israel-based group human rights group that promotes freedom of movement for Palestinians, especially those from Gaza, to be used so Palestinian scholars could participate fully in international collaborations. The award incensed Zionists who deluged Mumford with hate mail & hostile oped pieces.

The overwhelming number of Wolf Prize recipients in all six fields are associated with American universities, seconded only by UK & Canadian recipients. It isn’t conspiracy thinking to suggest that the prize, especially after BDS was launched in 2005, is a way to strengthen academic, scientific, medical, & cultural ties between Israel & US institutions since BDS is making great headway & is under political attack on US campuses. The importance of the Wolf Prize in ingratiating itself with academics by offering honorifics with money attached becomes evident. It’s a campaign to protect that $38 billion US pledge to Israel over the next ten years & to make sure it isn’t jeopardized by BDS.

The photo shows Palestinians at the Great Return March on May 11th. There’s no way on earth Palestinians & their supporters should allow the Wolf Foundation to drown out the sound of Palestinian suffering from apartheid & genocide.

(Photo from Adel Al Hwajre)

Israeli pop singer Netta Barzilai wins Eurovision 2018; says “We’ve done something crazy for Israeli propaganda”

Netta Barzilai May 12 2018
The Israeli pop singer Netta Barzilai is a remarkable singer with an over-the-top club culture style reminiscent of Bette Midler. Just on the merits of her talent, she may well deserve winning the Eurovision 2018 singing competition this evening in Lisbon, Portugal. But unfortunately, Netta is part of the Israeli apartheid system which she does not disavow but in fact embraces. The Israeli government is grooming & using young performers, including Netta, to counter the cultural boycott of Israel (BDS) & Netta is conscious of the role she is expected to play. She said, “We’ve done something crazy for Israeli propaganda” by becoming a finalist in the Eurovision competition. That isn’t something you’re likely to hear from a performer without a political agenda & it is Israel’s political agenda that is the problem. This is Israel’s fourth Eurovision win with previous wins in 1978, 1979, & 1998. Israel’s participation in Eurovision 2018 is more fevered only because of Israel’s tactics to counter the cultural boycott called by Palestinians in 2005. Because Israel won this year, the Eurovision competition will be held in Israel next year which is a direct affront to BDS. That’s what Israel was going after in promoting Netta.

By her own statement, one doesn’t know where Israeli grooming ends & Netta’s talents begin. She won the performance singing “Toy,” a song combining nonsense lyrics with MeToo girl empowerment language. It was probably carefully chosen to appeal to young, modern cheeky youth. The thing about that empowerment stuff in Israel is that you can’t sing lyrics against bullying & sexual abuse if you support denying human rights to Palestinians & don’t speak out against the snipers & tanks at the apartheid fence with Gaza. Would it hurt her career? She would no longer be groomed by Israeli handlers. But she would be embraced by millions around the world who would respect her for such a stand. Anyway she doesn’t need Israeli groomers because her talent is considerable & she could have a successful career without compromising her soul for genocide.

(Photo is still shot from video performance of “Toy” which she performed at Eurovision without the Israeli flag.)