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Conductor Zubin Mehta, the musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, yesterday called a news conference to sharply condemn a decision by the Knesset Education Committee to declare Daniel Barenboim "a cultural persona non grata in Israel."

"I protest and reject the Knesset's Education Committee decision against Daniel Barenboim, one of the greatest artists in the world today, a man who not only represents good music all over the world, but who also represents Israel and who had done so much for it over the last 50 years," Mehta said.

"I represent the orchestra and its management when making these remarks. I discussed this issue with the orchestra's musicians and they also took the news very badly. You have to realize, he is a very loved person for this orchestra."

Mehta has been holding auditions for the orchestra that musicians wait months or years for, but halted them to denounce the Knesset committee boycott. Mehta said he considers Barenboim a great friend of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra following his appearances with it in Israel and abroad. He also announced that Barenboim would play with the Philharmonic next year.

Mehta, who is known for his support for playing Wagner's music in Israel, refused to comment on the performance by Barenboim of Wagner at the Israel Festival. He only agreed to say that "apparently, because Barenboim feels Israeli, he also felt that he could open the door to Wagner in Israel."

Mehta added that "this subject is controversial and you can argue about it because we live in a democracy. Every person has his own opinion and we don't intend to stifle any opinion. But we reject the serious decision that was made," he said. He said he spoke yesterday with Barenboim who "was very confused and upset" by the Knesset committee decision. Barenboim is currently in Chicago rehearsing with an orchestra whose members are selected musicians from Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

A letter of response sent yesterday by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's management, led by Zubin Mehta, to Zevulun Orlev, the chairman of the Knesset's Education Committee, stated that "even if there are differences of opinion between the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Daniel Barenboim regarding playing Wagner in Israel, it would is inconceivable to declare him persona non grata.

The letter said: "The Philharmonic has practical plans to invite Barenboim to do some concerts in Israel. We call on the Knesset's Education Committee to retract its decision and expect cultural institutions in Israel to join us in this call."