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An English pianist finds happiness in Jerusalem

This is the final instalment of the diary we asked Peter Donohoe on his first visit to Israel. Neither Peter, nor we, knew what to expect – except that he would tell the truth as he finds it, as he always does. There are few more honest musicians alive than PD, and few who enter every situation with eyes so wide open. What follows are personal impressions, not political statements. 

And we shall build Jerusalem

by Peter Donohoe

I realised suddenly one day last week what the greatest difference was between my expectation and the reality of Israel. That it is the only country in the world with a majority Jewish government, and that is their official homeland is obvious. What is not so obvious is the way that gives the people living there the confidence to be simply people who happen to be Jewish, rather than being Jewish first and foremost and it becoming the chief aspect of their personalities. Of course the very religious Orthodox Jews are very open and visible regarding their faith; but the non-religious people are in the main just people – and on the whole very welcoming and tolerant ones at that.

I had worried that entering Israel might have been a little like entering a Synagogue where one was made to feel (or perhaps made oneself feel) inadequate and a lesser being for sharing neither the faith nor the racial background, but nothing could be further from the truth. It turns out that I myself do share to a degree the racial background, which is perhaps why I felt so at home, but I don’t believe that to be either important. The way all nationalities and members of different cultures seem to instinctively respond to being away from the origin of their traditions is to tend to wear those traditions on their sleeves much more than when they are in their homeland, and the Jews are no different.

I have been traveling regularly to other countries for my work over the past now forty years. During that time I have found that, on the whole, those countries that have political and economic problems galore, are in social chaos, and are often avoided by superstar artists and their managers, have been the ones that have got under my skin and made me want to return most. I think somebody said once (maybe it was me…) that you love people, places and things much more for their weaknesses than for their strengths.

That those countries get under my skin more is perhaps also because those countries cling on to culture much more ardently than comfortable affluent societies. I have felt extreme closeness with such diverse cultures as Russia (particularly in Soviet times), all parts of South America, Zimbabwe, Papua Niugini, Thailand and Kosovo. In different ways, those countries were all in a mess, but the people were so committed to working at understanding the nature of the music I was playing, and – perhaps most significantly of all – they were incredibly generous (not in the financial sense – nothing to do with money at all). They seemed to enjoy life a lot more than people in the ‘First’ World. I was always sad to leave and often had a feeling of desperation that I might never have the opportunity to return, although in the case of Zimbabwe has that actually come to pass.

Israel falls into neither category – it is not ‘comfortable’ in the Western European or North American sense, but neither is it disorganised and chaotic in the South American sense. What it is is extremely culturally aware, highly educated, very intense and exhausting, racy, somewhat dangerous in the sense of where it is geographically in relation to some very threatening neighbours, and maybe slightly hedonistic, but – most importantly – warm, generous and welcoming. I did love being in Israel even more than I expected, and I have always wanted to go but somehow never managed to make it work.

Jerusalem is a major capital city in the modern sense, where well over a quarter of a million people live and work – everyday lives and jobs – with shopping malls, cafes, bars, office blocks and all the other trappings of a modern city. At the same time, it surely has more historical significance to us all, whatever faith, race, culture or education, than any other place on Earth. The latter is why I felt that I had to visit, why I was somehow able to put my dreadful food poisoning (or whatever it was) to the back of my mind (see below), and why I felt tingles down my spine at the thought of being in this special place.

I was of course very sad that the visit was blighted by the continuous possibility of having to rush into the nearest public loo, and that I felt distended beyond description as I trailed after my two colleagues Kynan Johns and James Inverne* – climbing up the ancient steps as if I had walked all the way from Tel Aviv in the sweltering heat and had just celebrated my 115th birthday. But I am so glad I went, and I am determined to go again when the opportunity presents itself (*James Inverne was until recently editor of Gramophone Magazine. He was in Jerusalem at the time we went, and very kindly offered to show us round – his father-in-law is a professional tour guide in the city, so his knowledge was invaluable.)

It was in Jerusalem that I discovered how true the comment was made by ‘baruch’ earlier that I should realise that “Salam” in Arabic also means peace and that one fifth of Israel’s population are Palestinians, Christians and Muslims.’ [This was in response to my observations about the use of the Hebrew word 'Shalom' as a greeting.] It is in Jerusalem that the meeting and coexistence of all these faiths and races is at its most obvious and public, and a great eye-opener and food for thought it is too. The West Bank and Gaza Strip issues are far too complex for me to comment on – I have no knowledge of the facts, other than what I have gleaned from the ever-unreliable media. But away from those areas, it seems to be a miracle of mutual tolerance.

We visited the beautiful streets of the old city lined with thousands of stalls selling an unbelievable variety of food, wonderful arts and crafts, religious artefacts of every denomination and furniture, mixed in with an equally unbelievable variety of junk. We visited the Western Wall and its environs, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which Catholics believe is built on the site of the Crucifixion, and in which I apparently touched the wood of the actual cross Christ died upon), passed the entrance to and looked into the Garden of Gethsemane, and took in the Mount of Olives by car.

We also experienced the Mamilla Shopping Mall – complete with large underground car park, Top Shop, Mango, Adidas, etc. etc, just to remind one that the USA – like plaster dust – gets everywhere. Having said that, the buildings of the mall were made to blend in with those of the old city, and it has been done very well.

OK. It is time for me to reveal the truth about the last few days of my Israel trip. I mentioned before that I had contracted mild food poisoning from one of the restaurants the conductor and I went to on our third evening in the country. In truth, I thought it was mild at the time I wrote that, but it got worse and worse – in fact, it was probably gastroenteritis, the source of which I will never know. The only eating activity I can think of that I didn’t share with the conductor was a ready-made salad from a supermarket. Israel seemed thankfully mostly free of mosquitos, but there were exceptions – during my third night I became aware of a single mossie in my room that seemed about the size of a small tractor, and which took a fancy to my left ankle – as they do – but I cannot imagine a stomach virus resulting from that. Towards the end of the trip I thought I would end up in hospital.

It didn’t, and it never does, occur to me, to cancel the concerts because I know from experience that the adrenaline flow a concert gives one keep the symptoms away. [I never did have much sympathy with people who cancel on a regular basis – at least if they are not singers – because a whole infrastructure that has taken months and sometimes years to put together is dependent upon you, and, because of the above-mentioned adrenaline flow, there is very rarely any real reason to cancel, save a family tragedy or a debilitating injury. The one time I did pull out of multiple concerts was when I had nearly lost the index finger of my right hand in an hotel window in the USA in 1994 – I had to cancel three months of performances because of a severed artery and multiple nerves – but that seems, even after sixteen years, to be a reasonable explanation of being unable to fulfil the engagements; with one of the fingers being unusable, the chances of a decent performance were zero.]

Anyway, I digress.

I gather that my conductor colleague Kynan may have contracted the same virus – a week later – just as he embarks on a vacation in Eilat to go diving. If it develops like mine, I don’t think he will be able to dive. It was as much as I could do to stand up. I feel terrible about that, particularly as he has been very patient and understanding of my tendency to be a dead weight socially. But hopefully, it will not develop – in fact, I have seen on his Facebook page that he is enjoying diving very much, so presumably he is made of very strong stuff and fought it off.

Thus far, I have avoided mentioning the concerts themselves, because it is not really a fair place to discuss them. However, I can reveal that the four concerts were very successful; the orchestra rose to the occasion, as everyone concerned had predicted they would when we rehearsed, and the conductor, Kynan Johns, is someone to really look out for. Not only was Kynan extremely able and mature with the music, and with my somewhat divergent approaches to the four performances of the Gershwin Concerto and with the demands of the rehearsal; he was also a great guy and we got along really well, away from the concerts as well as during them. The rest of the program comprised Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition; I heard two performances of each of those works and they were really terrific. I also must mention a beautifully played and stylistically excellent trumpet solo in the Gershwin – a particularly difficult solo, and one that has, at least musically, tripped up many more great trumpeters than not.

The whole trip ended with the trip back to London Heathrow on an El Al 747. [It's a long time since travelled on a Jumbo Jet – the plane I always felt was the most impressive and awe-inspiring flying machine ever invented (next to Concorde, that is, which I was only ever lucky enough to fly once on a New York to London rather time-sensitive mission to get to an engagement in Copenhagen in 1983)] There seemed to be more Orthodox Jews on the plane than I encountered during my whole trip in Israel.

Before signing off, I just want to express some thoughts and theories that perhaps I don’t have enough knowledge to be very confident of; however, they are not so private worries about what might happen in the Middle East that would affect us all. The Western World, led by the USA, has in recent been directly involved in armed conflict in Afghanistan (separated from Israel by Jordan, Iraq and Iran), Iraq (separated from Israel by Syria), Libya (separated from Israel by Egypt) and Yemen (separated from Israel by Saudi Arabia). We, again led by the USA, are gearing up to at least become very heavy on Syria (immediate neighbour of Israel to the north), Iran (on the other side of Iraq from Israel), and Bahrain (off the coast of Saudi Arabia).

In all these countries the reasons for western involvement are, at least on the surface entirely justifiable (I realise that many are suspicious of the motivation behind these conflicts – quite rightly too), ranging from seeking out the perpetrators of 9/11 and other terrorist acts, quelling appalling and murderous civil war, unseating totally unacceptable dictatorships in favour of western democracy, and keeping a check on the development of nuclear capability.

However, the result is very startling when you look at the geography of the Middle East. With the exceptions of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Israel is surrounded by one aggressive country after another that is torn between its own government and the western democracies, and almost all of them seem to be openly hostile to Israel’s existence.

I can see why at a glance society in Israel is not only the religious antithesis of the countries that surround it; it is in so many other ways too – particularly in its work-orientated, religiously tolerant and fun-loving lifestyle. Every one of those countries must feel to Israel like a threat – not just Iran, whose President wants to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the earth’, and not just Syria, whose government seems to be happy to sacrifice anyone and everyone who has anything contrary to say. What is going on in the area is another Cold War; let us not forget that the earlier Cold War could have gone hot at any time – in fact it is a miracle that it didn’t. What will happen to the area, and to the rest of the world, if Israel decides to have a go at Syria or Iran, with US support? And who could blame it for doing so?

Just a thought….. Nothing much we can do about it, but I do believe we need to be extremely aware of it until peace finally reigns in the Middle East. We ignore it at our peril.

Anyway, it was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life to make my first trip to Israel, which I sincerely hope will be the first of many. I have enjoyed writing about it very much. Thank you for reading it if you have been, and thank you to Norman for inspiring the idea. This is me signing off for now. P

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  1. Thank you, Peter,

    for your wonderfully refreshing, wise and educative news and views on your trip to Israel. It sounds as though you will be glad of the opportunity of more visits to Israel before long — minus the virus!

  2. Martin Bookspan says:

    Thank YOU, Peter, for a most inspiring account of your first visit to Israel. As do you, I hope this will have been the first of many.

  3. Raymond Deane says:

    “The West Bank and Gaza Strip issues are far too complex for me to comment on – I have no knowledge of the facts, other than what I have gleaned from the ever-unreliable media. But away from those areas, it seems to be a miracle of mutual tolerance.”

    This is simply mind-boggling. Might I recommend that you actually READ something about these issues? Or are you unwilling even the court the possibility that your idyllic vision of the Israeli state might be perturbed? Have you spoken to the Palestinian (second-or-third-class) citizens of Israel or residents of East Jerusalem and asked them for their opinion about this “miracle of mutual tolerance”? Have you visited organisations like the Alternative Information Centre or the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and asked their opinion, surely more worthy of respect than “the ever-unreliable media”?

    To fail to make any effort to ascertain the facts about a state that stands accused of innumerable violations of international law and international humanitarian law since its violent foundation, and then – at the request of a known propagandist for that state – to write a diary idealising and sentimentalising that state amounts to culpable negligence, and is an insult to the dispossessed and brutally persecuted Palestinian people who have called for a cultural boycott of that state.

    • A known propagandist? 50 shades of paranoia.

    • EASY now, Rayond Deane. Peter is a musician and he speaks with enthusiasm about the ordinary people of Israel. He spends most of his time practising his art — he genuinely wants to share with his colleagues and friends a visit which was an enjoyable and positive experience for all the right reasons. He is not a politician with an axe to grind. Indeed, if we all used Norman’s Slipped Disc blog as a platform for your kind of comments the civilised world would soon come to an end. I’m a Greek Cypriot who, in my time, have seen my little island split into two by the Turks who invaded Cyprus in 1974 and since thenNorthern Cyprus became ‘theirs’, willy nilly and the loss of family and friends is still a painful memory. Cyprus is still divided and God alone knows if there will ever be a solution but not only have we learnt to live with this but we also count quite a few Turks among our friends. We all need a bit of tolerance, don’t you think?

      • Raymond Deane says:

        Siva – the “civilised world”, if it ever existed, has indeed long since come to an end: evidence of this is the resurgence of colonialism and imperialism and the tolerance of ethnic cleansing and warfare (including drone warfare) on civilians worldwide. Donohue may indeed not be “a politician with an axe to grind”, but by ignoring the Palestinian boycott call he is making a political decision, lending himself to exploitation by “politicians with axes to grind” (e.g. the Israeli foreign ministry which in 2005 stated it “sees no difference between culture and hasbara [propaganda]“), and by Norman Lebrecht, whose grinding of Zionist axes has resounded through many of his blogs down the years. Your attempt to posit an absolute separation between culture and politics is, in my view, misguided, and walks straight into the arms of demagogues whose aim is precisely to yoke the two together: e.g. by implying, if not openly stating, that Israel’s purported lively cultural life somehow absolves it for its ongoing crimes against the Palestinian (and Lebanese and Syrian) people.

        • Raymond, there will never be a consensus among us human beings. We are governed by politicians who decide our fate, whether we like it or not. And let’s face it, we are all inside a boiling cauldron of different nationalities and religions, be they Christian, Muslim, Hebrew or Buddhist. True, we reserve the right to be proud of our roots because they define who we are but beyond that there is nothing we can do to change who we are and as long as we each stubbornly believe we are right and the other is wrong, we will never agree.

          Indeed just to pick a few examples, we could all blame the Imperialist British whose ‘divide-and-rule’ policies have pitched Israelis against Palestinians, Indians against Pakistanis and Cypriots against Turks — one could go on forever… And yet we who live in England and have made it our national pastime to moan against practically everything that’s wrong in this country, are also happy to live here and — or at least most of us — to be able to live and let live as long as we don’t harm each other.

          What binds us all in the end is our humanity. Musicians don’t have time for politics — they are disciplined people who prefer to stick to music rather than politics and if, as in Peter’s case, they have a positive experience to communicate and they want to share it with us then the least we can do is to recognise their right to do so. And it must have been a joyful experience for him to have been able to share his art with people who appreciated it.

          And one other thing — musicians such as Nureyev and Rostropovich for instance, denounced the regime of their country and paid the price for it. They were never able to return to Russia but look at what they gained. The freedom to express themselves without fear. Look at Barenboim. His East West Divan Orchestra comprising many nationalities, a generous quota of which are Arabs and Israelis is also expressing his own point of view in the best way possible and that’s hardly East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet, is it.

          • Raymond Deane says:

            Siva – if Nureyev and Rostropovich had accepted your contention that “musiciansdon’t have time for politics”, they would never have denounced the Soviet regime.

          • Raymond, I’m not a lawyer and I’m not going to enter into a grand debate here. You are obviously far cleverer and better informed than any of us here so that’s settled. I’m simply saying that neither Rostropovich nor Nureyev were political animals. They were citizens who chose to denounce a repressive regime and live in a democratic society where they could express their art and acquire the right to express their opinions without being fettered or in fear of punishment. The regime regarded this as a punishable offence, a “political stance or statement”. Those of us who are civilised, choose to call it the right of the individual to express a point of vies. This is exactly what Peter thought he was doing — expressing his point of view in a democratic society.Some of us may disagree but we must also respect his right to say so.

        • Raymond is not better informed, if he trots out the same tired leftist talking points, most of which bear no relation to reality. Most Palestinians who have a choice would rather live in Israel than be ruled by Hamas or Hezbollah, both of whom have committed way more war crimes against the Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian people than Israel ever will. When Raymond is ready to acknowledge their genuine war crimes – by the definition of the Geneva Conventions – then he might be taken seriously. Until then, don’t grant him legitimacy just because he fulminates

  4. Drew Lewis says:

    Though it is depressing to see Jew-hatred intrude even into these columns, in a way I’m glad that Mr Deane has reacted so aggressively and intemperately to PD’s sober and reflective comments. The hysteria with which he vents his crude attack totally devalues his comments and betrays him as a dyed-in-the-wool antisemite.

    The sources of opinion that he cites are well-known, discredited and flagrantly biased mouthpieces of the enemies of Israel. The leaders of the ‘Palestinians’ have consistently rebuffed all Israeli offers of peace, since it is in their financial interests to maintain the shameless fiction of a ‘dispossessed’ and ‘brutally persecuted’ people.

    • Raymond Deane says:

      The very fact that supporters of Israel are obliged repeatedly to resort to a combination of defamation and lies in order to make their case should in itself suffice to expose the bankruptcy of that case. Anybody who puts quotation marks around the word ‘Palestinians’ reveals him/herself as a racist. The equation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism entails an equation of the Jewish people with the state of Israel that is itself classically anti-Semitic. Your last sentence is itself a “shameless fiction”.

    • I’ve read no comment by Raymond Deane which suggests ‘Jew-Hatred’

      • Marie Barry says:

        Raymond Deane does not need anybody to defend him – he is a pacifist and a humanist of the highest calibre – without people like him in this world we would succumb to the pro-Israeli manipulated media with its spurious defence of ‘tales’ of how the IDF seek to defend ‘their country’ – at the expense of the suffering of the
        defenceless Palestinians. The Israeli government insult the word democracy and their inhuman ill- treatment of their neighbours is inexcusable.

  5. Amanda Rosenberg says:

    Raymond Deane’s comments have nothing to do with Jew hatred- or anti semitism. He is talking about a a state, namely Israel, that practises racism and violence against Palestinians, the rightful occupants of the land. Many jews are appalled and disgusted by what is being done in their name and the policy of the supporters of Israel is to label them Jew haters and anti semites. The article by Peter Donohoe is ill-informed and pure pro-Israeli progaganda. I suggest he talks to some Palestinians and visits their camps and sees the conditions they live in.

    • Drew Lewis says:

      What rubbish, Amanda. If you want to experience racism, go to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, not Israel. You’ll find there a host of examples of racial segregation and discrimination. In Israel there are Arab members of Parliament, the judiciary and the military command, as well as no shortage of Palestinians who prefer to live in Israel than in an Arab country. Hamas has declared its intention of not allowing even a single Jew to live in any future Palestinian state. And you claim that Israel practises racism!

      In what sense are Palestinians the ‘rightful occupants of the land’? There is a 3000-year old unbroken history of Jewish settlement in the land that was called Palestine. Jews lived and built cities there generations before Arabs came on the scene.

      But you are doubtless impervious to historical fact. You prefer to mouth the diseased and tawdry rhetoric of anti-semites everywhere – a concoction of ignorance, prejudice and malice.

      • Wanderer says:

        Drew, I don’t think you should participate in such debates. You are obviously blinded by irrational feelings.

        This “we were there 3000 years ago so it is ours” stuff is just so silly and childish, it really hurts. It would help the rational debate to focus on the people of today and find ways for all of them to coexist peacefully.

        To have a rational debate you have to leave religion out of it. Which means you have to leave Jerusalem out of it for the moment. The rest can be settled, if the powers in charge would want to have peace. The problem is they don’t want to have peace. The ideological elites on both sides are blinded by hatred and chauvinistic feelings.

        • Drew Lewis says:

          Wanderer, please continue to comment here. Your contributions provide no end of amusement.

          By the way, I never debate with people who resort to patronising and stamping their feet when they don’t get their own way.

        • Paul Lanfear says:

          I agree. What is the use of your or anybody else’s religion if it does not offer solutions other than paranoia and justification for repression? The line between defensiveness and aggression is such a thin one that eventually they become blurred. That, it seems to me, is Israel’s problem…which hardly makes them unique, although they like to think they are.

    • Paul Lanfear says:

      Mr Deane may or may not be a “dyed-in-the-wool antisemite” and Norman may or may not be a “propagandist”, but it is not difficult to see where both accusations are coming from.

      To be fair, PD has all but admitted his lack of knowledge and understanding of the Palestinian issue. Unfortunately he chose not to allow this ignorance to stop him from endorsing Israeli foreign policy. But he is a musician, not a journalist or politician!

      Intemperate as his attack is, I do not see any evidence of anti-semnitism in what Mr Deane writes – anti-Zionism yes, but that is something entirely different. Perhaps, not having an agenda to find it, I am simply not looking hard enough!

      The dispossession of Palestinians by means of the settlements is a well-documented fact, regardless of the ulterior motives of whoever asserts (or denies) it.

      All said and done, my impression is that ordinary people, living in fear of the bulldozer or the suicide bomber, tend to think and behave rather more reasonably than their politicians (and their media cohorts) lead us to believe.

    • Roberto says:

      There is some truth in what Drew and Amanda are saying. But to put this conflict in the traditional good vs. evil is short sighted, naive and dishonest, to say the least.

      The Palestinians had a few opportunities to improve their lives and dismissed every attempt. While the Arafat and Barak agreement in Camp David was far from the ideal, it was a starting block. Arafat refusal (and mostly the way he did it) had huge repercussion of what happens now.

      We should also point out that Israel left Gaza several years ago. It was a unilateral move. If Hamas had changed their chart and accepted to live side by side with Israel, there would be open gates between Israel and Gaza. But that’s not what happened.

      This is an endless edition and that what Donohoe probably meant when he said that he didn’t want to get into that.

      • Raymond Deane says:

        A simple point of fact: the reference to “Arafat’s refusal” is a falsification of what happened. Arafat agreed to continue the talks at Taba, where it was in fact Ehud Barak who broke them off – despite Arafat’s personal appeal to him not to do so – just as it appeared some kind of progress was being made. These facts, rebutting the standard “generous offer” narrative pedalled by US and Israeli politicians, have been subsequently conveyed by people like Robert Malley, Hussein Agha, and Charles Enderlin. It’s worth reading their accounts.

        • Roberto says:

          It was a generous offer. I may not be the offer that Arafat wanted, but it was a good starting block. There were several suicide bombers between that offer and Taba. Arafat thought that he would gain leverage with the violence. I don’t think he expected Sharon to win, though. Taba was already too late.

          • Raymond Deane says:

            Roberto – for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that “it was a good starting block”. I haven’t come across accounts of suicide bombings between Camp David and Taba – they certainly came after Taba collapsed. The fact remains that massive progress was being made at Taba, until suddenly Barak announced that he was pulling out. According to Wikipedia (which Norman likes so much), “according to the statement issued by the negotiators at the end of the talks, [Taba] came closer to reaching a final settlement than any previous or subsequent peace talks.” I don’t see how you can conclude from this that “Taba was already too late.”

  6. Ian Pace says:

    Raymond Deane is entirely right in his characterisation of this piece of writing, which is shockingly disingenuous and could almost have been written by Netanyahu or the Brand Israel campaign. Furthermore, it works in a justification for US and Western imperialism in the Middle East. Perhaps all of this is justified in the name of propagating the culture of the Western ruling classes (the conception of ‘culture’ presented seems mostly of this type)?

  7. Wow! I do seem to have stirred up a hornet’s nest, don’t I? I do apologise to Mr. Deane and Ms. Rosenberg – your knowledge of the whole situation is obviously far greater than mine – presumably through the sort of first-hand experience that I obviously lack, leading to what you obviously consider to a contemptible and ignorant point of view.

    However, I never claimed to be anything more than a musician with little knowledge of the situation and no opportunity whilst in Israel to explore it properly. I am not a politician, a journalist or a historian.

    I was invited to play concerts as a guest of Israeli promoters. I have never been invited by Palestinian promoters. I have however played in certain Arab states and formed certain opinions about them; that one doesn’t know enough about a subject doesn’t stop one having a partially-formed opinion, but neither does a having a partly-formed opinion give one the right to publicly air it until one is in full possession of the facts. Hence the phrase – “The West Bank and Gaza Strip issues are far too complex for me to comment on – I have no knowledge of the facts, other than what I have gleaned from the ever-unreliable media. But away from those areas, it seems to be a miracle of mutual tolerance.” Perhaps you didn’t notice the bit where I wrote “away from those areas”. Since when and by what or whom was I obliged to READ something about these issues?

    No, I haven’t spoken to the Palestinians, nor have I visited the Alternative Information Centre or the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – again, I was a guest musician invited by Norman to write about my first impressions. One of those impressions, based on the extremely limited exposure I had to the people of Jerusalem away from the areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, was that the people mutually existed in an atmosphere of tolerance. I will not retract that because I didn’t see anything to contradict it. And whilst we are about it, I did see first-hand the way that two Israeli members of the Amman Symphony Orchestra who lived and worked primarily in Ramallah were treated by Arabs.

    With regard to your final paragraph, that includes such phrases as ‘to fail to make any effort’, ‘idealising and sentimentalising’, ‘culpable negligence’ and ‘insult to the dispossessed and brutally persecuted ‘ directed at me, and ‘known propagandist [for Israel]‘ directed at Norman Lebrecht: – perhaps you should re-think?

    Mr. Deane, perhaps the only thing that is mind-boggling is your response, given the circumstances.
    I will say it again – I was a musician invited for the first time to Israel, writing my first impressions. Those impressions may well change completely on some subsequent occasion, but they will not change as a result of a barrage of abuse.

    Re: Amanda Rosenberg’s observations – perhaps you are right and I am entirely wrong, or ill-informed.
    If it is true that Israel is a racist state then of course it is in the wrong. I have no reason to disagree. All I have is a personal impression based on a very limited experience as a guest of the country invited to play some concerts. I certainly did not intend my impressions to be taken as a thoroughly researched piece of investigative political journalism.

    However, although there is no obligation on me to visit Palestinian camps, if I ever were to do that, and was invited to write about it, I will be very happy to do a total U-turn and own up to completely changing my mind. That would of course be on condition that I see for myself that what you say is true, and not that I bow to pressure from hatemail.

    Pro-Israeli propaganda? I look forward to my next pay-check from the Knesset or Mossad.

    • Raymond Deane says:

      Mr Donohue – you fail to take the point. ” I never claimed to be anything more than a musician with little knowledge of the situation and no opportunity whilst in Israel to explore it properly. I am not a politician, a journalist or a historian.” But you have allowed your – dare I say it – innocence to be exploited by people with an agenda, and that agenda is the whitewashing of a racist, criminal state. Were you even informed that since 2005 there has been a call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – including a cultural boycott – against the Israeli state “until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights”? Observe – there’s nothing in here about throwing Jews into the sea, nor is there any claim that Arab countries are not themselves riven by racism (although it must be pointed out that the most oppressive Arab regimes – e.g. the Saudi and Bahraini ones, the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, – are/were backed to the hilt by the USA and EU). Those who attempt to caricature this campaign as some form of anti-Semitism are being deliberately disingenuous, and are in fact cynically using the sole weapon at their disposal to defend the indefensible by slandering its critics. The fact remains that the boycott call is in place, it comes from the oppressed people themselves, and to ignore it is a political act that cannot be exonerated by any plea of ignorance. Your final attempt to dissolve the issue in facetiousness is unfortunate. Nobody is suggesting that you are an agent of Zionism, merely its unwitting dupe.

    • Peter, please take the time to learn about israel’s terrible apartheid which is sugar-coated by a well-funded, global propaganda campaign, and concealed from casual visitors who do not take the trouble to familiarise themselves with the pervasive racial segregation and denial of equal rights to non-Jewish people within Israel, and the lack of any rights at all for Indigenous Palestinians captive in the Occupied Territories. In their recent open letter, Three Little Birds, who are a Canadian trio, outline their support of the struggle of Palestinian people for justice and freedom against their oppressor and say:

      “We don’t use the term “Apartheid” lightly. It is the current actions of the state of Israel that necessitated the use of the term. According to the definition of apartheid under international law, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa Report, Israel is currently operating as an apartheid state.”

      At the foot of their letter they provide a comprehensive appendix of sources which you may wish to explore.

      Many musicians to date have respected the boycott called by Palestinian civil society and have refused to play in apartheid Israel – they apply the same principles to solidarity with oppressed Palestinians as was demonstrated by musicians against the apartheid South African regime when they refused to play the notorious Sun City. Please remember if you are offered performances in Israel, to refrain from playing and first do no harm. This is all Palestian people are asking of you.

  8. Every year Jewish people drink a glass of wine and say Next year B’Yerushalim…next year in Jerusalem. And one of the other million beliefs is “When all the Jews return to Israel, the Messiah (Moshiach) will come and raise the dead, and all the Jews will fly to heaven. Such nice beliefs for those who believe. I spent a year studying voice at the Rubin Academy in Jerusaslem. Jennie Tourel visited many times to give masterclases. For me this was heaven.

    • Pardon me, but I ommitted that the first saying in my missive should specify that Passover is the Holiday when the return to Jerusalem is toasted.

  9. Peter, don’t be bullied by Palestinian activists into siding with their views of Israel that is just a repetition of Arab anti-Semitic propaganda that spews out of Palestine on a daily basis. You are right to ‘see for yourself’ what is going on in Israel and judge it accordingly.

  10. Hi Peter, Did you or the conductor have hummus in the Old City? That is devoutly to be avoided in the summer. Like mayonnaise, it should be cold until the time of consumption. A lot of people get sick from slightly spoiled hummus. Food poisoning from Jericho hummus is quite famous. Ready-made salads though should be avoided too in the hot weather.

    • Dear cabbagejuice, actually yes I bought some hummous from a supermarket and barely ate any of it because the fridge in the hotel was not working properly. I did eat enough to get something from it however, so perhaps that was it.

      • Yikes, a supermarket is the worst place to buy ready made foods. You don’t know how old the stuff is to begin with. Sorry no one warned you. Delicatessen or open air shops where the food is moving all the time are actually safer. Abu Shoukry in the Old City is pretty dependable as they have a large clientele.

  11. Storm in a teacup. “An English pianist finds happiness in Jerusalem” reads the headline, and so he did. Why criticise him for it? Sure, it seems that Peter Donohoe cast an astonishingly uncritical eye over what he saw, and didn’t think it worth doing any background reading on the immensely complex political situation into which he wandered. He has that in common with many first-time visitors to Israel, I’ll warrant, and his blog shows just how well Israel has done in hiding the Palestinian “problem” behind fences and checkpoints. Other social issues – Israel’s current horrific treatment of its African immigrant population, for example, or the simmering tensions between the ultra-orthodox and the secular contingents in society, or the tragic social situation that propelled Moshe Silman to suicide by self-immolation on a Tel Aviv street a fortnight ago – might (indeed should) have been more obvious to him, especially if he had picked up one of the couple of English-language dailies when he was there, but perhaps not – or perhaps he considers politeness to his hosts more important. Just because his first impressions are extraordinarily facile, docile, and unobservant, doesn’t mean that they should somehow be any different. If someone is not equipped with an enquiring mind they might not, for example, think twice when they are told they are in a country with “some very threatening neighbours” and wonder instead, perhaps, whether the country in which he finds himself is not the most threatening neighbour of all – just to use one example of where refusing to bring critical intelligence to a situation will get you. The poor guy can only report what he saw, and seeing as he obviously wasn’t looking very far or very hard it is unfair to expect the kind of insights some readers were expecting. Get off his back, and just be grateful we’re spared the second and third impressions.

  12. Itzakh G'Filltfisch says:

    Oh for goodness sake! Here we go with the “you’re an anti-semite” – “no I’m not” – “yes you are” kindergarten commentaries.

    Peter Donohoe’s experiences in Israel are totally atypical for most musicians active in Israel. He is a feted, world-famous soloist. Is he really so naive that he thinks he’ll see anything but the best sides of Israeli society?

    If Norman Lebrecht wanted to present a truly interesting documentary about a musician’s life in Israel, he should have had Peter Donohoe go underground as a Russian jewish immigrant who had just arrived in Israel without any name recognition and only speaking Russian and bad English.

    Now THAT would produce some interesting experiences I would think. Like being offered a job cleaning streets in Tel Aviv by the civilian authorities because there wasn’t need for YET another Russian jewish musician, let alone a pianist. And he might be able to tell us what it’s like to practice the the piano – more likely a roll-out touch keyboard with headphones as Steinway Grands don’t abound on IDF training grounds – in the middle of the Negev after having fired a TAR-21 all day in 45C heat with his Rav samal bakhír shouting at him in Hebrew – which he can’t understand – non stop and making him do “25″ about 6 times an hour for NIS 460 a month.

    Perhaps then, Mr. Donohoe wouldn’t have fashioned such a cheerful piece of “utterly out of touch with reality written by a complete foreigner” narrative full of half-truths and rosy-eyed naivete. Musicians should stick to music and not to comparing middle eastern countries which they are obviously rather clueless about if they’re on their first visit there. Leave that messy and ugly stuff to people who major in politics with a specialty in the Middle East.

    If Mr. Donohoe writes “the West Bank and Gaza Strip issues are far too complex for me to comment on – I have no knowledge of the facts, other than what I have gleaned from the ever-unreliable media.” then what makes him think the State of Israel is any less complex an issue covered by less unreliable media?

  13. Itzakh G'Filltfisch says:

    Mr Donohoe,

    Just to make a point: I know an American violin student, who for various reasons speaks arabic fluently. She went to the Occupied Territories on the West Bank last summer along with a violin student friend of hers to teach/demonstrate the violin to Palestinian children for 3 weeks, living on location. That meant sharing the homes of Palestinians who had the space to take them in – no luxury diving vacations in Eilat for her. She raised the funds to do the trip and pay for her companion violinist and a visual documentary student who filmed the experience on her own.

    It would be interesting to see you do that (though you no doubt would raise the funds far easier than her) and do a truthful documentary about the experience where Palestinian music teachers and cultural center directors can speak their mind freely.

    The student I know went to Israel for a master class subsequently. Now there’s a person who is qualified to write a diary about their experiences or put part of it down on film, even though it was “just” a student production. She didn’t just sit around and wait for an invitation as you so graciously announce you are. She made something happen on her own.

    She has my utmost respect. You, on the other hand, I find boring in your smugness and lack of true curiosity. On a purely instrumental level I do think you’re a great pianist, though.


    • Over the past 20 years, music schools have been established with humble beginnings and are now flourishing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Edward Said Conservatory since 1993 has seen a tremendous growth with almost 1000 students in 4 branches with strong departments in Western and Oriental music. The Al-Kamindjati (the violinist) School, is a newcomer in the Ramallah area with scores of string students, many of them from underprivileged backgrounds.
      These institutions are known and supported by various organizations abroad.. They are the main schools and have various orchestras and ensembles but there are still plenty of others as in the Bethlehem area. When the relatively small population of this small area is considered, the number of students and quality of the education offered (with a considerable input from foriegn teachers) are quite remarkable.

  14. Martin Bookspan says:

    Again, Peter, Bravo. The Deanes and Rosenbergs of this world are either abysmally ignorant of the real facts, or they are devilish perverters of them. In either case they will ultimately be swamped when truth and justice are applied to the circumstances.

  15. Andrew Robinson says:

    Well, apart from some pianissimo face-saving noises, that looks like an honourable retraction. Raymond Deane’s point would seem to be that it is not good enough to enter a contentious state with innocence intact; if you are a public figure of any kind you thereby permit yourself to be used as a glove puppet.

  16. Ben Laude says:

    As a pianist myself, and–more importantly–as a person interested in justice and peace, I feel obligated to respond to this dangerously ignorant diary entry. Since Mr. Deane and others in this thread have already responded substantially with many excellent points, I wanted to just briefly call out the false naiveté that Mr. Donohoe is using as a justification for the content of his piece.

    It begins with Mr. Lebrecht’s caveat in his introduction, reading that “what follows are personal impressions, not political statements.” Leaving aside the fact that these two kinds of expression are by no means mutually exclusive, Mr. Donohoe’s piece contains several overtly political statements. Here’s Mr. Donohoe essentially admitting that his ‘personal impressions’ extend into public political commentary: “Before signing off, I just want to express some thoughts and theories that perhaps I don’t have enough knowledge to be very confident of; however, they are NOT SO PRIVATE WORRIES about what might happen in the Middle East THAT WOULD AFFECT US ALL.” [emphasis added] Sounds like a pretty good definition of a political statement to me. Just because you write things like ‘I think’ or ‘from my perspective’ before making an assertion doesn’t disqualify what follows from scrutiny, especially when published on a public blog. That very exposure by its very nature politicizes ‘personal impressions,’ especially ones made about a country consistently engaged in severe human rights abuses (according to leading international organizations).

    Furthermore, the frequent use of rhetorical questions might suggest modesty and open-mindedness on the part of the author, but a closer look shows that if the author is indeed writing from a position of naiveté, it is one influenced heavily by Israeli propaganda (and no doubt many of Mr. Donohoe’s hosts in Jerusalem reinforced the blatant misinformation he felt comfortable enough to repeat here).

    To take one example: “What will happen to the area, and to the rest of the world, if Israel decides to have a go at Syria or Iran, with US support? And who could blame it for doing so?” The question marks at the end of these sentences add a seemingly ponderous neutrality, but anyone with eyes can understand that Mr. Donohoe is indicating support for a particular political stance (and a wildly unpopular one at that–the answer to the question of who would blame Israel and the US for attacking is virtually the entire world besides the two aggressors in question). For someone who openly admits to not knowing much about the Middle East, Mr. Donohoe sure is quick to stand behind yet another invasion by the US and Israel. Mr. Donhoe’s article can be summed up as follows: ‘Gee, I really don’t know anything politics, but I sure had fun in West Jerusalem so it’s a total no-brainer that those Arab states are up to no good and Israel should bomb them.’

    And no, Mr. Donohoe, you don’t need to be receiving paychecks “from the Knesset or Mossad” to qualify to spout pro-Israel propaganda. You merely have to mindlessly regurgitate the tired and discredited talking points of a warmongering, settler-colonial nation which–unlike Iran vis-a-vis Israel–is actively wiping Palestine “off the face of the map.”

    And I don’t use the word ‘mindlessly’ just to be rude: you virtually admit to not having a clue about the facts of the conflict. I highly suggest you start reading. This conflict is, well, sort of an important one, especially for those of us in the US and Europe whose leaders offer unflinching support for Israel. I’m a pianist in a conservatory program that keeps me pretty damn busy, but I managed to find a way to educate myself on the issues. Since you’re big on first-hand experience, I recommend venturing to the West Bank next time you’re in the area. I think it would provide you with some ‘personal impressions’ that you might find difficult to reconcile with the ‘fun-loving’ and ‘tolerant’ picture you currently have of Israeli society. In the mean time, here’s a quote from South African archbishop Desmond Tutu that may interest you. It’s just a personal impression, nothing too political:

    “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.”

  17. The extended diatribes of disinformation masking, one more time, as the factual truths, are part of the current ubiquitous campaign of the Left and anti-Israel and anti-Semitic and anti-American explosion of hate. All I am going to say to you,
    who are really the dupes carrying out the vicious rhetoric, is Hate destroys the hater. It prevents thinking, reason,
    and objectivity. It eats at the soul of the hater. It is boring and so insidious and non-productive people are tuning you out, now. We are done with tolerating it, and are ignoring it, and/or, fighting back.
    P.D. on the other hand, is working , daily, as a creative, productive Musician , who is trying to enlighten the world , bring understanding and lift his listeners up to hope by infusing his listeners with the works of the great minds in the history of humanity in ‘Live’ concerts. Why don’t you haters try it- just one work up to PD’s standard.
    He is a fine professional, and that is what he does. It is obvious you do not have the hard facts about the life of a Classical Music musician, either. So, I will tell you, Haters, you have pitted yourselves against
    Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Bach, Schubert, Ravel, Haydn, and those whose work endures and continues to speak to us of beauty, melody, rhythms, harmony, dissonances, and resolutions to disharmony and conflict. In hearing PD recreate these composers’ works, he lets us experience the creative potential of human beings and inspires us to hope. And I, personally, thank him for traveling thousands of miles, crossing time zones, enduring months on the road, and working hard to maintain the highest standard to be able to give the finest performances possible.
    What Mr. Donohoe does is relentless, courageous, takes thinking, focus, discipline, and sacrifice. You haters, could never begin to understand the curiosity he possesses, nor what it takes for him to be the professional he is.
    Take your mantra somewhere else, once and for all. and do not bother answering me back. I am returning to Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto, followed by Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. You represent the dissolution of civilization, and there is no time in life for tripe such as you spew. In the end, you see, those who hate can be abandoned,
    and left alone with their Hate to themselves.

    • Ian Pace says:

      Carolyn, there are a number of professional classical musicians posting here who are perfectly well aware of how hard work it is (I’m typing this from South America at the moment, in the midst of a gruelling range of three concerts and multiple masterclasses, composer workshops and lectures whilst trying to negotiate jet-lag).

      Your rhetoric about ‘haters’ is not worth responding to (pure rhetoric, without any concrete facts or argument), but how are you so sure that ‘Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Bach, Schubert, Ravel, Haydn, and those whose work endures and continues to speak to us of beauty, melody, rhythms, harmony, dissonances, and resolutions to disharmony and conflict’. Who are ‘us’ here? Even just in the West, more people listen to popular music. And do you really think that by the end of Mozart’s Cosi fan tuttit, or some of Beethoven’s late quartets, or Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, or Ravel’s La Valse, say, we have arrived at ‘resolutions to disharmony and conflict’? Is there much evidence that any of this music has ever achieved such an end? And where would Wagner fit into this picture?

      The ‘dissolution of civilization’ to me is represented by day-to-day racist harrassment, dispossession and sometimes murder of occupied peoples, such as is carried out by the Israeli government and military. The importance of classical music seems a minor concern in comparison to this.

  18. After the British left in 1948, Egypt annexed the Gaza Strip, Jordan the West Bank. Between this time and 1967 there was never any talk of a seperate “Palestinian” state. The so called Palestinians are not a seperate people. They are linquistlcally, culturally and racially the same as the peoples of the surrounding areas such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, or at least the Muslim parts of the last state. For hundreds of years under the Ottoman Empire Palestine was just a province of that empire, nothing more, like Sussex, or any other geographical area. If Israel were to go back to the borders that existed prior to 1967 it would change nothing. After all, the borders were unacceptable to Israel’s enemies then, why would they be acceptable now? Indeed if you read the Charters of Hamas and Hizbollah, the only thing that is acceptable to them is the death of every Jew. Now if the displaced Muslim people of the area are to be given the “right of return and compensation” for their loss surely then the 900,000 Jews expelled from Muslim countries between 1948 and 1970 must also be given that right of return and compensation and we all know that is never going to happen. Until the Muslim world accepts Israel’s right to exist and given the rise of Islamic fundamentalism after the so called Arab Spring, this is not going to happen, then another war is inevitable. Every Isreali understands one fundamental fact, if they lose one war they are all dead. The barbarism in Syria proves that point.

    • Raymond Deane says:

      “The so-called Palestinians”… “racially the same as the peoples of the surrounding areas”… This is a truly racist discourse, that omits any reference to universal values of human rights and specific international laws and humanitarian laws. By all means give the Jews expelled from Arab countries – and those who left voluntarily and those who were bribed and/or bullied to leave by Israel – the right of return, and compensation for that matter. Are they clamouring to return? However, this is a red herring. You are not interested in “Israel’s right to exist” (and, by the way, no state on earth has a “right to exist” – they merely exist), but in “Israel’s right to exist as an ethnically exclusivist state” – an anachronism in a world that is attempting to rid itself of ethnocracy and exclusivist nationalism.

      • According to Wikipedia, In 2001 (Raymond) Deane was a founding member of the Ireland–Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), and served as its chairperson from 2002-5.
        In August 2010 he initiated the “Irish artists’ pledge to boycott Israel”, arguing that “artists who perform in Israel are backing it whether they like it or not.” Mr Deane is an activist in the service of the Palestinian cause.

        • Ian Pace says:

          And your point is…?

          • He’s a propagandist. He should have declared that interest.

          • Paul Lanfear says:

            I have to agree with Norman that it would have been better for Raymond to have declared his membership, especially given his initial accusation. Nevertheless it doesn’t negate the argument he has been making. The problem is, as soon as one declares one’s allegiance the shutters tend to go up on the opposing side. For the record, I am not a member of any political or campaigning organization.

            Aggression is a product of fear. Unfortunately it is the former that tends to be addressed more than the latter. Each side has its anxieties and misdemeanors. But Israel, as a cohesive state, has the power to address the problems cited by Archbishop Tutu. What exactly are they doing to help ordinary Palestinians go about their ordinary lives? To be likened to Apartheid South Africa is something to really be ashamed of.

        • Raymond Deane says:

          My goodness – so I should have “declared” that I am “a propagandist”. How many of your correspondents have felt the need to declare that they are Zionists, and hence ideologically predisposed to ignoring any reality or legality that conflicts with their commitment to Israeli supremacism in the MIddle East? Should I also have “declared” that I am a classical composer and pianist? I assume that people are capable of using Google. Indeed there are quite a few who will be aware of these not-so-sinister facts without needing to look them up – they are, after all, in the public domain. However, I deny that I am “a propagandist” in the sense that, for example, Norman Lebrecht is – i.e. someone who, in the guise of publishing an “arts journal” devoted to matters musical in fact pushes the agenda of a rogue state at every possible opportunity. Or in the sense that Peter Donohue has allowed himself, wittingly or otherwise, to be used as a propaganda tool. I am in fact an ACTIVIST on behalf of Palestinian rights, and make no secret of the fact.

          • Dear Raymond, I am sorry I had to out you as a committed agitator; you really should have done that yourself.
            As to your other comments, if you cannot distinguish between someone who is actively committed to a political cause to the exclusion of alternative viewpoints and those who try to balance information from many sides, it is unlikely that this site will be of further use to you. best wishes, NL

          • Ian Pace says:

            So Norman, are you open to alternative viewpoints such as that which maintains that the only viable future for Israel/Palestine is as a bi-national unitary state, in which a Jewish majority would by no means be guaranteed, say?

          • That is one of several options. I don’t like it because I think it’s unworkable and will only perpetuate the conflict. But I have always been willing to discuss it and listen to other views.

  19. Paul Lanfear says:

    Carolyn seems to be displaying rather more than 50 shades of paranoia. No one is questioning Peter’s artistic integrity. I have been to many of his concerts and come away from every one of them filled with admiration. On one particular occasion back in the 80s I remember him giving a benefit concert together with Simon Rattle for CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in Birmingham Town Hall….Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto as it turns out. That was at the height of the Cold War, when the UK allowed itself as a potential launchpad for US cruise missiles. It was a wonderful concert for a most attentive and appreciative audience. No doubt you would have had him down as a US-hating leftie!

    • Brilliant, my point exactly — THANK YOU, Paul!

    • Raymond Deane says:

      Interesting to learn that Peter Donohue is (or was?) a supporter of CND. So when he was in Israel did he have himself shown the Dimona nuclear facility? After all, Israel is a non-signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and is known to have a nuclear arsenal of upwards of 200 missiles. As a non-signatory of the NPT, its nuclear facilities are never inspected, hence their condition may well be a matter of concern to the international community.

  20. Daniel Jaffe says:

    It would be fatuous, given the region’s history and store of strong feelings over it, to be at all surprised that there has been so much storm and fury over Peter Donohoe’s Israel diary. Still, I suggest it might be wise to consider that perhaps some of us are getting heated up over a misunderstanding. Just to take the issue raised by Ben Laude, who quotes: “What will happen to the area, and to the rest of the world, if Israel decides to have a go at Syria or Iran, with US support? And who could blame it for doing so?”

    On the face of it, it’s a remarkably naive statement – one deserving of Laude’s retort: “the answer to the question of who would blame Israel and the US for attacking is virtually the entire world besides the two aggressors in question”. I hesitate, though, because I don’t think Donohoe is so simple-minded and naive, even if he doesn’t always express himself clearly in writing (it’s a pity Norman didn’t check some of Donohoe’s sentences, such as “what does ‘Israel is surrounded by one aggressive country after another that is torn between its own government and the western democracies”, and fix them before posting). The context of that sentence “What will happen to the area” is that it follows this: “Every one of those countries must feel to Israel like a threat – not just Iran, whose President wants to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the earth’, and not just Syria, whose government seems to be happy to sacrifice anyone and everyone who has anything contrary to say. What is going on in the area is another Cold War”. My impression is that Donohoe’s not actually endorsing the US and its allies’ ‘on the surface entirely justifiable’ adventures in the Middle East, but by evoking the Cold War – and given what Donohoe has previously written about the Cold War era in his USSR diary (recommended reading) – he is saying that the West is playing a very dangerous game; it seems to me that his statement ‘who can blame [Israel]‘ is rather black irony, implying that the US is in danger of being culpable for such action. Certainly I don’t think he’s giving an endorsement to Israel to ‘have a go’.

    • Daniel Jaffe says:

      (Sorry – the quotation of Donohoe’s opaque sentence was made more opaque, ironically, by my failing to edit my own writing adequately before posting. It should have read: “Israel is surrounded by one aggressive country after another that is torn between its own government and the western democracies”. Anyway, that’s not the main point of my post though it does help explain why some of us have read Donohoe’s intentions differently.)

    • Ben Laude says:

      I am willing to give Mr. Donohoe the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is merely taking note of a complex and volatile international conflict. Nevertheless his observations about the region are marked from the beginning with pro-Israel bias, whether he is aware of it or not, with hackneyed comments like “Israel is surrounded by one aggressive country after another” (look at the last half-century of history and tell me who in the region is the biggest aggressor) and “Iran’s President wants to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the earth’” (actually a misquote referring to the STATE of Israel–not the people or the culture–disappearing over the course of time).

      I actually think a Cold War analogy is suitable in this case, but for different reasons. It was precisely the misinformation and propaganda the went under the heading ‘anti-Communism’ that led to so many Western-led atrocities in the Third World during the Cold War. The United States used the standoff with the Soviet Union as a pretext for expanding its global military and economic reach using a very similar kind of Manichean fear-mongering as Israel (with US support) uses today. Like the Cold War, the evil villain (Communists, now terrorists) are charged with proliferating violence around the world and threatening peaceful Western civilization, and also like the Cold War, the facts prove that it is precisely those civilized Western societies which are in fact inflicting the most pain and suffering while Communist/terrorist crimes hardly appear on the radar screen of global violence.

      It is unfortunate, but Western culture–especially the fine arts–has a legacy of participating in the exercise of imperialism and colonialism, adding a veneer of civilization to societies bent on barbarism. Israel is continuing this legacy today, and the civilized, tolerant face that Mr. Donohoe witnessed is part of a seductive culture committed to whitewashing war crimes and human rights abuses. Artists, particularly those of Western societies, have a special responsibility to oppose this pernicious co-opting of art and culture in the service of hegemony and state violence. I do hope Mr. Donohoe will engage seriously with the criticisms offered here in the comments, take a look at the serious scholarship on the history of the conflict (Ilan Pappe, Israeli historian now UK professor, not a bad place to start), and come to his own conclusions regarding these pressing issues.

      • Daniel Jaffe says:

        We’re in some danger of going off-topic, but Ben, with all due respect I have to pick you up on what seems to me a blatantly naive characterisation of “Communists”: whether we’re looking at Stalin’s war against the peasantry in the 1930s (resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, either through the direct action by the NKVD – arrest, shooting or sent to the gulag – or through the famine that resulted) and against the intelligentsia (which left nobody in scientific and artistic professions untouched with several thousands arrested, many of them shot within months of their arrest); or the brutal repression of dissidents under Brezhnev; or the cultural revolution in China. These crimes are well-documented. Please consider before throwing stones at people for ‘naivity’ the nature of those regimes you attempt to exonerate.

        • Ben Laude says:

          I never characterized ‘communists’ in my last comment, so I’m not sure how this nonexistent characterization of them could be construed as ‘naive.’ I characterized ‘anti-communism’, which was the dominant Western ideology underwriting a smorgasbord of wars, dictatorships, and military coups led by the United States in the Third World. In total, that suffering pales in comparison to Soviet aggression abroad (which hardly ventured beyond the Eastern Bloc) and even the many internal crimes of Communist countries which you mention. The fact that you are incapable of recognizing the atrocities perpetrated by Western democracies doesn’t mean that I am somehow guilty of ‘exonerating’ Communist regimes, a rather shameless piece of slander that is oh-so-common when the mirror is finally held up to the actions of our own governments.

          • “I characterized ‘anti-communism’, which was the dominant Western ideology underwriting a smorgasbord of wars, dictatorships, and military coups led by the United States in the Third World. In total, that suffering pales in comparison to Soviet aggression abroad (which hardly ventured beyond the Eastern Bloc) and even the many internal crimes of Communist countries which you mention.”

            That’s really too much. Have your heard of Che Guevara? What about Fidel? Maybe Ceausescu? What about Tito? Stasi? As for internal crimes, what about the millions that Mao or Stalin killed?

            I am from Latin America and I lived the military dictatorship there. While it was a nightmare, it was not even close to the hell in East Europe, Cuba, USSR and China.

            My point is that the cold war was bad for all the satellite countries. We had Mobuto protected by the West and Pol Pot by the East.

            You have a preconceived idea of history and dismiss any idea that doesn’t fit your ideology.

          • Daniel Jaffe says:

            Excuse me, Ben, but you wrote: “Communist/terrorist crimes hardly appear on the radar screen of global violence”. This seemed to me quite untrue (unless somehow we are discounting crimes committed within the USSR and Communist China’s borders and against their immediate neighbours – but in which case on what grounds are we getting upset over Israel’s actions?).

            On the other hand you now write that “that suffering pales in comparison to Soviet aggression abroad (which hardly ventured beyond the Eastern Bloc) and even the many internal crimes of Communist countries which you mention”. Maybe that’s a “slip of the pen”, given the general drift of this and your previous post, but if you really mean that the suffering inflicted by the Western world “pales in comparison to Soviet aggression” then, as I said, this seems quite different to what you were intimating earlier.

          • Ben Laude says:

            Daniel: Indeed, a slip of the pen, I was typing fast. Thanks for the catch. And as shocking and uncomfortable a proposition as it might seem, the facts are there if you’d really like to spend your time counting bodies. Please review the United States’ support for military dictatorships, coups, and proxy armies in Central and South America during the Cold War and the legacy of suffering that has resulted. Please review the United States’ imperial policies throughout the middle east during the same time and tell me that democracy and freedom were championed. Perhaps most egregiously, please review the millions who perished in Vietnam, and the hundreds of thousands who died in Laos and Cambodia, the hundreds of thousands disposed of by Suharto after the US-lead coup in Indonesia in the 60s, then the genocide that dictator committed in East Timor over the next 30 years, all with US backing. US violence and terror was global in its reach and far more consequential and deadly than the internal policies of the Soviet Union and China.

            Roberto, what country are you from in Latin America under military dictatorship? Are you really willing to compare the US-backed Salvadoran juntas from the 1980s with the Cuban state? Or what about the hundred thousand who died from political conflict in Guatemala in the decades following the US-backed coup there in 1954? Can you really seriously compare that with Che’s violence? Do you think Pinochet was less brutal than Fidel? As for Ceausescu, you know that the US supported him right to the end, right?

      • Roberto says:

        I would never recommend Ilan Pappe to beginners or to anyone. Benny Morris is a better choice. Assuming that Ben Laude believes in what he is writing, he is not being honest with himself.

        Singling out Israel as the great villain is a common perception but doesn’t correspond to the reality. While it is truth that the Palestinians have the lower hand, their leaders also share responsibility of the outcome. They are horrible negotiators and they will still legitimate concern in Israel if they want to live side by side with the Israeli State. I agree that the Israeli settlements is outrageous but that is not evidence of apartheid. There is racism inside Judaism, Islam, Palestine and between these different groups.

        • Ian Pace says:

          Benny Morris is a believer that whilst there definitely was ethnic cleansing involved in 1948-49, the worst thing is that the Israelis did not finish the job! To this day, he is an advocate of wholesale ‘transfer’ of a people, and as such belongs to the political far right. Ilan Pappe is a very good choice; so are Avi Shlaim, Norman Finkelstein, Baruch Kimmerling, or Tanya Reinhardt.

          • Roberto says:

            Benny Morris was the darling of the leftists until he said that what happened in the birth of Israel is the same process that happened in the birth of any country in the world.

            I hate Pappe, Finkelstein, Reinhardt. They are all Chmosky’s mouthpieces. They are all moved by hate.

            I like Avi Shlaim. I don’t know Kimmerling.

            I used to belong to the Jewish Voice for Peace in the San Francisco Bay Area. Until the last Lebanon war where the JVP (and me) were side by side with Palestinians sympathizers and those started to sing “Palestine from the land to the sea”. When JVP didn’t respond to that I left the organization and I changed my views.

            I leave you with the last word. This is a classical music blog.

    • Thank you Daniel. I do apologise for being unclear in my English writing, but of course I am not endorsing Israel’s right to have a go. God helps us if they do. Yes I do think the West is playing a dangerous game in the Middle East, and I believe the US’s human rights mandate for interference in the area has been to some degree a cover for extending its power.

  21. It is easy to call someone that is anti Israel an anti semite. Just as easy to call someone you disagree with a racist as Raymond Deane does about my statement that there are no seperate Palesinian people. Don’t debate the issue, shut it down by calling someone a racist. With regard to the 900,000 Jews expelled from Muslim countries, very few people know about it and it is never mentioned by the anti Israeli brigade, certainly never by the “Palestinians,” who would deny it, just as the Muslim countries deny it. Raymond then goes onto say “By all means give these Jews the right of return,” oh yea, that will happen won’t it. As to any country’s right to exist not being a given. Well OK then the only way Israel is going to exist is by force of arms and the “Right of Conquest.” Israel wants to exist as a Jewish state, what is wrong with that? Iran and so many other Muslim countries want to exist as an “Islamic” state. The difference is that Muslims and Christians are free to practice their religion in Israel. Try building a church in a Muslim country. As for a synagogue, in your fantasies. There are about 8 million Coptic Christians in Egypt. Hundreds are being killed yearly, who cares? I bet the anti Israeli brigade dont.. Nine terrorists killed on that silly little flotilla and that lot would have you believe it was the second holocaust.
    Daniel Jaffe says that thousands died under Stalin in his purges and famines. How about tens of millions. As Stalin once said, “One man’s death is a tradgedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” Ask the million plus Armenians murdered by the Turks in 1919 and they will confirm that. If there are any left.
    Yes the Palestinians have had a hard time and I am sure Israel is not blameless. So have lots of people had a hard time. Ask the 350,000 Greeks from Northern Cyprus expelled by the Turks in 1974. Who cares? Not the anti Israeli brigade.
    I will close by asking the question, “Why is Israel picked out for condemnation and why is she asked to have a much higher moral code than that demanded of her enemies.?” Makes you wonder where anti zionism stops and anti semitism starts.

    • I have the statement at the top “Your comment is awiting moderation.” I don’t understand that and I don’t want to change anythging.

    • Raymond Deane says:

      Paul – I didn’t call you a racist, I suggested that you were deploying a “racist discourse”. The difference may appear jesuitical, but I consider it to be real.
      However, a few of your points need to be dealt with. There is no such thing as a “right of conquest” – this is expressly excluded under international law – cf the preamble to UNSC 242.
      Whether I think it’s “likely” or not, the fact remains that I would welcome Jews being given the “right of return” to any country from which they have been expelled, including Poland, Germany, Lithuania. In fact I believe that every human being should have the right to live wherever they wish – this is not the same thing as asserting their right to sovereignty wherever they wish.
      Two wrongs don’t make a right. I don’t believe that Iran should be an “Islamic state” or Ireland a “Roman Catholic state” (it isn’t). Neither do I believe that Israel should be a “Jewish state” and would assert that it cannot simultaneously be a Jewish state and a democracy.
      A “higher moral code” is required of Israel because it demands to be seen as a “Western-style democracy” and to be evaluated on such terms, not by comparison with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain (interesting the way Israel’s advocates never mention those horrible dictatorships), Syria, Mubarak’s Egypt or Ben Ali’s Tunisia. It receives massive financial, political and diplomatic support from the USA and EU and is held up as a shining light; it receives trading privileges from the EU despite being in flagrant breach of the terms of the trading agreement in question; it receives more “aid” from the USA, despite being a 1st world country, than the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. If there is a double standard involving Israel, I fear it’s the opposite of the one claimed by its supporters.

  22. Ian Pace says:

    Paul, are you aware of the role of the Mossad in Baghdad in the 1950s, or of the Lavon Affair? The propaganda about many of the so-called expulsions does not hold up.

  23. Ian, I am not aware of the dark world of the spies. Who is? Every side plays that game. Maybe the propaganda about Mossad’s role is just that. I have spoken with people who were expelled. A knock on the door, one week to get out, businesses seized, houses seized and take what you can carry. At least most were allowed to leave. Without the state of Israel, where would these people have gone?

  24. Zoe Lawlor says:

    I went to South Africa during the apartheid regime, I didn’t really know much about it save a little information gleaned from unreliable media sources. While there I experienced a real welcome and had a wonderful time. The architecture of Sun City is very impressive and I flew home on an excellent airline, albeit with a dicky tummy.
    As I said, the situation with the apartheid thing and the bantustans is too complex for me to comment on but I got a real sense of the aggression surrounding this country. The neighbouring countries have been subject to occupation, colonialism and other such intervention by western powers and who’s to say whether that’s right or wrong, they are however very hostile to apartheid South Africa, resenting as they do its democratic nature.
    Indeed if it were to ‘have a go’ at any of them, could we blame it?
    Anyway the trip was a real eye opener and I hope to play there again, while non-politically commenting on the politics.
    Love Zoe
    PS I DECLARE that as a member of the human race I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and ‘agitate’ for their rights wherever and whenever I can – in this I am proud and privileged to work with Raymond Deane, another self-declared anti-apartheidist.

    • I’ve noted that you’re a committed ‘anti-apartheidist’ and I’m sure you would want to act against the black racist government of South Africa where white people are discriminated against on all levels. In particular white people are refused work if other applicants are Africans regardless of suitability. Asians say they are also discriminated against in a similar manner and are not included in the governments racist Africanisation programme. You might also like to voice your horror at white farmers being violently moved off their farms and in many cases murdered by African thugs. Alternatively you could turn your back on the ethnic cleansing of white people from southern Africa like our government, the anti-apartheid movement and the World Council of Churches who were so vocal when the promoters of apartheid were white.

  25. To call Israel an apartheid state is just so silly. Zoe, Raymond Deane and the rest of the anti Israel brigade, belong to the Joseph Goebells school of propaganda, tell a big lie often enough and it will become the “truth.” Apartheid means seperate development. If you want that have a look at so many of the countries of the Middle East. The women don’t have seperate development, they have virtually none. Girls not being allowed to go to school, in Saudia Arabia, women are not allowed to drive. The examples of seperate development of women are so numerous that I should not have to point this out. Misogyny is rampant and you being a woman Zoe should at least be aware of this. Read the Koran if you doubt the mysogyny of the Islamic creed. The foillowing verses are just two of many that prove this point.
    ” 2.223 Women are your fields; go then into your fields whence you please.
    4.34 Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As from those whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, forsake them in beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.”
    There are lots of other verses along similar lines. Now that is apartheid!
    In the Refugee Camps the Palestinians experience apartheid from their Muslim brothers. Not allowed to leave the camps, even after several generations, not allowed to join certain professions. These camps are kept there as a stick to beat Israel with. That is seperate development or apartheid, which is a word chosen for its immotional connotations. Israel has Arab members of parliament, and all citizens have full rights. All religions are free to practice their beliefs. This is not the case in so many of Israel’s neighbours. So please no more nonsense that Israel is an apartheid state.

    • Raymond Deane says:

      The crime of Apartheid is defined here: – and includes ‘“inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them”. It then lists the acts that fall within the ambit of the crime. These include murder, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary arrest of members of a racial group; deliberate imposition on a racial group of living conditions calculated to cause its physical destruction; legislative measures that discriminate in the political, social, economic and cultural fields; measures that divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate residential areas for racial groups…’
      Etc. etc. There is nothing here that is not applicable to Israel. The fact that other societies practise racial discrimination is a red herring – it is to be deplored and condemned in those cases also. Israel, however, continues to be held up as some kind of “villa in the jungle”, to use Barak’s disgusting phrase, and to be heaped with privileges and lauded as a centre of civilisation.
      Israel has de facto sovereignty over the West Bank and hence must be judged on the conditions it imposes on the West Bank (I’m not going to discuss the second-class citizenship it imposes on Palestinians within the Green Line, but to call it “full rights” is a fantasy). Those conditions amount to something worse than apartheid: the constitute a brutal military dictatorship, and the treatment of the Palestinians amounts to persecution in the fullest sense. For Paul, it appears, this occupation simply doesn’t exist – and this is not even to mention the illegal blockade of Gaza.

      • Folks,

        There is nothing that will cause Raymond Deane to change his mind. We are just wasting our time. You can read his views here:

        Let’s move on. I consider myself very balanced on this conflict. But when I read Mr. Deane’s positions (unfortunately there are quite a bunch like him), I feel like writing a check to Bibi. :-)

        • Raymond Deane says:

          Roberto – if you think you’re balanced, then unbalance must be a terrifying thing. Supremacist fantasies won’t make me change my mind – the only thing that will is the advent of justice for all in the Middle East, for too long the playground of unscrupulous European and American manipulators.

  26. Zoe Lawlor says:

    Nothing silly about calling Israel an apartheid state, it is one.
    Russell Tribunal findings below if you care to read them Paul.

    I. Apartheid

    The Tribunal finds that Israel subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalised regime of domination amounting to apartheid as defined under international law. This discriminatory regime manifests in varying intensity and forms against different categories of Palestinians depending on their location. The Palestinians living under colonial military rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are subject to a particularly aggravated form of apartheid. Palestinian citizens of Israel, while entitled to vote, are not part of the Jewish nation as defined by Israeli law and are therefore excluded from the benefits of Jewish nationality and subject to systematic discrimination across the broad spectrum of recognised human rights. Irrespective of such differences, the Tribunal concludes that Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid.

    • Good to see that Mr Deane has called in chorus from the Irish PSC. There is no novelty or reason in this statement, just a parroted reiteration of known PSC positions.

      • Raymond Deane says:

        “Known PSC positions” are positions that have been arrived at in discussion with partners from the Occupied Territories and from Israel itself – fortunately not all Israelis espouse the extreme, supremacist positions of their regime, or indeed of some of the people writing on this page. They are positions informed by international law, international humanitarian law, and universal principles of human rights as laid down in (e.g.) the UN charter. The Russell Tribunal similarly is made up of a variety of concerned individuals and organisations from all over the world, and works in the spirit of similar tribunals on Iraq and (the original one set up by Bertrand Russell himself, a man possessed of a certain degree of reason, and Jean Paul Sartre among others) Vietnam. Norman dismisses these positions as “without novelty or reason” – but there is no novelty in respect for human rights, and no reason in their selective dismissal.

    • Therefore Oakland is also an apartheid state (or city if you prefer). Have you been to West Oakland? I dare you put your feet there.

  27. Phil Hayward says:

    I am a piano tuner in the Hutt Valley, New Zealand. I have very warm memories of Peter Donohoe. Years ago, a concert venue here gave me my first ever engagement to do a tuning for a genuine top-level international concert artist; this was Peter Donohoe. Of course this was an anxious experience for me, my abilities were under scrutiny. Peter Donohoe could not have been more warm and generous towards me, putting me at ease, praising my work, and opening the way for further business for me from that and other venues. I have now accumulated a good track record of such work.

    I have every confidence in Peter Donohoe’s assessment of the situation in Israel and the region, and admire him for having gone there and having been prepared to say what he has above. Best wishes, Peter.

    • Dear Phil. Thank you for your comment. I remember very clearly meeting you and the job you made of the piano in preparation for the concert. Of course, the positive nature of our work together does not mean I am right about this very separate issue, but it is kind of you to be supportive. Best wishes P.

  28. I enjoyed Peter Donohoe’s impressions very much. They do not strike me as “Zionist” or “blatantly pro Israel” .
    They are impressions from his trip, he describes what HE actually sees and experiences and what he thinks about it. End of story.
    The conflicts in the Middle East are one of the most discussed topics one can think of,so no matter what and how he would have commented: he would have come under attack. Either from the Pro Israel or the Pro Palaestinian Lobby.
    One is either an Antisemite or a Zionist.
    Just one thought :
    can anybody name one country surrounding Israel where there is even remotely what we call freedom of speech or religion ? Or democracy ? In my view all I can see is corrupt dictatorships galore with more or less horrendous violations of human rights. And “freedom fighters” ( or shall we call a spade a spade: terrorists ) that target children at bus stops and civilians sitting in cafes have never convinced me of WHATEVER is their cause.

    • Hear hear Michael regarding what you say about freedom fighters. And thank you for pointing out that my writing was not blatantaly pro Israel or Zionist. What they were was pro the people I was working with, and a genuine response to what I saw in the part of Jerusalem that I visited. I must admit to a deliberate attempt to seem naive as well – just to provoke a reaction after such a dull response to earlier missives. It certainly worked, but the time has come to call a halt to it now – certainly on my part.

  29. William Safford says:

    Here’s my question for Peter Donohoe:

    How’s your stomach feeling now?

    A couple years ago, I contracted food poisoning. I was sick in bed for two weeks with high fevers and other unpleasant symptoms. I missed several rehearsals and performances.

    I hope you feel better.

    • Dear William, Thank you, the symptoms suddenly went away a couple of days after returning home and I am now back to normal. It was very unpleasant at the time, particularly on the day we visited Jerusalem, but it was obvioously not as serious as it felt.

  30. To blame Israel for all the problems in Palestine is ridiculous and a convenient excuse to hide the fact that despite being on handouts from the West totalling £billions for over 60-years, Palestinians are still living in poverty and are classified as refugees. To keep the aid flowing from the stupid West, Palestinians have to keep up the blame game which goes down so well with the activists we have seen vomiting their anti-Israeli bile on this thread. When will the Palestinians get off our backs and do something for themselves which other countries have managed to do without any aid at all?

  31. Paul Lanfear says:

    Sounds like Tommo is a real “pull-yourself-up-with-your-own-bootstraps” kinda guy….if by any chance he’s living in the US, let’s hope he’s got his health insurance covered…

  32. Well folks I guess we are just all like the Middle East, all talking past each other. Israel may have been created because of a guilt thing about the holocaust and this may or may not be a good thing. The point is she exists and the Jews are not going to their deaths quietly a second time. I think I will just have to say that we will have to just agree to disagree and it will all be sorted out on the battlefield, because given the intransience of the Muslims in general, that is where it is headed. Forget about Israel and its perceived persecution of the so called Palestinians. All manner of people have been and are, being persecuted, only the Palestinians seem to matter to the anti Israel brigade. This whole thing is cultural. Islam is a creed, or culture, based on the “literal word of God,” namely the Koran, handed down to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel through a series of revelations, or visitations. Now if you believe that then you have probably lost me. It is a religion based on the ramblings of a warrior prophet. It is all about conquest, not peace. I mean to say that Islam is a religion of peace is just risible!!! All around the world’s trouble spots, what is the common denominator, answer Islam. The Koran is tedious, repetitive and full of hate. Islam has one aim; the reestablishment of the Islamic caliphate that rules the world.
    OK, given that they believe this nonsense, then they are all duty bound to die for a world where Islam is the only religion. This is clearly stated in the Koran. As an aside, the Old Testament is also full of nonsense about slavery and stoning and other barbaric activities. The difference is that the Jews and Christians do not practice this nonsense, too many Muslims do!
    We are in the 1930s again. The brownshirts are now militant Islam and just like the 1930s where most Germans thought they were clowns and then gradually came around to their murderous viewpoint, the average Muslim is fast coming around to the idiot viewpoint of militant Islam. Witness the rise of the maniacs, the Muslim Brotherhood and please don’t try and tell me they have become secular and reasonable. They are murderous thugs and after they have gained power all the reason will disappear. Once again witness Iran. Until they seized power the Iranian thugs were all sweetness and light, now there is none of that nonsense, it is a gulag. Raymond Deane challenged me to mention the dictators of Saudi Arabia . They are the lowest of the low but does anyone criticise them. They are laughable, if it were not so tragic. No they are contemptible!
    Until Islam undergoes a renaissance and comes into the 21st century, rather than adhere to the ramblings of a 7th century warrior prophet, then we are predetermined to a path to a religious war. The last hope for Islam are the women but given the appeasement of western women like Zoe, and given the appeasement of the mainstream media, I hold out little hope.
    In summary Israel is dealing with people that are not prepared to compromise. Raymond Deane is, I am sure, a nice man, but he thinks that the world is a reasonable place where people can sit down and talk through their differences. Others, like the Israelis deal in the real world and until Islam changes and comes into the 21st Century we are all wasting our time and the path to a religious war is inevitable. I have picked my side and it is for freedom, liberty and rational thought, not religious tyranny.

    • Paul Lanfear says:

      This ignorance and arrogance astounds me. Do you realise that actually much of what we take for granted in our western culture had its origins in Muslim civilization as well as Judaism – mathematics, to name just one? Ironically we acquired all this by means of our own Holy War against the Islamic world.

      Our concept of personal freedom is a relatively recent acquisition and of course is still developing. How many centuries did it take for us to get to this point, considering the rapid development in trade, industry and the social structures that emerged as a consequence? Other cultures have had to adapt to European imperialism without the luxury of owning this legacy. When you say “until Islam changes and comes into the 21st Century” you mean of course OUR 21st Century. What gives you the right to dictate theirs?….and on their patch to boot!

      …and whilst we’re on the subject of religious nonsense, whereabouts on our compass of “freedom, liberty and rational thought” is the justification for deciding you have a divine right to forcibly remove people from the land they have been living on for generations in order to make way for a new set of people from outside simply on the grounds of their ethnic roots and a book written thousands of years ago?

  33. thekingontheviolin says:

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe once remarked when advice was sought on interfaith dialogue.
    “A dialogue is very rare and not to be confused with a double monlogue”
    Unfortunately what we have here is just that.
    I will make one observation regarding democracy as we know it in the U.K. The two principal parties canvass and put out propoganda. The voters vote and that is that. The system is far from perfect but the Brits have muddled through the last century with this system.
    Now by analogy the pianist Peter Donohoe after visiting Israel appears to have given it the thumbs up whereupon an outrageous campaign of vituperation has broken out. If Mr. Deane wishes to give the thumbs down that is his perogative. However, to canvass against and attack after the vote has been cast is antidemocratic! He is taking the rights of free speech to threaten anyone who disagrees with his position.

    Basically he is “sulking” and “taking his bat home” after losing one vote.

    Further more let us not forget the origin of the word Palestine. In hebrew we refer daily to a people known for their barbarity as “pleshtim” (same root) After the Romans threw out the jews of Judah at the beginning of the common era they renamed the area Philistia as an insult to the jews remaining there.The intent was to name the land Barborous Yobboland. In English we refer to uneducated and uncultured people as “philistines”

    Now the true sadness is that the arabs who claim this land as their own are shouting “We are Barbaric Yobbos and want to regain our beloved “yobboland”
    They have written poetry ,elegaic and weeping as “Yobbos for the return to Yobboland” Would they do that if they understood the meaning of the word?
    Why is this fact omitted from their education?
    Would anyone like to have a passport which states
    Nationality YOBBO

    I refrain from making religious or political statements in this column and praise Mr. Lebrecht for having the courage to risk publicising this inflammatory material. One could contemplate whether such freedom
    would be tolerated in any of the 22 Arab states in the world currently.

    My message to Mr. Deane is grow up and accept that some people will like Israel. Your inability to tolerate this
    has led you to resort to unacceptably childish vengeance dressed up in the rhetoric of pseudo sympathetic affection for the misperceived underdog. If you were interested genuinely in human rights why not for example pursue the hundreds of millions of U.S dollars for your beloved people stolen by Arafat and now residing in Swiss? banks controlled by his widow and arrange for the monies to be correctly distributed to the arab people for whom they were intended?

    • Paul Lanfear says:

      This thread has entered a very bizarre place from which there is no return….think it might be time to leave the room…

  34. As I thought might happen, this has topic has exploded; although, having said that, 90 comments has to be some kind of record…. Given that the only response in the form of a comment to page two of Israel Diaries was to a silly joke, I figured that to give a naïve response to my visit to Israel would provoke a storm, and indeed it has.

    I have indeed, as one or two people have suggested, done a little research on the recent history of Israel’s relationship with other Middle Eastern countries, but actually I already knew plenty about it, because, prior to visiting Israel I had some very stern ideas about its government policies, its relationship with the USA, and its racist stance. It is just that, for the purpose of relating my own experiences in Israel and regarding the people I met and worked with, those points of view were largely irrelevant.

    Of course Israel is in the wrong for refusing to admit Palestinians the right to live and work as equals in the country from which they were forcibly ejected. Of course Israel is operating what is effectively an apartheid state.

    It should first of all learn to define its own borders, which at present are ‘flexible’, it should apologise unreservedly to the Palestinians for the past [and on their part the Palestinians should accept Israelis' right to live amongst them, or at least, alongside them]. But they will not in a million years, which means that the whole situation will remain the complete mess that it has been since the country was formed – when Palestinians refused to have any truck with the idea of dividing the territory between them and the Jews coming from other parts of the world, and so ended up with nothing.

    I heard from a friend only yesterday that Golda Meir was quoted widely as asking ‘What is a Palestinian?’, when questioned about her view over what should be done on the issue. What an abysmal response from someone who represented people who had been through what they had at the hands of the Nazis! As my friend says, which one has more of a right to live in the area that is now Israel – a Palestinian or a Russian Jew?

    This will be the last I will write on this issue, as I haven’t enough time to go on about it any further. However, there are aspects to what I wrote that I did not make clear enough. It is also true that I am not in a position to authoritatively make political statements about Israel and the Middle East, as I do not know enough, so it is a fair point to make that I should not. Those issues deserve to be addressed now, and then I will move on.

    That writing as honestly as possible about having enjoyed working amongst and meeting ordinary people (not politicians or activists) should have provoked such a lot of idiotic grandstanding, and words like ‘sickening’,’deluded’, ‘propagandist’ and ‘smug’, and to find that my writing has provoked such of degree of insult hurling by one to another amazes me. That there are also some very reasonable people involved doesn’t alter the fact that there are some extremely unreasonable gobshites, and you know who you are.

    I do not pretend to have a fully formed opinion on Israel’s politicians and policies, which is why I did not mention them except in the most superficial way (and to gather some reaction) in the original articles. I know from my own very detailed and far more extensive experiences in the 1980s Soviet Union and pre-1997 South Africa that it is very unwise to accept the impressions one gets from the media, or from the mouths of people who have never visited the places they are seething with self-righteous indignation about.

    But, please – How have I “endorsed Israeli foreign policy”?

    “…..a justification for US and Western imperialism in the Middle East.”?….. “…. propagating the culture of the Western ruling classes”? It is long time since I encountered such concentrated tripe. These words remind me of the sort of crap comfortable middle-class pseudo left-wing students used to spout forty years ago, bringing good true socialist thinking into disrepute.

    My impressions were of Israel as a country and its culture and of the small number of people I met. If any of you have a much more expert view based on more research than I have, you should perhaps produce your own articles based on your experiences as you obviously feel that they are far greater than mine. I know that Zoe has written extensively as a founder member of IPSC, and I have read with interest what she has to say.

    Thank you to those of you who have attempted to make this mud-slinging into a fair exchange. I am also indebted to Wanderer for his view that neither side really wants peace. That has always seemed to me to have been a key feature in most conflicts – that to find a solution would disappoint certain groups, and would also of course bring careers to an end. Not only that, but the online (and other places) mouthers-off would be forced to seek other subjects to feel self-important about.

    That “the dispossession of Palestinians by means of the settlements is a well-documented fact” mentioned by Paul Lanfear is appalling and unacceptable – obviously. The Israelis I met were in hotel and restaurant management, taxi companies, concert audiences, orchestras and arts administration. As far as I know, none of them was responsible for the dispossession of Palestinians, any more than I was responsible for the sinking of the Belgrano. If they did support the dispossession of Palestinians, they did not say so. I did not encounter any politicians, members of the Israeli forces, or even policemen. Neither did I encounter one syllable of anti-Palestinian [or actually anti-anyone] sentiment. Again, I heard not a single – not one – word of aggression directed at or about Palestinians, Arabs, Christians or anyone else. I am not saying it doesn’t happen – it obviously does, like racism obviously occurs to a very large degree in the UK and many other places. I am saying that I didn’t come across it. Had I met Mr. Netanyahu, perhaps I would have – I wouldn’t know, but actually I doubt it. More likely, I would have encountered it in reverse had I visited the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

    Of course, a visiting artist – a guest – of any country is shown everything’s best side; contrary to some views, I am not naïve enough to imagine otherwise. I have many times worked in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe when it was dominated by the Soviets, China, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malaysia and been fed bullshit by the system every time. Learning to see through it and being able to take into account the good things about places like that is part of maturity, rather than washing your hands of them.

    However, when I was in Jordan, I encountered first hand absolute contempt for totally non-political Israelis, even between members of an orchestra. There was not even the slightest effort to hide it, as if they already understood my tacit support for it. If I were to mix and work with Palestinians, I am sure there would be a large majority who would be just as accepting of others, but there is a chance that not all of them would be – I am sure you will agree.

    As long ago as 1976, on a student visit to Hungary I encountered an Egyptian football team who began to beat me up, and were possibly on the verge of maiming me permanently or worse because they thought I was either Israeli or American – convincing them that I was English saved me from God knows what. As it was, even being English deserved being threatened with a bottle, dragged to the floor of the bar and kicked very hard by eleven extremely fit and strong Egyptians. That some of them were threatening my life on behalf of their Palestinian brothers, according to what they said, gave me to understand that not everyone’s anti-Israeli stance is borne of a desire to make peace.

    Some years ago, a friend of mine was foolish enough to walk off on his own into the suburbs of Tangiers, where there were several posters of Saddam on lampposts and other demonstrations of support for the Iraq regime. He was spat at and yelled at for being a Jew (he isn’t by the way – just English). I felt at the time rather strongly that he was lucky to get back. Before my throat is jumped down again, I realise that it is a separate issue from the Palestinian one; it is just that it appears that Moroccan and Egyptian thugs do not bother to differentiate either.

    Regarding the call for artists to boycott Israel for its alleged flouting of human rights: Yes we could do that.

    Whilst are about it, I could have refused invitations to play in the Soviet Union during the 1980s because of the invasion of Afghanistan, the shooting down of a Korean airliner in 1983, the treatment of Jews within the USSR and many other things.

    Perhaps I should have refused to play in China during the 1990s because of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the way the Chinese government victimises Tibetans and Falun Gong and many other human rights abuses.

    I should have refused to play in the USA because of Guantanamo, and prior to that what they did in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chile, Nicaragua, Belize, Vietnam, Korea, etc. etc. etc. – the list goes on in the case of the US.

    I should have boycotted Japan for refusing to apologise for its unbelievable atrocities during World War 2 (for which Germany has openly apologised to the world, whereas Japan did not until recently).

    What about modern Russia’s crackdown on the Georgians over South Ossetia or for that matter Georgia’s original attack on Russia that provoked the crackdown?

    Let’s include Zimbabwe as a country we should refuse to play in, on the basis that Mugabe’s government is one of the most atrocious aberrations in recent history and is destroying its own population.

    In fact I should probably have turned down dates in the UK for our own attacks on Argentina over the Falklands, and of course in Argentina for attacking in the first place.

    Is it OK to accept dates in Scandinavia? I cannot think of anything the governments have done to deserve a boycott offhand, although I am sure there is something is we search hard enough. Perhaps whaling?

    I must admit that I very much liked Zoe’s parody of my supposed ‘I’m all right, Jack’ attitude towards Israel by comparing it to one that a similarly complacent person might have had to pre-1997 South Africa. Really very clever. However, as it happens I did play in South Africa in the 1980s, for which I was treated like a leper by Amnesty International and others. It occurred during May of 1985, and led to my being shit-listed by A.I. on the basis that I had played to audiences into which black people were not allowed. In fact I played to audiences that were far and away dominated by a majority of black people – so much for the research. My being blacklisted (an unfortunate term used by several people in relation to South Africa) led to my being banned from setting foot in at least two major concert halls in the UK until long after the release of Nelson Mandela.

    It is my sincere view that my extremely critical interviews whilst in South Africa did far more to let white South Africans know what we in the UK felt about their dreadful Apartheid policies than refusing to go could ever have done – all that would have done would have been to deprive those of all races from attending the concerts, and getting their backs up against the British and concentrating their minds on British hypocrisy. No doubt if online arts magazines had existed, I would have been accused of sickening naiveté then as well. As it was, all I had to put up with was being banned from Newcastle City Hall (the attempt by Liverpool City Council didn’t work as the orchestra owns the hall rather than the city) for thirteen years, and some hate mail in the post. I can only presume that Ken Livingstone – whom I really admire in so many ways – would have dismissed me as a traitor to the cause of trying to force South Africa into abandoning its system. I totally supported the cause – I just didn’t agree with the way we tried to put it into action.

    I guess Zoe genuinely believes that I should absolutely not have accepted the invitation to South Africa in 1985 or my recent one to Israel. The point is respected, but where do you draw the line? Every country in the world has a government that behaves unacceptably towards someone sooner or later. If there was any chance at all that other country’s governments, industry, the banks and others with far more genuine power than a bunch of performing musicians and sportspeople would follow our lead, it might make a difference. But have they shown their willingness to do that? No. Where there is money involved forget it and leave it to a few classical musicians to force the issue. In my view going did far more good than not doing. No one was ever in doubt at my feelings about what all the above-mentioned countries did, because whenever I got the chance I revealed them on their media.

    Thus, I was never prepared to boycott any country, and it is not going to change – this on the basis that it simply doesn’t work, and also on the basis that most of those exhorting us to impose a boycott did not know what they were talking about. Does anyone really believe that South Africa changed because of the cultural boycott? I believe absolutely not – we may even have delayed it. It changed because people in that country began to see how wrong they were to perpetuate an unequal system that was brutally upheld by a particularly nasty police and security services. Those in government changed their stance, and black majority rule came about because everyone there realised it was the right thing to do, not because the Springboks were shunned or a few musicians wouldn’t go and play.

    My appearance on Amnesty International’s list of traitors was on the basis that by playing in South Africa I had made a political statement supporting the South African Government’s Apartheid policy. No; I didn’t. I gave several TV and press interviews whilst I was there in which I told them that our view in the UK was that their system stank.

    Did I support the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by attending the Tchaikovsky Competition three years later? No; I didn’t. I let the KGB ‘interpreter’ who accompanied me everywhere know that I thought the invasion was stupidity of the highest order and was likely to turn into the Soviet equivalent of the US’s Vietnam. I also told various ‘interpreters’ that I deemed Russian attitudes to Jews, Muslims and even the people of Eastern European satellite countries as racist. Rest assured that these opinions went into my KGB dossier, which they would not have done if I had taken the cowardly way out and refused to go.

    Nor did I support the USA’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or its treatment of political prisoners in Guantanamo by agreeing to perform in Philadelphia, Raleigh and Dallas in recent years. I have very serious suspicions of US motives in many areas, not least their inaction (and ours) with regard to the atrocious policies of the government of Zimbabwe and what appears to be a desperate plight for most of the population. So, again – no; I didn’t.

    It is true that Israel effectively provides the US with a gateway to extending its power in the Middle East. It makes the morality of Israel’s position very questionable. But the people I played for were not, as far as I could tell, anything to do with government policy. They were simply trying to make a living through the performing arts.

    I sincerely hope that when foreign people meet me, they don’t hold me responsible for my government’s policies re the Iraq War, the banks, education, the NHS or immigration. And actually, I don’t think they do. If they did, I would walk away from them. The vast majority of thinking people know that politicians do not necessarily represent the general views of the populace – democracy or otherwise. Why would that be any different in Israel?

    I don’t expect much in the way of answers to this, but if they come, sadly, they will henceforth go unanswered – at least by me. To describe another’s point of view that you don’t agree with as ‘propaganda’ is as easy and unthinking as it was to describe me as ‘racist’ because I objected to the night-time barking of a dog that happened to be owned by a Pakistani. Grow up.

    By the way, for Norman Lebrecht to be described as a ‘known propagandist for that state [Israel]’ by the former chairman of the IPSC is a bit rich. For the record, however, I don’t think it is being associated with a political pressure group that makes others put up the shutters; it is much more the choice of insulting and offensive language that makes us do that. So here are the shutters going up.

    • Raymond Deane says:

      I had decided that, come what might, my last contribution to this discussion on 1st August would be my last contribution, full stop. However, Peter Donohue’s “final word” makes it regrettably impossible to stick with this resolution.

      It now turns out that he actually knew all along what kind of state Israel is. In this case, I must absolve Norman Lebrecht of the charge of having exploited an “innocent abroad” for propaganda purposes.
      Incidentally, I stand by my description of Norman as a propagandist. PD thinks this is “rich” coming from someone Norman calls an “agitator” (i.e. a human rights advocate), and presumably regards me as merely a “propagandist for the other side” – this is likely, given that even while admitting the crimes Israel has committed against the Palestinians he nonetheless sees some kind of equivalence between the two sides, as if the rapist and the rapist’s prey were to be held to the same (low) standards. However, propaganda is a state mechanism (hasbara, in this context), so counter-propaganda is what people like myself and my friend and colleague Zoe engage in (as do a growing number of Israeli, American and indeed German Jews, as well as Palestinians like Omar Barghouti, etc. etc.).

      A few examples of the fallacious “equivalence” I mentioned. “I would have encountered [racism] in reverse had I visited the West Bank or East Jerusalem.” You would certainly have encountered bitterness against the belligerent occupiers and colonisers of Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territory – this is not the same thing. “Palestinians should accept Israelis’ right to live amongst them…” They have ALWAYS acccepted this right – they merely reject Israelis’ right to occupy and colonise them. “Palestinians refused to have any truck with the idea of dividing the territory…” – because they already lived alongside Jews and had done so for centuries, but rejected the sudden imposition of Jewish sovereignty over 55% of their country, including its only deep sea port. “Neither side really wants peace” – even if this were true it would not absolve the aggressor nor mitigate the requirement for the aggressor to end its occupation and colonisation practices. However, it’s not true: the Israelis want peace, as long as it entails their hanging on to their conquests; the Palestinians want peace, but are not prepared to accept second-class citizenship, and the ongoing colonisation of their lands: in short, they want a JUST peace, which is the only real peace.

      PD claims he “did not encounter any member of the Israeli forces” – but it’s unlikely he met anybody who wasn’t at one time or another a member of those forces, given Israel’s conscription requirement.

      He repeats the usual listing of all the things one might boycott were one to accept the principle of boycott (and I’m proud to say that principle was developed here in Ireland by Charles Stewart Parnell in the 19th century): but in none of these cases is there an explicit call from the oppressed for a cultural boycott. The boycott, as Mandela says, is a tactic and not a principle and there are many cases where it’s pointless: the USA and UK are not amenable to boycott campaigns that would have any chance of success – whereas Israel IS, hence the frenzy with which it campaigns against the cultural boycott in particular.

      PD claims that he did NOT make “a political statement supporting the South African Government’s Apartheid policy” when he broke the boycott there: but he DID make such a statement implicitly, because he deliberately ignored the call for a boycott from the ANC, thus in practice belittling the representatives of the oppressed black population. There is no Palestinian ANC, but there is an extremely politicised civil society in Palestine, and its representatives HAVE called for a cultural boycott. Just as PD’s belief that his “extremely critical interviews whilst in South Africa” were more effective than the ANC boycott, he also believes that he “knows better” than Palestinians what’s good for them – an inherently colonialist position.

      “Every country in the world has a government that behaves unacceptably towards someone sooner or later” – but the state of Israel is behaving unacceptably towards the Palestinians NOW, with the complicity of the West, and, I fear, with the complicity of Peter Donohue.

  35. Paul Lanfear says much of our culture owes its origins to Muslim civilization, including mathematics. So what? This is clutching at straws. I am sure people added up things and were able to build things using algebra, trigonometry etc. long before Mohammed came along. By the way algebra was “invented” in ancient Babylon, again long before the warrior prophet. We are talking about now! If the Islamic culture was so enlightened as Paul Lanfear says, why have they lost their way? We now have about 14 million Jews in the world and 130 people of Jewish heritage have won Nobel prizes. There are 1.4 billion Muslims (100 times as many for the mathematically challenged) and they have won 7 Nobel prizes. And before my critics claim this is racist I point out that the Jews and the other peoples of the Middle East are pretty similar race wise. No it is cultural, culture is everything. One embraces scholarship, one appears not to. They have lost their way because they follow a creed that is backward looking to the 7th Century and has really no place in the 20th Century. The 20th Century is everyone’s century, it does not belong to anyone. Most other ancient cultures have embraced the 20th century and its comparatively enlightened viewpoints. For example the Chinese and Indians. Islam has not, at least in the Middle East and Western Asia.
    Paul Lanfear also goes on about holy war against the Islamic world? Well that was as a result of a previous holy war carried out by Mohammed and his followers over all of the Middle East and beyond. Egypt was largely Christian before being conquered. Constantinople was Christian from hundreds of years prior to Islam and right up until 1492 before being conquered and thousands of its inhabitants put to the sword. Was this not a holy war and what makes one OK and one not? If Muslims blame their relative failures on the so called crusades, they really should get a life. They just have to change their culture and come into the 20th Century. If the West continues to appease militant Islam we will get to the same result as appeasing Hitler.
    Yes the so called Palestinians have been displaced, mostly as a result of their own making since they and their brothers in Egypt, Syria and Jordan, tried to drive the Jews into the sea (read kill). They lost, thankfully. If they ever do win a war against Israel we all know the result. If you doubt that every Jew will be killed, have a look at what is happening in Syria and that is against their own people.
    I ask again, why do the anti Israel brigade only worry about the displacement of the Palestinians? Why not complain about the following:
    Turkeys occupation and expulsion of 350,000 Greeks from Cyprus.
    Russias occupation of Eastern Poland, parts of Finland and the Japanese islands.
    Polands occupation of east Prussia and the expulsion of 4 million Germans.
    The butchery of South Darfor, South Sudan, Rwanda.
    The list is endless. Why is Israel the only nation picked on? The learned contribution from thekingontheviolin, above, wisely said on interfaith dialogue.
    “A dialogue is very rare and not to be confused with a double monologue.” S/he goes onto say, Unfortunately what we have here is just that. I am guilty of being on one side of that but I am sick of the lack of balance when it comes to matters concerning Israel. I have asked before, when does anti Zionism stop and anti Semitism start? A religious war is inevitable unless we agree to appease tyranny. Damned if I am going to. Likewise it may be time for me to leave the room.

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