BBC WS radio’s Newshour invents an Israeli ‘ban’

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on September 2nd heard presenter James Coomarasamy introduce an item (from 18:56 here) as follows:

Coomarasamy: “When a classical music radio station plays the music of Richard Wagner it’s not usually a problem – unless, that is, the radio station is in Israel where Wagner’s music is banned from broadcast or being played in public because of the composer’s links to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. On Friday night a programme on Israel public radio broke that boycott, playing part of Wagner’s Goetterdaemmerung opera and the complaints inevitably flooded in. Israel public radio has now apologised and said that it won’t happen again.” [emphasis added]

That highlighted claim from Coomarasamy is inaccurate: there is no ‘ban’ on playing Wagner’s music in public in Israel.

In 1938 the Palestinian Symphonic Orchestra (which later became the Israel Philharmonic) decided to exclude Wagner’s works from its repertoire following the Kristallnacht pogroms. That evolved into a long-standing and broad consensus that public performances of the composer’s music would offend many members of the public – especially Holocaust survivors – and so radio stations and orchestras generally refrain from playing Wagner’s works.

In the rest of the programme’s coverage of that story listeners heard one perspective: that of the founder (in 2010) of a group called the ‘Israel Wagner Society’.

The same Jonathan Livny was quoted in a BBC News website report on the same story which appeared on September 3rd under the headline “Israel public radio apologises for playing Richard Wagner music“. That article, however, managed to present the story to audiences accurately:

“In its apology, the broadcaster said the editor had erred in his “artistic choice” and Wagner would not be played.

The Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation added that it recognised the pain such a broadcast would cause among Holocaust survivors. […]

Wagner’s music is not banned in Israel but is not played due to widespread public opposition.”

Oddly, the same minor domestic Israeli story was also featured (from 2:06:33 here) in a news bulletin aired in the September 3rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In contrast to the BBC World Service, reporter Steve Jackson managed to accurately describe a “long-standing convention that his [Wagner’s] music is not played in Israel”.

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