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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 1996, pgs. 18, 93
Like Father, Like Son: A Tribute to Moshe and Yehudi Menuhin
by Grace Halsell
Moshe Menuhin, one of the early anti-Zionists, once wrote to me, “Jews should be Jews—not Nazis.” He was speaking of the Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
Undoubtedly Moshe Menuhin, with whom I corresponded over a 12-year period until his death in 1983, would be pleased to know that his son, the famed violinist, has the same fortitude in speaking out against Zionism. And indeed, Yehudi Menuhin has, to my mind, shown even greater courage than his father. In this era, Zionism is infinitely stronger and more dangerous than when Moshe Menuhin spoke out. And also the father was one of several great liberal philosophical anti-Zionist Jews warning against Zionism. But Yehudi Menuhin stands virtually alone in his anti-Zionist stance, and this is certainly true in his field of music.
In 1971, I had the opportunity of visiting with Yehudi Menuhin after a concert he gave with the Detroit symphony orchestra. I went backstage with a friend, Mrs. Dorothy Johnson, a wealthy, influential woman who supported the arts, especially the Detroit symphony. She personally knew Yehudi Menuhin and his wife Diana, formerly a British actress and ballet dancer. Both Menuhin and his wife were warm and gracious, with Diana being more talkative. Tall and attractive, she was outspoken and frank regarding the power of the Zionists to diminish the number of concerts her husband might give. Diana Menuhin said after it became known that Yehudi Menuhin felt there were two sides to the Middle East conflict, and especially after he gave a concert to aid Palestinian orphans, that his bookings dropped dramatically.
Back then, I found it difficult to comprehend that anyone would cancel a performance of perhaps the greatest living violinist because of his not giving Israel his blind, total support. Now, however, a quarter of a century later, I reflect that in the ensuing years I have not personally seen Menuhin’s name listed as soloist at any U.S. concert hall.
Menuhin, a native of New York, moved to England, becoming a British citizen in 1985. And the British made him “Lord” Menuhin. He has a school for musicians in England and an academy in Switzerland for talented young musicians, whom he often conducts, and has helped found a series of musical festivals. He holds the Nehru Peace Prize and is goodwill ambassador for UNESCO.
Yehudi Menuhin was born in 1916 of Russian-Jewish parents who had emigrated separately by way of Palestine. Seeing with alarm the rise of a militant Zionism, Moshe Menuhin voiced the sentiments of such Jews as Martin Buber, Judah L. Magnes, Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, all of whom identified themselves not as Zionists but as Jews of Judaism.
Moshe Menuhin sounded several themes that his son has consistently endorsed:
”¢Justice for the Arabs. “The education of prophetic Judaism that I got from my grandfather,” Moshe Menuhin said, “did not allow me to become an Arab hater. The Jews and Arabs can and should become good neighbors and collaborate jointly in every sense. And as the Arabs gain their political state and freedom (in Palestine), and as the world concentrates more and more on peace, justice and mutual aid, the border lines will stop having any significance.”
Yehudi Menuhin was following in his father’s footsteps when, addressing the Israel Knesset on the occasion of receiving Israel’s highest honor for his accomplishments as a musician, he said in 1991: “You must love if you yearn to be loved; you must trust to be trusted, serve in return to be served” (see July 1991 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,, p. 39). He added that whether Palestinians had a separate state or joined with Israelis in a federated state, one thing was certain: between Palestinians and Israelis, “there must be absolute reciprocity, absolute equality.”
”¢No exclusivity: Early on, Moshe Menuhin spoke against the idea of Jews claiming Jerusalem as an exclusively Jewish city: “World Jewry never needed Jerusalem for their spiritual lives.” For 2,000 years, the father pointed out, “it was the diaspora that gave spiritual assets to those few Jews who lived peacefully with the Arabs in Arab Palestine. With the coming of the new world order of a civilized nature, such claims of influence, spiritual centers, are archaic and out of date. The best of all nations and races belongs to all humanity, and the negative phases evolution will discard as ”˜spiritual’ garbage.”
In a 1996 interview, Yehudi Menuhin again echoed his father’s sentiments: “The idea of Jerusalem as an exclusive Jewish city is unthinkable because too many different groups owe it their allegiance, religiously and politically, and everyone who has tried to make Jerusalem into their own has been ruined.”
Moshe Menuhin said he left Israel because he saw the Zionists were worshiping not God but their own power. And once in America, he said Jews in this country should first of all be Americans—not giving their first loyalty to a foreign land. He was hopeful this would come to pass.
In an interview earlier this year, Yehudi Menuhin told a Reuters reporter he was saddened by renewed fighting in the Middle East, “because Israel needs friends and the reaction to the present unleashing of indiscriminate killing is not going to win Israel any friends.”
In a beautifully written autobiography, Unfinished Journey, Yehudi Menuhin tells of how he began playing the violin when he was four. The reader can picture a little boy in knee-pants having the confidence to present himself before distinguished musicians and announce that they should give him an audience. He made his debut at the age of seven. By the time he was 13, he had performed in Paris, London, New York and Berlin. In Berlin, his performance was hailed by physicist Albert Einstein.
Reuters’ reporter Roger Jeal in London wrote that Yehudi Menuhin was probably the world’s highest paid musician “before he extended his range to conducting and teaching.” One might wonder if the change in what he was paid—and how many concerts he played—did not come about because he increasingly played his violin and spoke on behalf of greater understanding and justice—not just for Jews—but for all of humankind as well.
Earlier this year Yehudi Menuhin turned 80. I salute him as one of my great heroes. And it seems to me that father Moshe Menuhim would be most proud of this son.