I was going to post about this scandal in real time but Shabbat preparations had to take precedence, and it’s too big an issue for me to skip over, even though it happened a couple of days ago.
Anti-Israel protestors disrupted a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, put on at Britain’s famous Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall, causing the BBC to stop transmission of the show. They have since informed the public that the show will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, with the protests edited out.
I deliberately used the word “Antisemites” in my headline, and not “Anti-Zionists” because, as Stephen Pollard writes so eloquently in the Daily Telegraph:
The demonstration at the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra BBC Proms concert was against Jews, not the Israeli state.
Until Thursday night, nothing in the history of Proms broadcasts had forced a concert off air. Certainly not the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. On the very night the tanks moved into Prague, the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was at the Proms with the USSR Symphony Orchestra. And he was performing, with intense poignancy, the Czech composer Dvorak’s cello concerto. I have a cherished recording of the concert. The audience was rapt and not a word was uttered.
When Chinese performers grace the Proms with their presence, there is not a word of protest about their government’s abuses of human rights. Nor should there be. They are musicians, not politicians.
But when the Israel Philharmonic played on Thursday evening, a band of around 30 thugs – none was wearing jackboots, but they should have been – launched into chanting and mock singing, disrupting the concert to such an extent that BBC Radio 3 decided it could not go on with the broadcast.
It shouldn’t need saying that protesting against the actions of the Israeli government is not the same as being anti-Semitic. Clearly not: this month, 250,000 Israelis joined rallies against their government’s economic policies. They could hardly be driven by anti-Semitism.
But Thursday night’s events can only be understood in the context of anti-Semitism. When have there been similar protests against “violations of international law and human rights”, as was chanted on Thursday, by any other country? And this in the middle of the Arab Spring, when genuine protesters for human rights are daily risking their lives in Syria against a murderous dictatorship.
If, indeed, this was a protest against the actions of the Israeli government, rather than against Jews, where have been the similar disruptions of performances by Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Iranian or any number of other nations’ musicians? What about disruptions of British national companies, in protest at British human rights abuses? To pose the question is to answer it.
But it is far from all doom and gloom … As for the Proms hooligans, there is one big difference from the Weimar audiences. Far from being afraid of the thugs, the Proms audience turned almost as one on them. They chanted “Out, out, out”. As one of the men fought with security guards, a woman can be heard shouting “Shut your mouth”. In fact, their violent, thoroughly illegitimate tactics did nothing but harm to their cause. Ed Vaizey, the Culture Minister, was in the Royal Albert Hall for the concert. As he tweeted on the night: “Demonstrators seem to have turned [the] entire audience pro-Israel.”
The Telegraph has two other articles about this ugly protest: There is something very ugly about this attempt to ghettoise Israeli musicians; and a slightly tongue-in-cheekarticle: “Tip to Palestinian activists: upset the English Middle Classes at your peril“.
Elder of Ziyon also has a posting about the protest with a video.
But for the most comprehensive coverage of the entire performance, including all the protests and counter-protests, I can do no better than highly recommend that you read Richard Millett’s blog-post and watch the numerous videos he has posted. Here is one of the videos of the protests.
As an interesting aside, someone told me today that she heard that one of the IPO musicians was interviewed by the BBC, and was asked how the orchestra copes with these sorts of protests wherever they go. The musician answered: “Oh, we only ever encounter these protests in England”. I’m not sure if this is an apocryphal story or if it is really accurate, but it certainly reflects the antisemitic atmosphere in Britain today.