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On Boycotting Israel

There are a lot of Nazi comparisons being thrown around these days. Where might they be most accurately directed?

boycot philharmonic

I am happy to say that Britain still has some exports. Sad to say, they include vicious anti-Israel boycotts and propaganda. Take developments from the past couple of weeks alone.

In recent years the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), among other Israeli musicians, has found it increasingly difficult to perform in Britain without being subjected to interruption and protest. At last year’s BBC Promenade concerts, the highlight of the musical year in London, protestors repeatedly interrupted the IPO’s performance. The orchestra – under Zubin Mehta – carried on, but each piece on the program was at some point marred by shouting, protest songs and more.

A year earlier the Jerusalem String Quartet had its performance at the Wigmore Hall repeatedly halted by the forward reconnaissance unit of the UK’s anti-Israel brigade. There, as at the Proms, the collection of anti-classical music bravehearts sang witless anti-Israel songs of their own invention to ensure that the quartet could not play its program of Ravel and Mozart. The Wigmore Hall protestors were entirely Jewish, the Albert Hall ones mainly so, thus causing a collective sigh of despair and a smacking of hands on foreheads by sane Jews everywhere.

As though to show how swiftly bad behavior can spread, last week it was the turn of protestors in New York to oppose the IPO. Among the chants of the protestors were “Oboe, trumpet or bassoon, apartheid is out of tune” and “IPO gets no ovation, ambassador for occupation.”

If, like me, you ever labored under the misunderstanding that orchestras exist to play music and that music is an international language which brings peace and understanding between people – and all that jazz – then you are clearly unaware of the new low that Israel’s opponents have sunk to. Music today may still be an international language, but it is best listened to only once you have ascertained that none of the woodwinds section is Zionist. Or the strings. Or brass. A single self-hating Jew in the percussion section, playing the triangle for instance, might be permissible. But otherwise it should be boycott, boycott, boycott. Sing it loud: “No Israelis is our tune, is that a Jew on third bassoon?’ ‘We’d like a word with that bearded drummer, from where we stand he could be a frummer.”

The dozens of New Yorkers from the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel (or NYCftBoI for short) who disrupted the Carnegie concert claimed that the Israeli state is engaged in “apartheid policies against the Palestinian people” and that no amount of world-class musicianship can “cover up the injustice that Palestinians face.”

Which leads one to wonder what they do think is acceptable. Both North Korea and Iran have symphony orchestras. Or at least Iran did until this month when the mullahs boycotted it for us, after not having paid the musicians for three months. Music, apparently, is Zionist – or at least Western music is, which to hard-line mullahs is evidently the same thing. Anyhow, this strikes me as a shame. Personally I would love to have heard it – and the North Korean symphony as well. If the latter could ever be persuaded to visit London or New York – and provided that their musicians didn’t perform – as is their management’s wont – with background montages of nuclear tests, I would welcome them with great enthusiasm. Indeed I would regard listening to their playing and applauding them enthusiastically as a noteworthy demonstration to them that I recognize a difference between their government and themselves.

Iranian state forces may shoot students, hang gays from cranes and seek to annihilate a whole people, but I should think it very strange if anyone thought that the appropriate response would have been to shout anti-Iranian abuses at their national orchestra or question the very existence of their country during the piccolo solo. Likewise, if the North Korean National Symphony Orchestra were engaged in a rendition of their beautiful national tune, Arirang, I would think it not only the height of bad manners but exactly the wrong moment to start hollering about their government’s creation of multi-generational concentration camps and violation of the non-proliferation agreement.

In both of these cases the sin is real. Iran and North Korea actually are states that practice the most vile oppression of their people. Israel does not. Yet it is orchestras from Israel, string-quartets from Israel and, indeed, dance-troupes from Israel that are threatened and vilified where it would be the height of bad manners and, in fact, powerful statecraft to oppose orchestras from real totalitarian societies.

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