The anti-Semitism in the cultural sector

The following text on anti-Semitism in the cultural sector was published under the title „Nach dem 7. Oktober 2023“ in the February 2024 issue of the Schweizer Musikzeitung (SMZ).

Political topics in a music magazine should be avoided, as they only cause controversy and distract from the music. This one is an exception – well justified, in my opinion, because it deals with an event that touches on the core of our cultural understanding: the Hamas pogrom of October 7, 2023, with over 1200 victims and our reactions to it.

These reactions may differ greatly, and of course everyone is free to choose which side they want to take: that of the massacred and tortured Israelis or that of the Palestinians, who are now suffering the warlike consequences of the massacre.

But what leaves us speechless is that many Western cultural figures and intellectuals reacted to the unimaginable cruelty with which the terrorist group has demonstrated its declared intention to wipe out the state of Israel with scandalous relativization and even applause. Unlike in the case of Ukraine, they showed empathy for the attackers – according to the maxims of fashionable anti-colonialism and the old motto: „It’s the Jews‘ own fault.“

Anti-Semitism is hip again, bewailed a Berlin critic on Facebook. And the pianist Igor Levit, who until then had felt right at home in the progressive camp, had a rude awakening. He told Die Zeit that he had lost his basic trust in Germany: „Don’t you realize that it is aimed at you as well? ‚Death to the Jews‘ means ‚death to democracy‘.“

However, it is not just about the relatively new achievement of democracy. The fact that the Jews – this little group of numbering perhaps fourteen million and scattered all over the world, were able to preserve their identity against all persecution by Babylonians, Egyptians, Romans, Christians and, most recently, Germans, to found their own state 76 years ago, in the place of their origin, and to produce 205 Nobel Prize winners along the way – is a thorn in the side of many. They survived thanks to their intelligence and faith trained in the scriptures. And their culture, alongside the Greek heritage, became a building block of ours. This ranges from monotheism and the Ten Commandments to Christianity, founded by the Jewish dissident Jesus.

The Jewish influence cannot be overlooked in the history of music either. A few examples: the early Christian Psalms and the Westminster Psalter from around 1200, the Lamentations of Jeremiah from Orlando di Lasso to Krenek and Stravinsky, Handel’s Old Testament oratorios, various operas, the works of Mendelssohn or Mahler and Le roi David by Arthur Honegger. And of course, Harpo Marx.

Against this background, „Death to the Jews“ also means death to European culture. Do we want to let that happen?

Max Nyffeler

(transl. Ralph Locke and Jürgen Thym)

Deutsche Fassung

Ein Gedanke zu „The anti-Semitism in the cultural sector“

  1. I agree and thank you for saying this though I am perplexed that we ended up in a situation in which things like that need to be said.

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