Daniel Barenboim hedges over support for Israel boycott

Daniel Barenboim hedges over support for Israel boycott


norman lebrecht

June 03, 2015

After his 2015 Edward W. Said London lecture at the Southbank Centre, Daniel Barenboim was asked whether he supported the BDS campaign to boycott and isolate the state of Israel. His reply, which you can watch on video (click here at 19:00), begins with outright support for a boycott, only to equivocate as he develops his position.



Barenboim said: ‘I think the boycott movement BDS is absolutely correct, its perfectly right and necessary with one limitation, one criticism – that it refuses any contact with anything that has to do with Israel. In other words, there is not enough differentiation. I think there are enough people in Israel who think very different from the government. Artists and other people. Writers, certainly. Musicians, certainly. And by making a blind boycott, you deprive yourself of the possibility of making contact with people who disagree with you – a member of the boycott – as much as, equally about the policies of the government.

‘And let us not forget one thing: The Israelis and the Palestinians are blessed or cursed to live either together or side by side, but certainly not back-to-back. And therefore, a boycott that is completely generalised and has no feeling for nuances takes away the possibility of ever imagining a future that will be different from what it is now. It only encourages policies, as we have read in recent days from the foreign minister f Israel, where it is clear that the present government in Israel is not interested in a two-state solution, it is not interested in a one-state solution. It is interested in an exclusively Jewish solution for all the territories, and that is unacceptable.’

In response to a clarifying question, he added: ‘It is very short-term and not positive for any future for the Palestinians to boycott anything that has anything to do with Israel. Anything to do with government policies, yes.’



  • Philip Amos says:

    He did not hedge, nor did he equivocate. He simply stated very clearly that he supports the boycott, but would like it amended. Proposed government legislation is amended in legislative bodies routinely. It is somewhat akin to writing an article and, as you read it over, keep alert for details or arguments within it that you realize should be modified or deleted. And all Barenboim is saying is that the terms of the boycott as it stands penalizes people, both Israeli and Palestinian, including many people in the arts, who themselves are critical of Israeli Government policies. Rather than using the accusatory ‘hedge’ and ‘equivocate’, it would be more honest to state your argument against his position.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Listen to what he says. He states a position, then withdraws partially from it. My own argument is that if you want to apply boycotts against occupying powers, start with China, Russia and Turkey.

      • Simon S. says:

        Don’t forget Morocco.

      • GONZALEZ says:

        With all due respect, Norman, I think Mr. Barenboim makes his point quite clear. It is thanks to near-sighted governments like the Israeli that we can never speak of a black-and-white solution. Therefore he is right by showing his supporting position for a boycott, however considering those “nuances” he mentions. On the other hand, if he says that there are enough people in Israel who don’t think the way the government does then the question is who on earth voted for those guys in the first place?!

      • Olaugh Turchev says:

        How about the US? Or is Iraq not occupied?

      • Peter says:

        That’s not an argument, it’s an opinion. It would be an argument if you gave reasons why these would have to be boycotted first.

  • Philip Amos says:

    I’m afraid your grasp of the art of rhetoric is way, way off. He states a position, and then explains his one reservation about it, suggesting it be amended. When I am in agreement with the essence of a policy but see a flaw in it, I point out the flaw. What do you do? At least you implicitly accept that Israel is an occupying power. If I were in a position to boycott states, I might well start with China or Russia, but we are supposed to be discussing Israel. There is no rule of mutual exclusivity that says we can’t boycott all of them, possibly simultaneously rather than in some order of priority. Again, Barenboim states his support for the boycott, but then points out that its formulation results in collateral damage. And thus, he suggests it would be the better for an amendment. As a retired academic, I can’t think of any discipline in the humanities and sciences in which this rhetorical and dialectical process is not considered considered routine. No academic in their right mind would call call it withdrawing or hedging or equivocating. Without it, their would be no dialectical progress, which is what we thrive on.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Do you know the discursive way he speaks? I’ve had the pleasure, several times.

      • Philip Amos says:

        Discursive: Proceeding by argument or reasoning, not intuitive (OED). Yes, so I noticed yesterday when I listened to Barenboim’s latest speech in London and two interviews. The best argument is always nuanced, not a black-or-white tweet. Very impressive indeed. The more we hear from him on this issue, the better for all — if they take the time to listen carefully.

  • william osborne says:

    Barenboim says, “it is clear that the present government in Israel is not interested in a two-state solution, it is not interested in a one-state solution. It is interested in an exclusively Jewish solution for all the territories, and that is unacceptable.’

    So where would the Palestinians go? Do they need to disappear completely? It makes me think of a strange article that was in the Israel Times that asked when genocide is justifiable. Regarding the Palestinians and the ongoing war, the author asks, “If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?” The article implies that it is.

    The article was taken down after a lot of controversy, including in Israel where I’m sure the idea was universally seen as appalling and ridiculous. The author also retracted his statement with deep regret. Still, it makes for some odd and troubling reading in the context of Barenboim’s description of the government’s policies, whether accurate or not. The whole article is here, which has other strange statements that lead to the horrific questions about the justification of genocide:


    I also think of a recent Israeli documentary entitled “The Gate Keepers” which is comprised of interviews with several former directors of Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service.) Most of them seem to feel that the Palestinian strategy is to set Israel on a course of moral catastrophe, and that it is working. You can read about the documentary here:


    Let me stress that I mention this in no way to discredit Israel. It is just that many people who care deeply about Israel, like Barenboim, feel a moral dilemma is evolving, and that it needs to be a matter of serious and differentiated discussion.

  • hyprocritesgalore says:

    Barenboim should run for office. Unlike Gergiev who is criticized endlessly and breathlessly, Barenboim is heralded by the mainstream because he is so predictably mainstream. Barenboim is a conductor who thinks he’s a peacemaker. He is nothing of the sort. His opinion does nothing and has no effect. He should stick to the stick waving and piano playing. If he wants to be a politician he should enter the arena.

    As for boycotts…why not start with boycotting the Arab states which have victimized the Palestinians much more than the Israelis, not to mention the very states which oppress their own people. The Palestinian Diaspora – if there is actually such a thing – could have contributed much more to the world than sitting in refugee camps for decades.

  • Mark Morrison says:

    Barenboim always likes to present himself as the ultimate intellectual, superior in every way to those around him. As a musician, at least in his own eyes, he is without peer and as a pianist, he is at the top of the craft, even though he is decidedly third-rate in this regard. He was a smug egotist as a child and he certainly has not matured any in his older years.

    If B. thinks that the Israelis are not interested in a peace agreement, why does he not say anything of the sort about the Palestinians who have walked away from any peace agreement offered them, including one at the time that Clinton was president. The Palis have never stopped sending rockets into Israel and have always looked for still another excuse to avoid reaching a peace agreement, or to even sit down at the negotiations table. Are Pali (both PA and Hamas) actions truly indicative of a people who wish to reach a peaceful solution?

    [redacted: abuse]

  • JanHus says:

    Norman, do you know that you’re just showing off your own pretentious stupidity?

  • Simon Behrman says:

    I don’t see Barenboim’s comments as equivocating. Instead he appears to be stating the official BDS position, which is not a boycott of everything that comes out of Israel, but is instead to refuse to have anything to do with official institutions, corporations and the like. Israelis are not per se subject to a boycott. That would be absurd and unjust. There are many principled Israelis, not least Barenboim himself, who oppose the illegal occupations and other of Israel’s crimes.

    The analogy with Russia, China etc. is spurious. Of course those states are all guilty of crimes of occupation. But the policy of successive Israeli governments goes beyond occupation to ethnic cleansing. That was true in 1948, 1967 and is even more the case today. Moreover, the indigenous population which continues to resist, and which has suffered terribly for many decades now has asked for global support for BDS. The campaign appears to be working as Israel is now more exposed and isolated than ever before. For these reasons alone, although I personally have others, BDS is worthy of support.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      State your proofs for ethnic cleansing. Russia and Turkey have committed ethnic cleansing on a scale of millions. Start the BDS there.

      • Peter says:

        Russia and Turkey, ethnic cleansing about 80 to 100 hundred years ago. Not a very apt comparison.

        • Simon Behrman says:

          As proof of ethnic cleansing, we can begin with the threats and violence that led to some 800,000 Palestinians fleeing their homes in 1948 – Moshe Dayan for one boasts of this in his autobiography. The 1950 Law of Return explicitly privileges the right of Jews to emigrate to Israel over Palestinian exiles who were born and had property there. Then there is the systematic and ongoing bulldozing of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied territories. It is an accepted part of Israeli political discourse today to call for the ‘transfer’ of Israeli Arabs to the West Bank, Jordan etc. The current Minister of Justice (oh, the irony!) last year endorsed inflammatory comments labelling all Palestinians as the enemy. Just the other day the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs declared that all of historic Palestine belongs to the Jewish people. I could go on.

          Peter is right to point out that the ethnic cleansing by Russia and Turkey, although on a horrific scale, belongs to history, just as is the case with the genocide of the indigenous population in the Americas and the Antipodes. While we should never forget those crimes of history, it would be absurd to begin boycotting Russia now because of what was done to the Crimean Tartars in the 1940s, or the Turks over the Armenian genocide almost a century ago. It is too late to prevent the ethnic cleansing of those peoples, Moreover the people, and indeed in some cases the states, responsible for those acts are long since dead. The question of Palestine still hangs in the balance, and the crimes are ongoing. That is the difference.

          • Hilary says:

            Very elegantly argued. Thankyou.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            You fail, somehow, to mention the parallel ethnic cleansing of 900,000-1,000,000 Jews from Iraq, Egypt, Yemen and other Arab countries in 1948-50.

          • william osborne says:

            Norman raises an interesting topic, even if it’s a tangent from the main thread. Sixty-one percent of Israel’s population now have their ancestry from Jewish immigrants from other Middle Eastern countries. As a group, they are referred to as the Mizrahi (though some prefer the broader term Sephardic.)

            The Mizrahi are interesting because as a voting block they have pushed Israel far to the right, and away from the more progressive views of the Ashkenazi immigrants who reflected the Social Democratic perspectives of their European origins, and that once shaped Israel’s political landscape. I think the West needs to learn more about the Mizrahi because their push of Israel to the right and far-right is causing the country serious problems. What are their perspectives? What motivates them? What do they want? Are their countries outside Israel exploiting for their own ends the Mizrahi voting block?

            The Mizrahi were fortunate that they had a country to immigrate to. The Palestinians didn’t – a problem that still needs to be resolved.

    • Zalman says:

      Totally hilarious, Simon. You are clueless.
      Norman Liebrecht and William Osborne are right.

  • Julian Rowlands says:

    For a moment there he was going to have to boycott himself. But no, there are exceptions.

    Sad to see him equivocating over this fascistic agenda that goes against everything he has worked for, even if he is perhaps being quite clever.

  • James says:

    It IS going off-topic, but the Mizrahi haven’t pushed Israel to the right, it’s rather than the right have courted the Mizrahi so they tend to attract their votes. One of the big criticisms of the Israeli left in the recent election is that they totally and rather smugly ignored the Mizrachi. In fact, the ruling Likud party is fairly centrist (centre-right) but the Israeli public have been pushed right by the failure of the withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon that resulted only in more terrorism against Israel. While most of the population supports a two-state solution (and most of Likud does as well) they are understandably terrified about what would result from giving up more land.

  • Paul Lanfear says:

    A lot of whataboutery from Israel’s defenders on this thread. Yes, there’s plenty to point your finger at elsewhere, as there was when debating Apartheid South Africa. Devoid of superpower interference, Israel could change its behaviour very easily and the security of all its citizens would be significantly improved.

  • Philip Nash says:

    I agree with Daniel Barenboim, but it needs international sanctions to be applied to the intransigent politicians and honest brokering of peace talks by those states that can influence events. Daniel Barenboim does not need to enter the corrupt world of politicians to have the right to say anything about the current situation.