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David Bar-Illan, 73; Israeli Musician and Journalist Who Advised Netanyahu on Media

November 06, 2003|From Associated Press

JERUSALEM — David Bar-Illan, a concert pianist turned journalist and an advisor to an Israeli prime minister, has died. He was 73.

Bar-Illan died Tuesday of complications from a heart attack he suffered three years ago, according to the Jerusalem Post newspaper, where he was editor in chief from 1992 to 1996.

Bar-Illan also wrote a column in the English-language daily, called "Eye on the Media," in which he reviewed coverage of Israel and the Middle East conflict, often leveling harsh criticism for what he called the anti-Israel bias of the foreign press.

The Israeli native left the paper in 1996 to become Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's media advisor, serving as the chief contact between the prime minister's office and the foreign press. The outspoken and colorful advisor shared Netanyahu's hard-line views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In 1998, the New Yorker ran an interview with Bar-Illan in which he was quoted as describing Netanyahu's wife, Sara, as unstable. He also joked that although his boss was an adulterer, he never had an affair with a "shiksa," a term for a non-Jewish woman.

Bar-Illan denied making the remarks.

After Netanyahu's election defeat in 1999, both men briefly bowed out of political life.

"David Bar-Illan was an Israeli Zionist patriot in his whole being," Netanyahu, currently finance minister, told the Jerusalem Post. "He was an outstanding artist who sacrificed years of wonderful musical creativity to engage in journalistic and public activity to help his land and his people."

Bar-Illan was born in Haifa and came to the United States in the 1950s. He graduated from the Juilliard School and made his U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic in 1954. He also performed with the Israel Philharmonic and with orchestras throughout Europe.

He recorded five albums before entering journalism and politics, adding a sixth and final album in 1999, in which he played works by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and other composers.

"Bar-Illan can storm through the loudest sections without ever making an ugly sound," said a review of his last album in the New York Times. "His playing expresses sheer joy as he revels in the technical complexities."

Another review, in the Chicago Sun-Times, called Bar-Illan "one of the few superior artists to reach the level of achievement now linked with men such as [Rudolf] Serkin and [Artur] Rubinstein," referring to world-renowned pianists.

He is survived by his wife, Beverly; three children; and two stepchildren. Burial will be today in Jerusalem.

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