Citing Gaza war, German choir drops performance of Handel’s ‘Israel in Egypt’

The government-sponsored group does not consider it ‘appropriate’ during the war in Gaza to depict ‘an all-conquering power,’ it said on Facebook.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A government-sponsored German choir has dropped its traditional opening performance of the year that extols Jewish deliverance from slavery due to the ongoing war between Israel and the Hamas terror organization.

Referring to the 18th century musical work “Israel in Egypt” composed by George Handel, the RIAS chamber choir posted to its Facebook account on December 6 that “In the oratorio, there is a one-sided and all-conquering power, which is represented primarily by the choir.”

“We do not consider it appropriate to perform this depiction for our audiences in the new year, even if it originates from the Old Testament, given the current situation. Rather, it is our concern to begin the year with a request for peace.”

Referring both to the ongoing “Russian attack on Ukraine” and “the war in the Middle East” that is causing “ endless suffering to civilians on all sides,” they will instead perform Psalm 122, which talks of praying for peace in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is a holy city for Jews, Muslims and Christians alike,” the choir explained. “Fanaticism, antisemitism and hatred have never contributed to peaceful coexistence. However, we do not want to lose hope for a mutual understanding characterized by… tolerance and mutual respect.”

Writing in the German daily Der Tagesspiegel, Evangelical Christian pastor Matthias Loerbroks said that this justification for the substitution was “a banality, especially since fanatics, antisemites and haters have no intention of contributing to peaceful coexistence. On the other hand, it is surprising, because the sentence suggests that the choir discovered fanaticism, anti-Semitism and hatred in Handel’s oratorio,” which is not the case.

He also criticized the fact that “In this situation, in which Jews not only in Israel but throughout the world are severely traumatized, feel threatened and once again abandoned, the RIAS Chamber Choir has decided to replace a fundamental piece of Jewish self-image and Jewish hope with a Christian prayer substitute.”

Loerbroks was referring to another work the choristers will be performing instead, Bach’s Magnificat, which is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns.

German ancient history professor Michael Sommer called the move cowardly.

“The decision to drop ‘Israel in Egypt’ may be connected to anti-Israel sentiment,” he told The Times of Israel Monday, “but I suspect it really is the result of cowardice on the part of the choir, because we’ve seen the response to anything reminiscent of Israel and Jews on the streets of Berlin in recent weeks.”

Germany, as much of Europe, has seen a sharp spike of antisemitism and anti-Israel protests ever since Hamas invaded Gaza envelope communities on October 7, massacring 1,200 people and abducting some 240, and Israel declared war on the terrorists, immediately taking the battle to the Gaza strip.

“Israel in Egypt” has been the first work sung by the award-winning choir ever since Justin Doyle became its chief conductor and artistic director in 2017. It would have been especially appropriate to feature it in the choir’s January 1, 2024 concert as the classical musical world celebrates the 175th anniversary of its inaugural performance.