From Wagner to Zilber – Dikla Rivlin-Katz

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Some eighty years ago this discourse arose about whether an artist’s creation stands on its own without reference to the beliefs of the artist – with the refusal of the Israeli Philharmonic to play the compositions of Richard Wagner.

On 12th November 1938 the Philharmonic Orchestra had planned to perform “Lohengrin”. Since Kristallnacht had taken place only three days previously, the conductor Eugene Shenkar decided not to play Wagner. This was not an official or institutional decision: Just the gut feeling of the conductor and the fellow members of the orchestra about the connection between Wagner and the Nazi Party. There were no anti-Semitic lyrics, or anti-Jewish names of the works. The Philharmonic decided not to play the works because of their human connection. Since then the Israeli Philharmonic has never played Wagner in a publicized event.

At present court proceedings are being held against Israeli crooner Eyal Golan, accused of exploiting his standing to have sex with young girls. As a result the next season of a very successful TV reality show featuring Golan has been cancelled, as have many of his performances around Israel. A comparable issue arose with the open letter of Dylan Farrow about Woody Allen. After accusing Allen of sexually abusing her as a child, she concluded with a question: Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

If these artists are found guilty I shall do all I can never to hear or play their creations again.

I shall let the courts decide whether it happened or not, and whether or not Eyal Golan is guilty of what he is accused. But what is clear is that if these artists are found guilty I shall do all I can never to hear or play their creations again.

Every time an Eyal Golan song is played on the radio, or Woody Allen film screened publically, acceptance and support – direct and indirect – is given to the artist. We talk all the time of making our society more moral, more just. How can we do that if we do not condemn those who operate against our most basic social values? I believe that as a society we are obligated to support those who operate morally, and to condemn those that do not. Not only so as to prevent this person from continuing such behavior, but also so as to send a message to society as a whole.

A person’s creation cannot be detached from the context in which it was created. The creation casts light on the person who created it, and the artist casts light on their creation. (Or in this instance, casts a shadow.) The two are connected in such a way as to make their detachment one from the other impossible. When we go to see a Woody Allen film, we think about Woody Allen, talk about Woody Allen, and often watch Woody Allen himself. The Israeli Philharmonic chose not to play the creation of Wagner, not because of what it “said”, but because of who said it.

When ACUM gave its prize to Ariel Zilber, it made a moral choice. There is moral significance to presenting a prize for “Life’s Work”, and presenting this person as a prize role model. Yet Zilber himself insisted in his speech that the artist should not be separated from his art. Further: who the artist is, influences the art; and the art is never presented on its own – but in the artist’s name.

I am a very committed Liberal. But to be a Liberal does not mean that I must accept everything that happens in my surroundings. Quite the opposite. I have an obligation to maintain an environment that allows for a liberal existence. And the only way I know how to do this is to exclude those who attempt to damage this freedom by injuring others physically or verbally.

Artists need an audience for their work, and to choose to not buy their art is to choose to not support the values they bring into the public realm.

Ariel Zilber is only one of the people I choose to not support, by not buying the art they create.


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