The Maestro’s A Dual Citizen


For the Palestinians, it was as sweet as a flute trill. For some Israelis on the right, it was as discordant as a cymbal crash.

Either way, the Palestinian Authority’s decision last week to grant maestro Daniel Barenboim citizenship — making him probably the first Jewish dual passport holder of Israel and the PA — moved the acclaimed conductor from the culture pages to the news pages.

Barenboim, of course, is no stranger to controversy. He’s performed Richard Wagner in Israel, championed Palestinian rights and befriended the late Palestinian American academic Edward Said. He’s also garnered accolades for using music to break down the barriers between Israelis and Palestinians and has won Israel’s prestigious Wolf Prize.

The conductor’s latest uproar among Israelis came over the weekend when, at the end of a performance in Ramallah, it was announced that the PA had decided to issue Barenboim a passport.

The symbolic certificate of citizenship was bestowed on Barenboim for advancing cultural projects in the West Bank, such as musical kindergartens, youth camps and a foundation to promote classical music.

“I accepted citizenship because I believe that the fate of the Palestinian people is intertwined with the Israeli people,” he told news agencies. “We are either blessed or cursed to live with one another, and I prefer the former.”

Barenboim did not respond to interview requests from The Jewsh Week.

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian legislator who recommended Barenboim for the accolade, said he wasn’t aware of any other foreigner who has been offered the same honor.

“It’s for the maestro’s great solidarity with Palestinians. He insisted on coming to Ramallah and performing under trying circumstances,” Barghouti said. “He has helped give a human face to the Palestinians and has helped build Palestinian musicians.”

It wasn’t long before politicians from the right took aim.

Yakov Margi, the head of the Shas Knesset faction, called on the government to revoke Barenboim’s citizenship. Speaking to Israel Radio, Margi called the move a “provocation” and pledged to boycott Barenboim’s performances. “I like to listen to music, but I don’t like to listen to music by someone who is one-sided.”

Israeli law permits revoking citizenship of anyone who becomes the citizen of an enemy country, though the PA doesn’t have such a designation. A spokesperson for Israel’s Interior Ministry told no such penalty is being considered for Barenboim.

Barenboim, who emigrated from Argentina to Israel with his family at the age of 10, spent his late childhood there and attended high school in Tel Aviv. Though he has spent much of his time abroad, he owns an apartment in Jerusalem and performs frequently in Israel.

He struck up a friendship with Said in 1990, and first performed in Ramallah in 1999. Together they founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a collection of young Israeli and Arab musicians based in Spain that tours the world. Barghouti said the conductor visits twice a year despite Israeli laws that prohibit citizens from entering Palestinian cities.

“He’s one of the greatest living musicians. I’m sure he believes very strongly in the need to make peace between the nations,” said Gideon Paz, the director of the America Israel Cultural Foundation. “I’m sure he doesn’t have anything negative in mind, certainly not harming Israel. One may agree or not with his political ideas, but he’s entitled to them.”