The Russian-born pianist Evgeny Kissin, who became a British citizen in 2002, has accused the BBC of “slander and bias” against Israel, broadcasting material he describes as “painfully reminiscent of the old Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda”.
Mr Kissin, 38, who until now has not generally been known as politically engaged, has written to the director-general of the BBC, Mark Thompson. According to a close friend of the pianist, he has decided to become “actively involved in exposing and countering the evil propaganda of certain British media and especially the BBC.”
Mr Kissin’s decision to use his fame and artistic renown to protest to the BBC on Israel’s behalf contrasts with the criticisms against the Jewish state regularly voiced by musicians such as Daniel Barenboim, who holds Israeli citizenship.
In Mr Kissin’s letter, he accuses the BBC’s Persian Service of a “blood libel concerning Israel’s alleged harvesting of Palestinian organs and blood for future transplant”.
He continues: “It beggars belief that the British taxpayer should be funding an organisation which is aligning itself with Iran’s despotic leader in its antisemitic propaganda. Other print media like the Guardian, which erroneously printed this libel propagated by Israel’s enemies, have since apologised. I am not aware of any such retraction from the BBC.”
Mr Kissin, who was a child prodigy in his native Russia and is now widely recognised as one of the greatest living pianists, intends from now on to speak out against media bias against Israel, which he sees as both fuelling and being fuelled by antisemitism.
In his letter, he says that when he became a British citizen he was “inspired and proud to belong to the country of Winston Churchill, who famously said: ‘There is no antisemitism in England because we do not consider ourselves more stupid than the Jews’. Above all, the BBC and especially its World Service, had always been a beacon of light, of truth and objectivity to those of us behind the Iron Curtain, in the ‘Evil Empire’. Reaching out to far corners of the world, it was the voice of a country which for us was a model of democracy and human rights.”
He concludes by asking: “Is it not time for the BBC to return to the values for which it was so much respected, before it finds itself in the garbage of history, together with Pravda, Tass, Volkischer Beobachter and Der Angruff?”
The classical music promoter, Lilian Hochhauser, said this week: “I fully support Evgeny Kissin’s initiative to counter the increasing bias displayed by the BBC and others against Israel. I encourage all in the arts world to act against the growing stigmatisation of Israel, as well as increasing our cultural co-operation with the country.”
A spokesman for the BBC said the corporation was unable to comment until it had received Mr Kissin’s letter.