In a brief correspondence with Jörg Lau, I suggested publishing a translation of the following piece in Public Seminar. I told Lau that I enjoyed his text partially “because in some circles where I orbit, criticism of the racist attitude of the Iranian regime has become impossible. In a way, Netanyahu’s campaign made it so: criticism of Iran is automatically perceived as standing by Netanyahu’s side. Your short text elegantly averted the trap.”
Lau responded, “I think this will be the challenge: defending the Iran deal without closing [our] eyes to Tehran’s incitement against Israel — while at the same time not [ceasing] to criticize the occupation and other Israeli follies just because the Iranians do it for their own reasons. The instrumentalization of the Palestinian issue by Iran has always been painful for most of my Palestinian friends, who felt they were just a pawn in Iran’s geopolitical game. That’s why I found this Barenboim moment so telling.”
No Art of the Fugue in the land of a thousand centrifuges: Iran has informed Daniel Barenboim that his intended concert with the Berlin orchestra in Tehran has been cancelled. There will be no overture during the long-anticipated easing following the nuclear deal. This is a blow for Barenboim as well as for Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, who was meant to be the patron of the concert.
The official explanation is interesting: Iran does not recognize the “Zionist regime” and will “not be working together with artists of this regime.” With his sense of irony, Barenboim would have laughed at this. “Regime artist? Me? That’s new.” The Israeli minister of culture, Miri Regev, wrote only last week that the conductor “uses every opportunity to denounce Israel.” She vowed to use all her powers to prevent his concert in Tehran. No need for that now as one of her colleagues beat her to it.
Indeed, for years Barenboim has been criticizing the occupation of the West Bank. He founded an orchestra where Israelis, Arabs, and Iranians can make music together. He is an honorary citizen of Palestine. So why is he not welcome in Tehran? The Iranian Ministry of Culture gave an explanation afterwards that leaves no room for doubt: The German orchestra is allowed in. The conductor, however, needs to be of a different “identity.” Barenboim, the Jew, is not welcome.
One thing must be added: Barenboim is a problem for Tehran precisely because he is a critically loyal Israeli and a friend of Palestine. The traditional chanting of “Death, death, Israel!” that the regime has been zealously fostering would be made to sound absurd if he were to perform there. Barenboim must stay out of Tehran as they still require an anti-Zionist image of the enemy, especially after the deal with the West. To destroy images of the enemy through the power of music is Barenboim’s life’s work. In this instance he failed — at least for now. Knowing him, he’ll be trying again. No German orchestra should play in Iran until Barenboim is invited to return.
This article originally appeared in Die Zeit. Translated from German by Daniela Sinclair.