Conductor stirs anti-Semitism controversy at Columbia

new york | It’s not often that someone compares the anti-Semitic German composer Richard Wagner to Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism.

But at Columbia University on Jan. 28 — the day the United Nations marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — the Argentine Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim reportedly did just that.

Barenboim, who sparked outrage several years ago by performing Richard Wagner’s music in Israel, where it was taboo to play the work of Hitler’s favorite composer, excoriated the Jewish state at a memorial lecture for his late friend Edward Said, the Columbia professor who was a member of the Palestine National Council.

According to news reports and comments from audience members, Barenboim compared Herzl’s ideas to Wagner’s; criticized Palestinian terrorist attacks but also justified them; and said Israeli actions contributed to the rise of international anti-Semitism.

The lecture is emblematic of an escalating crisis embroiling Columbia, where faculty members in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures departments have been accused of intimidation by pro-Israel students.

In October 2004, the David Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group, screened a documentary called “Columbia Unbecoming,” airing claims that faculty members harass students who don’t share their anti-Israel views.