Israel boycotters block Barenboim's orchestra from Jerusalem concert

By Jennifer Lipman, July 26, 2012

A concert by an orchestra that aims to promote harmony between Israelis and Palestinians has been cancelled after supporters of a cultural boycott of Israel raised objections.

Daniel Barenboim's West-East Divan orchestra, which works to bring together Arab and Israeli performers and break down the divide between the two groups, was set to perform on Tuesday at the Mount of Olives.

Mr Barenboim is a celebrated musical figure, and is known as an outspoken critic of the Israeli government. He holds honorary Palestinian citizenship.

The concert was arranged by the UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry. But after pro-Palestinian groups called for the event to be cancelled because it promoted "false symmetry or balance", he called it off. "Noting the objections of some groups it was decided – with regret – not to proceed," he said.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (Pacbi) had written to Mr Serry, stating that because of the orchestra's "political agenda that promotes normalisation and conflicts with the Palestinian struggle for rights and upholding international law" the "ill-conceived concert" should not go ahead.

The Pacbi campaigners said that the orchestra violated the "cultural boycott" of Israel and so undermined the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality.

"The Orchestra's self-definition turns occupation and colonial oppression into a mere 'problem' or 'barrier' to be discussed between 'traditional rivals'," Pacbi said in a letter. "These projects in effect legitimise and contribute to perpetuating and normalising oppression. In addition, they have often played into the hands of Israel's official propaganda."

"The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a politically-motivated forum with political objectives that advocates 'dialogue' without justice."

The National and Civil Work Committee in East Jerusalem also protested to Mr Serry, arguing that the orchestra was unwelcome because it was "building normalisation bridges".

As part of the summer Proms in Britain, Mr Barenboim's orchestra is performing all nine of Beethoven's symphonies.

Last updated: 5:07pm, July 26 2012