Questions about Anti-Semitism
The exceptional musician - pianist, conductor, and my friend from
the 1960s - Daniel Barenboim wrote a lengthy article under the title
"Germans, Jews, and Music," that appeared March 29 in
the New York Review of Books. His thoughts were prompted by the
turmoil surrounding the Staatsoper in Berlin of which he has been
music director, and a reference to him by a member of the Berlin
Senate as "the Jew Barenboim."
Mr. Barenboim seems far more interested in the future of the venerable
theater than in the general outcry unleashed by the utterance. But
he used the opportunity to offer some profound observations about
music and Judaism, both of which are home ground for him - and about
Germany where he has been resident for many years. As befits a man
of his gift, knowledge and experience, he views Germany in terms
of centuries, as opposed to the 12 years of National Socialist rule.
"Judaism," Mr. Barenboim writes, "is not easily
explained: it is part religion, part tradition, part nation, and
partly an immensely various people. It is hard to deal with, as
much for the Jews themselves as for everyone else..." Ignorance
of history, and failure to assimilate it, he continues, "could
lead to a new anti-Semitism, or to philo-Semitism, which would be
as wrong as anti-Semitism."
Another way of expressing the same sentiment is that every form
of discrimination is discrimination, and as such to be avoided at
all cost. There is a saying, "there is no bad publicity."
By the same token, there is no good discrimination when it comes
to individual human beings.
In order to evaluate how contemporary America rates in this area,
it is important to observe that discrimination of the negative kind
is an ancient human trait. Its presence seems to be natural to man;
only its absence is noteworthy. In that context, Americans have
done a remarkable job, as they have in all aspects of the human
condition since the inception of the country. Residents in and around
the nation's capital have the opportunity to drive through Old Town
Alexandria and see the plaque commemorating the first synagogue.
All can read the correspondence that led to the eternal prohibition
of a religious Test "as a Qualification to any Office or public
Trust under the United States" - one of the mind-boggling jewels
of the American Founding, to be found in Article VI of our Constitution.
You need to have some idea about the rest of the world in 1787
to comprehend the magnitude of that half-sentence in our Constitution.
In Hungary, for example, Austrian Emperor Joseph II, "the enlightened
ruler," was considering allowing Jews to take on a family name,
albeit from a short roster of colors and occupations. That they
Given that America then was light years ahead of the rest of the
"civilized world," it is disturbing that anti-Semitism
exists in America today. No - not the kind that will land people
in concentration camps or worse, not even the kind that will keep
anyone out of the country club. It is more often than not a low-intensity
resentment that people have trained themselves to bottle up. Bottled-up
sentiments never are good for a nation's emotional health.
I have thought about these matters long and hard, and my conclusions
may not win popularity contests, but here they are.
If our purpose is to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate the factors
that end up as walls between people, we have to be consistent. We
have to get ever closer to equality in the affairs of man - an aspiration
as old as the round table in the legend of King Arthur, and as the
Declaration of Independence. In that spirit, I agree with Daniel
Barenboim that philo-Semitism is as wrong as anti-Semitism.
Let me begin with music. Ludvig van Beethoven was as much an icon
of communist regimes as Richard Wagner under the Nazis. Now Richard
Wagner wrote many essays, and one of them bears the title "Jews
in Music." Beethoven did nothing similar. But V.I. Lenin was
obsessed with Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, and it was the subject
of endless documentaries and plays in the Soviet realm. Holding
Beethoven responsible for Lenin's admiration of him would be nothing
short of idiotic. Why is the continuing obsession to hold Wagner
and his music responsible for the Third Reich any more rational?
Because there is discrimination at work in matters of discrimination.
In our contemporary body politic, nothing associated with a century
of horrors under communist regimes is viewed comparable to the twelve
years of Germany under Adolf Hitler.
Least of all those who perished.
Latest estimates are close to a hundred million.
Let us be clear: the systematic, organized, assembly-line approach
adopted by Germany for the extermination of Europe's Jews is without
precedent or parallel. But in terms of duration and numbers, the
victims of communism beat every record in the annals of history.
Alas, there are no newsreels of liberating those camps, because
they were never liberated. And there are few if any documentaries
on the History Channel, or stories on the large and small screen.
Yet for a mother who lost a son, it makes little difference whether
the reason was race, religion, social status, or political views.
For an orphan, the murder of his parents is the same whether they
were Jews in a small Russian village, or the proprietors of a few
acres of land in a small Russian village.
I wonder whether there is a better way than hate crime legislation.
I wonder if a way to combat anti-Semitism is through the equal treatment
of victims and martyrs.
I wonder if the American Left, by whatever label they go, could
make a genuine contribution by renouncing the glorification of communists,
and placing their mass murders on par with that of the Nazis. Should
we not, in our struggle to deal with discrimination among the living,
remember ALL who died?