Musicians call for 'absurd' boycott of Israel Prom

By Jennifer Lipman, August 31, 2011
Zubin Mehta

Zubin Mehta

A group of musicians has made a public call for the cancellation of an Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concert at the Royal Albert Hall because of the Israeli political situation.

The IPO, whose director is the non-Jewish conductor Zubin Mehta, has been invited by the BBC to perform one concert at the Proms, the annual classical musical festival, on September 1.

Despite the efforts of pro-Palestinian activists from the boycott group BRICUP, Roger Wright, the director of the Proms said it would be wrong to cancel something that was "purely musical," for political reasons.

For the 21 signatories of a letter to the Independent newspaper, including songwriter Leon Rosselson, his response was not sufficient

They accused the IPO of being Israel's "prime asset" in the country's "cultural smokescreen" and added: "Our main concern is that Israel deliberately uses the arts as propaganda to promote a misleading image of Israel." They called on Mr Wright to cancel at the last minute.

The cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht noted that none of the signatories was "a player of great note" and criticised them for trying to draw attention to themselves.

He said of the letter: "The gesture is absurd, almost beyond words. The BBC knew what it was doing when it invited the IPO [and the] political conditions have not changed markedly since the invitation was issued.

"To cancel now would constitute breach of contract and leave an empty Prom night – something which has not happened for nearly 30 years."

Anti-Israel campaigners have already announced plans to demonstrate outside the venue, while the Zionist Federation has organised a counter-demo.

The ZF said it was "vital to stand up for the only democracy in the Middle East" and said it was "proud Israel is represented at the Proms by such a wonderful orchestra".

The IPO last played at the Proms in 2003. The concert is to mark both the 75th anniversary of the orchestra and Mr Mehta's 50th year conducting it.

Last updated: 2:37pm, August 31 2011