Daniel Barenboim holds citizenship of Argentina, Israel, Palestine, and Spain. He lives in Berlin and he is a supporter of human rights, including Palestinian rights, is an outspoken critic of Israel’s conservative governments and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. In an interview with the British music critic Norman Lebrecht in 2003, Barenboim accused Israel of behaving in a manner which was, „morally abhorrent and strategically wrong“, and, „putting in danger the very existence of the state of Israel.“ In 1967, at the start of the Six-Day War, Barenboim and du Pré had performed for the Israeli troops on the front lines, as well as during the Yom Kippur war in 1973. During the Gulf War, he and an orchestra performed in Israel in gas masks.
Barenboim has argued publicly for a Two-state solution for Israel and Palestinians. In a November 2014, opinion piece in The Guardian, he wrote that the „ongoing security of the state of Israel… is only possible in the long term if the future of the Palestinian people, too, is secured in its own sovereign state. If this does not happen, the wars and history of that region will be constantly repeated and the unbearable stalemate will continue.“
In 1999, Barenboim and Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said jointly founded the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra. This initiative brings together, every summer, a group of young classical musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories and Arab countries to study, perform and to promote mutual reflection and understanding. Barenboim and Said jointly received the 2002 Prince of Asturias Awards for their work in „improving understanding between nations.“ Together they wrote the book Parallels and Paradoxes, based on a series of public discussions held at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
In September 2005, presenting the book written with Said, Barenboim refused to be interviewed by uniformed Israel Defense Forces Radio reporter Dafna Arad, considering the wearing of the uniform insensitive for the occasion. In response, Israeli Education Minister Limor Livnat of the Likud party called him „a real Jew hater“ and „a real anti-Semite“.
After being invited for the fourth time to the Doha Festival for Music and Dialogue in Qatar with the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra in 2012, Barenboim’s invitation was cancelled by the authorities because of „Sensitivity to the developments in the Arab world.“ There had been a campaign against him in the Arab media, accusing him of „being a Zionist“.
In May 2004, Barenboim was awarded the Wolf Prize at a ceremony at the Israeli Knesset. Education Minister Livnat held up the nomination until Barenboim apologized for his performance of Wagner in Israel. Barenboim called Livnat’s demand „politically motivated“, adding „I don’t see what I need to apologize about. If I ever hurt a person privately or in public, I am sorry, because I have no intention of hurting people…“, which was good enough for Livnat. The ceremony was boycotted by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, also a member of the Likud party. In his acceptance speech, Barenboim expressed his opinion on the political situation, referring to the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948:
„I am asking today with deep sorrow: Can we, despite all our achievements, ignore the intolerable gap between what the Declaration of Independence promised and what was fulfilled, the gap between the idea and the realities of Israel? Does the condition of occupation and domination over another people fit the Declaration of Independence? Is there any sense in the independence of one at the expense of the fundamental rights of the other? Can the Jewish people whose history is a record of continued suffering and relentless persecution, allow themselves to be indifferent to the rights and suffering of a neighboring people? Can the State of Israel allow itself an unrealistic dream of an ideological end to the conflict instead of pursuing a pragmatic, humanitarian one based on social justice?“
Israel’s President Moshe Katsav and Education Minister Livnat criticized Barenboim for his speech. Livnat accused him of attacking the state of Israel, to which Barenboim replied that he had not done so, but that he instead had cited the text of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
Barenboim has performed several times in the West Bank, in 1999 at Bir Zeit University and several times in Ramallah.
In December 2007, Barenboim and 20 musicians from England, the United States, France and Germany, and one Palestinian were scheduled to play a baroque music concert in Gaza. Although they had received authorization from Israeli authorities, the Palestinian was stopped at the Israel-Gaza border and told that he needed individual permission to enter. The group waited seven hours at the border, and then canceled the concert in solidarity. Barenboim commented: „A baroque music concert in a Roman Catholic church in Gaza – as we all know – has nothing to do with security and would bring so much joy to people who live there in great difficulty.“
In January 2008, after performing in Ramallah, Barenboim accepted honorary Palestinian citizenship, becoming the first Jewish Israeli citizen to be offered the status. Barenboim said he hoped it would serve as a public gesture of peace. Some Israelis criticized Barenboim’s decision to accept Palestinian citizenship. The parliamentary faction chairman of the Shas party demanded that Barenboim be stripped of his Israeli citizenship, but the Interior Minister told the media that „the matter is not even up for discussion.“
In January 2009, Barenboim cancelled two concerts of the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra in Qatar and Cairo „due to the escalating violence in Gaza and the resulting concerns for the musicians’ safety.“
In May 2011, Barenboim conducted the „Orchestra for Gaza“ composed of volunteers from the Berlin Philharmonic, the Berlin Staatskapelle, the Orchestra of La Scala in Milan, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Orchestre de Paris—at al-Mathaf Cultural House. The concert, held in Gaza City, was co-ordinated in secret with the United Nations. The orchestra flew from Berlin to Vienna and from there to El Arish on a plane chartered by Barenboim, entering the Gaza Strip at the Egyptian Rafah Border Crossing. The musicians were escorted by a convoy of United Nations vehicles. The concert, the first performance by an international classical ensemble in the strip, was attended by an invited audience of several hundred schoolchildren and NGO workers, who greeted Barenboim with applause. The orchestra played Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Symphony No. 40, also familiar to an Arab audience as basis of one of the songs of the famous Arab singer Fairuz. In his speech Barenboim said: „Everyone has to understand that the Palestinian cause is a just cause therefore it can be only given justice if it is achieved without violence. Violence can only weaken the righteousness of the Palestinian cause“.