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Friday, 27 October, 2000, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Israeli orchestra breaks Wagner taboo

The first Israeli performance of a work by Richard Wagner has triggered protests from Holocaust survivors and others who say the German composer promoted anti-Semitism.

The Rishon Lezion Symphony Orchestra went ahead with the performance of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll on Friday only after obtaining approval from the Supreme Court.

Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre said the concert had "upset many people" in Israel, where Wagner's music has been taboo for years.

"Wagner does not deserve to be played here by a publicly-funded orchestra," he told BBC News Online from Jerusalem.

'Inspiration for Nazis'

He said Wagner had "provided the anti-Semitic inspiration for the Nazis". Adolf Hitler was a great admirer of Wagner, and the composer's music was played at Nazi rallies.

About 50 people - fewer than expected - demonstrated outside the concert hall in Rishon Lezion. They included survivors of the Nazi death camps and youth activists.

The very fact that the concert was held is insulting to Holocaust survivors

Efraim Zuroff

Shevach Weiss, head of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, said he was "appalled" by the decision to perform Wagner's music.

But Israeli Supreme Court Judge Jacob Turkel on Thursday rejected an appeal by Holocaust survivors and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre against the performance.

Mr Zuroff charged that the Rishon Lezion Orchestra Symphony Orchestra performed Wagner "because it wanted publicity".

"The very fact that the concert was held is insulting to Holocaust survivors. It is a shame for the state of Israel," he said.

Freedom of expression

According to Judy Lash Balint, an independent Israeli journalist, some Holocaust survivors said the decision to perform Wagner in Israel was a positive step.

The orchestra argued that playing the German composers was a matter of freedom of expression.

Orchestra director Ehud Gross said that more than 50 years since the end of the Nazi regime, "it is time to introduce this music to the public".

Gross said the Siegfried Idyll was written by Wagner as a love offering to his wife Cosima to mark the birth of their son Siegfried.

Israel is home to some 300,000 survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, and on one day every year the country comes to a standstill as a siren wails in remembrance of the Nazis' victims.

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