The wrong LPO punishment

By Geoffrey Alderman, September 28, 2011

On September 1 a performance at the BBC Promenade Concerts was deliberately interrupted by persons who had bought tickets for that performance but whose real intention was not musical appreciation but musical disruption.

As the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and soloist Gil Shaham began playing Bruch's violin concerto there was, according to the BBC, "sustained audience disruption", the unashamed (and well-publicised) purposes of which were to cause a commotion and thus silence the performance and bring to the attention, both of the audience in the Royal Albert Hall and to those listening to the performance worldwide, the supposed plight of Palestinian Arabs.

Whether or not the Proms wreckers succeeded in any of their aims I do not know. I was not in the audience that evening. Some of those who were tell me that the antics of the wreckers were met with a great deal of verbal hostility from all parts of the auditorium, and that if anything the cause of Israel was thereby advanced rather than retarded.

That may well be, but is not my present concern. I wish, firstly, to draw attention to the perverse philosophy that lay behind the disruption and, secondly, to examine one consequence of it which is causing some merriment amongst Israel's friends and supporters but which is really not a laughing matter.

It is impossible to measure these things, but my impression is that over the past decade or so the idea has grown in respectability in this country that I have a right to "peacefully" disrupt your life in order to force you to address my concerns.

A very public reprimand would have been more appropriate

I am of course aware that this idea is not new. It constituted an element in the labours of the suffragette movement a century ago and in the anti-apartheid movement a half-century ago. If there is no one alive today who remembers the suffragettes there are certainly many who recall the efforts of the anti-apartheiders to sabotage sporting events.

My own view is that the disruption of cricket and rugby matches contributed nothing to the downfall of the white supremacist regime in South Africa, and that the disruptive efforts of the suffragettes actually delayed votes for women.

Nor, incidentally, did I condone the actions of those who gleefully disrupted performances by the Bolshoi Ballet and the Red Army Choir in the 1970s in supposed furtherance of the cause of Soviet Jewry (a cause which I actively supported, in other, more subtle ways).

An act of civil disobedience can never be truly "non-violent", because, no matter how noble the cause, by its very nature it violates the rights of others. When, in the 1970s, Peter Hain organised the disruption of sporting events in which South African teams participated he was quite rightly prosecuted for and found guilty of criminal conspiracy. Similar prosecutions (if not for criminal conspiracy then certainly for "aggravated trespass") should now be brought against those (their identities are certainly known) who, from within the Royal Albert Hall, deliberately disrupted the IPO concert. But my legal friends tell me that in order for this to happen the consent is required of the trustees of the Royal Albert Hall (some of whom, such as Elie Dangoor, are Jewish, incidentally). To date this consent has not been forthcoming.

But one consequence has resulted from this affair. Apparently four members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra signed, as LPO members, a letter condemning the IPO as an instrument of Israeli propaganda and calling for its Proms performance to be cancelled.

These signatories have now been handed a nine-month's suspension by the London Philharmonic. In a statement the LPO denies wishing to restrict the right of players "to express themselves freely", but add that "such expression has to be independent of the LPO itself".

This argument seems to me a trifle vindictive and the suspension itself wholly disproportionate. A very public reprimand would have been more appropriate. After all, two – or more – wrongs do not make a right.

It was wrong of Mr Hain to have disrupted sporting events involving South African teams. It was wrong of my friends to have disrupted the Bolshoi Ballet. It was wrong of anti-Israel activists to have disrupted a concert.

It is wrong of the Albert Hall management not give its consent to the bringing of criminal charges against the disrupters. And it is wrong of the LPO management to suspend its employees simply because they exercised – misguidedly no doubt – their right to freedom of expression.

Last updated: 10:04am, September 28 2011