On May 9 in Jerusalem, conductor Daniel Barenboim was awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize, established to honor outstanding artists and scientists who have worked “in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among people.” Exemplifying these qualities in his own life, Barenboim was a friend of and collaborator with the late Palestinian intellectual and Nation contributor Edward Said. Barenhoim’s acceptance speech before the Knesset prompted Israeli politicians to denounce him for his criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians as well as for his willingness to perform the work of Richard Wagner, regarded by many Holocaust survivors as having inspired Hitler. We reproduce his speech below.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Wolf Foundation for the great honor that is being bestowed upon me today. This recognition is for me not only an honor but also a source of inspiration for additional creative activity.
It was in 1952, four years after the Declaration of Israel’s Independence, that I, as a 10-year-old boy, came to Israel with my parents from Argentina.The Declaration of Independence was a source of inspiration to believe in ideals that transformed us from Jews to Israelis. This remarkable document expressed the commitment: “The state of Israel will devote itself to the development of this country for the benefit of all its people. It will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace, guided by the visions of the prophets of Israel. It will grant full equal, social and political rights to all its citizens regardless of differences of religious faith, race or sex. It will ensure freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
The founding fathers of the State of Israel who signed the declaration also committed themselves and us: “To pursue peace and good relations with all neighboring states and people.”
I am asking today with deep sorrow: Can we, despite all our achievements, ignore the intolerable gap between what the Declaration of Independence promised and what was fulfilled, the gap between the idea and the realities of Israel? Does the condition of occupation and domination over another people fit the Declaration of Independence? Is there any sense in the independence of one at the expense of the fundamental rights of the other? Can the Jewish people, whose history is a record of continued suffering and relentless persecution, allow themselves to be indifferent to the rights and suffering of a neighboring people? Can the State of Israel allow itself an unrealistic dream of an ideological end to the conflict instead of pursuing a pragmatic, humanitarian one based on social justice?
I believe that despite all the objective and subjective difficulties, the future of Israel and its position in the family of enlightened nations will depend on our ability to realize the promise of the founding fathers as they canonized it in the Declaration of Independence. I have always believed that there is no military solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict, neither a moral nor a strategic one, and since a solution is therefore inevitable, I ask myself: Why wait? It is for this very reason that I founded with my late friend Edward Said a workshop for young musicians from all the countries of the Middle East, Jews and Arabs.
Despite the fact that as an art, music cannot compromise its principles, and politics, on the other hand, is the art of compromise, when politics transcends the limits of the present existence and ascends to the higher sphere of the possible, it can be joined there by music. Music is the art of the imaginary par excellence, an art free of all limits imposed by words, an art that touches the depth of human existence, an art of sounds that crosses all borders. As such, music can take the feelings and imagination of Israelis and Palestinians to new, unimaginable spheres. I therefore decided to donate the monies of the prize to music education projects in Israel and in Ramallah. Thank you.