Barenboim calls for compassion in the Middle East

Barenboim calls for compassion in the Middle East


norman lebrecht

June 25, 2018

In a thoughtful interview with Asahi Shimbun’s Europe editor, the conductor reflects on the conditions required to deliver progress in the turbulent region. We’re positing this for Prince William to read today as head flies to Jerusalem.


“Neither in the orchestra nor in the academy are we trying to practice a political line that everybody has to adhere to,” Barenboim said. “We believe one thing only, all of us: There is no military solution, there is no political solution, there is only a human solution. I expect them to agree 100 percent on Beethoven. But I don’t expect them to agree on a line for the conflict.”

In the summer of 2014 during an Israeli military attack of the Gaza Strip, orchestra members were split along Palestinian and Israeli sides and heated debate ensued with each side showing little sympathy for the other.

Reflecting on that time, Barenboim said he told orchestra members, “I don’t think that in this kind of a situation of conflict you can expect sympathy. It is not really rational to think that an Israeli will feel sympathy for Palestinians and vice versa. But you must expect and get compassion because sympathy is an emotional thing. Compassion is a moral attitude. An Israeli who does not feel compassion for the tragedy of the Palestinians has no place in this orchestra, and vice versa. I think this is what we have to work for, to get compassion and understanding for the suffering of the other…”

Read on here.


  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Moral attitudes are deeply embedded in culture. DB recognizes that you cannot expect sympathy between Israelis and Palestinians, but he expects that they should share a common moral attitude despite their manifest culture crash. Maybe Daniel Barenboim is a saint idealist. Or maybe ‘Saint Daniel’ is a sophist playing with words. Or maybe he is just a politically naïve artist surrounded by yes-men (and yes-women) that are not representative either of Israelis or of Palestinians. Anyway, I am skeptical that the solution for the Israeli-Palestinian question is making music together…

    • Lev Deych says:

      I think that only making music together, playing sports together, reading books together and, more generally, doing things together is the only hope for resolution of the conflict. Anything else leads just to more death and distruction . Barenhboim doing an absolutely right thing.

    • Symphony musician says:

      Compassion is one of the most basic human emotions no matter what one’s cultural background so, yes, he is right to expect that they will show compassion – especially considering they know each other personally.

    • kaa12840 says:

      His response to the naysayers has always been “I am a musician, that is what I can do to promote compassion and understanding; what are YOUR contributions”.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    If only everyone was as sensible as Maestro Barenboim but sadly that’s just my dream.

  • Tamino says:

    One can witness the lack of compassion in too many of our brothers and sisters right here in the comment threads, I include myself.
    What makes this thin red line between the compassionate human and the destructive pervert in each of us so thin?
    One main contributor is a cultural brainwashing in too many of us, that there is an entity of ‘us’ vs an entity of ‘them’. I think that is the root of all evil.
    It is no problem, as long as confrontation of strangers is the exception, not the norm.
    But in a globalized world, tribalism is a fatal disease. There is no alternative to peaceful and compassionate coexistence.

  • Mary says:

    In his later years, DB has become a person to admire. He has shown that attempts to bring harmony (pun intended) to this region are not futile.

  • More Al Than Some says:

    There is nothing thoughtful about Barenboim’s views on the Mideast problems. He has long taken a stance that would allow Israel’s destruction by its enemies. He is thoughtless and opens his mouth too often, as if he is a world leader and not a second-rate musician with an oversized reputation.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Whatever you may think of him, even ignoring his piano playing, he can not be considered a “second rate musician”. You don’t become the chief conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Orch. de Paris, La Scala and the Berlin Stateskapelle if you are second rate. (Even if he isn’t among my personal favourites).