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Wagner row

May 24, 2011

The decision of two Israeli ensembles to perform in Bayreuth during an annual celebration of Wagner's music has unleashed a wave of controversy, with some members of the Knesset calling for their funding to be withdrawn.

Bayreuth Festival Theater
Israel has observed an unofficial boycott of Richard Wagner's musicImage: ullstein bild - Granger Collection

Israel's Chamber Orchestra and the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rischon Lezion are due to travel to the Bavarian town in July to play Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll," along with the works of three Jewish composers on the sidelines of the Wagner Festival.

But their plans have sown discord in Israel because Wagner is notorious for his anti-Semitic opinions. The 19th-century German composer is believed to have helped shape Hitler's anti-Semitic and racist theories.

Some members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, have come up with an initiative to penalize the orchestras involved by scrapping their public funding, Israeli newspaper Jediot Achronot reported earlier this week.

Israel debates funding

Bayreuth Festival Theater
The Festival Theater is a Bayreuth landmarkImage: Fotolia/Edler von Rabenstein

Danny Danon, chair of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, spearheaded the campaign.

"There is nothing more detestable than accepting the culture which created Nazism," he said, as reported by dpa news agency. "The journey of an official Israeli orchestra to the Wagner Festival is a slap in the face for all Israelis, not just for Holocaust survivors," he added.

Danon says the Israeli parliament should slash the orchestras' budgets if they travel to the festival, which is run by Wagner's descendents.

But Limor Livnat, Israel's culture and sport minister, has said that no orchestra would be stripped of financial support "based on its choice of artistic repertoire," German daily Tagesspiegel reported on Tuesday.

Livnat was nonetheless outraged by the orchestras' plans to get involved in a festival which is "dedicated to the works of a Nazi composer."

The town of Bayreuth invited the Israeli Chamber Orchestra to take part in a program which accompanies the annual festival and the majority of the pieces it is due to perform are by Jewish composers, particularly Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

Click on the interview with Holocaust survivor and journalist Noah Klieger below for more on Israel's relationship to Wagner.

Author: Michelle Martin

Editor: Kate Bowen