Israeli Public Radio Sparks Uproar After Playing Wagner Despite Boycott

Several complaints were made to the station following the broadcast, which was cut short ■ Wagner's music is not usually aired on Israeli radio and television because he was anti-Semitic, and considered Hitler's favorite composer

Richard Wagner figures in Bayreuth, southern Germany, July 25, 2013
AP

Israel's public radio broadcast Richard Wagner's opera "Twilight of the gods" (Gotterdammerung) on its classical radio station Voice of Music Friday despite the country's boycott against Wagner's works that began before the establishment of the state.

On "As You Want," edited by Uri Marcus, the program aired a live recording of the third act of the opera, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, at the Bayreuth Festival in 1991.

"In 1849, Richard Wagner began to formulate his revolutionary ideas about opera as a result of anarchist political activity, and gave rise to a new artistic form merging poetry and drama…we will listen to the final act of 'Twilight of Gods,'" the program's presenter, Avishai Pelchi, said on air.

However, a few minutes later the work was cut short by a 40 second pause, followed by the names of musicians and singers, including Barenboim, who performed the piece. Pelchi then continued to play the work until the end.

According to details received by Haaretz, there were several complaints made by listeners about the broadcast. Wagner's music is not aired on Israeli radio and television because he was anti-Semitic, and considered Hitler's favorite composer.

Yonatan Livni, Chairman of the Wagner Foundation in Israel, said: "I welcome the first unhidden playing of Wagner's music … we do not play the opinions of the composer, but the wonderful music he created. My late father was a Holocaust survivor and from him I learned to get to know Wagner: 'He was a vile man who wrote heavenly music.'"

Israel's public radio said: "The directives in the Kan public broadcaster remained as they have been for years – the work of Wagner will not be played on 'Kan Kol Hamusica.' This from an understanding the pain caused by playing [Wagner's music] among Holocaust survivors who listen to us. The editor was wrong when he chose to play the piece … we apologize for this before our listeners … the matter was clarified to those related to the issue."

The statement said the piece's abrupt stop was a technical glitch, "perhaps deigned by fate," and added this issue too was being examined. "Any conspirative claim which says some other factor intervened in the matter, is ruled out."

Several attempts in Israel have been made to break the boycott, including by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with Zubin Mehta as conductor, in 1981. The orchestra faced immediate backlash for its decision.

In 2001, Barenboim played Wagner at Israel's most prestigious arts festival amid pressure from the festival's management to abandon the plan.