The founding fathers of the State of Israel considered the principle of equality and the pursuit of peace as the bedrock of the society they were building. What happened?
In 2004 I gave a speech at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, in which I spoke about the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel. I called it “a source of inspiration to believe in ideals that transformed us from Jews to Israelis.”
I went on to say that, “this remarkable document expressed the commitment: “The State of Israel will devote itself to the development of this country for the benefit of all its people; it will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace, guided by the visions of the prophets of Israel; it will grant full equal, social and political rights to all its citizens regardless of differences of religious faith, race or sex; it will ensure freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.””
The founding fathers of the State of Israel who signed the Declaration considered the principle of equality as the bedrock of the society they were building. They also committed themselves, and us, “to pursue peace and good relations with all neighboring states and people.”
70 years later, the Israeli government has just passed a new law thatreplaces the principle of equalityand universal values with nationalism and racism.
It fills me with deep sorrow that I must today ask the very same questions which I asked 14 years ago when addressing the Knesset: Can we ignore the intolerable gap between what the Declaration of Independence promised and what was fulfilled, the gap between the idea and the realities of Israel?
Does the condition of occupation and domination over another people fit the Declaration of Independence? Is there any sense in the independence of one at the expense of the fundamental rights of the other?
Can the Jewish people whose history is a record of continued suffering and relentless persecution, allow themselves to be indifferent to the rights and suffering of a neighboring people?
Can the State of Israel allow itself an unrealistic dream of an ideological end to the conflict instead of pursuing a pragmatic, humanitarian one based on social justice?
14 years later, I still believe that despite all the objective and subjective difficulties, the future of Israel and its position in the family of enlightened nations will depend on our ability to realize the promise of the founding fathers as they canonized it in the Declaration of Independence.
Yet, nothing has really changed since 2004. Instead, we now have a law that confirms the Arab population as second-class citizens. It therefore is a very clear form of apartheid.
I don’t think the Jewish people survived for 20 centuries, mostly through persecution and enduring endless cruelties, on order to now become the oppressors, inflicting cruelty on others. This new law does exactly that.
That is why I am ashamed of being an Israeli today.
Daniel Barenboim is general music director of La Scala, the Berlin State Opera and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Together with the late Edward Said he co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a Seville-based orchestra of young Arab and Israeli musicians.