Soloist suspended after Israel 'rant'
Some of the protesters and counter-protesters at the Albert Hall
A London Philharmonic Orchestra violinist has been suspended after she launched an anti-Israel tirade at a question and answer session.
The incident came shortly before the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's repeatedly disrupted performance at the Royal Albert Hall last Thursday.
The woman was attending a Proms Plus Intro session at the Royal College of Music, at which three members of the IPO were interviewed for BBC Radio 3. They spoke about their careers and the IPO's current European tour.
At the end of the session the woman said she was representing her LPO colleagues and launched into what was described by audience members as both a "rant" and "anti-Israel diatribe".
LPO chief executive Timothy Walker confirmed she had been suspended indefinitely. The LPO board will decide on what disciplinary action to take. The Proms concert itself was disrupted a number of times, causing the BBC to abandon its live broadcast – a decision which has prompted more than 50 complaints from listeners.
Lev Levidow, one of the protesters
As the IPO, conducted by Zubin Mehta, began its performance, a dozen people unfurled a banner reading "Free Palestine" and attempted to sing over the orchestra. They were removed by security guards as the orchestra played on.
But soon after, as Gil Shaham prepared to play a violin solo, a smaller group began shouting and scuffled with audience members. The audience chanted "out, out, out" and "shut your mouth" as one man resisted removal. Further interruptions marred the second half of the performance.
The BBC and Royal Albert Hall refused to comment on how many additional security staff had been provided, or why efforts to stop protesters taking flags and banners into the venue had failed.
In a joint statement they said: "The Hall does not comment on the detail of any of its security or operational arrangements. The IPO concert was fully assessed in conjunction with the BBC Proms team and extra security was employed, including bag searches, to deal with the threat of protests being made."
Veteran anti-Israel activist Tony Greenstein was among the protesters. He said: "We were promised enhanced security and bag searches but this was all bluff. My bag search was cursory, there were no spotter cards of disruptors and I had no difficulty whatsoever getting to my seat."
The newly-formed Beethovians for Boycotting Israel group claimed responsibility for the initial disruption. Its members were led by Deborah Fink, singing lyrics written by academic Sue Blackwell, referring to "Israel's occupation, ethnic cleansing and apartheid".
Jonathan Turner QC, speaking on behalf of the Zionist Federation, believed that the disturbances had constituted aggravated trespass, and encouraged people to report the incident to the police.
Mr Turner said it was "unfortunate" that police outside the Royal Albert Hall had not been asked, by the venue's private security guards, to intervene and make arrests.
The IPO, whose musicians left London the next day for their European tour, declined to comment on the disruption.
An earlier demonstration by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, together with Jews for Justice for Palestinians, saw the leafleting of people entering the concert. A counter-demo, organised by the ZF and British Israel Coalition, drew twice as many supporters.
Israeli embassy spokesman Amir Ofek said: "The PSC global tour of hate has reached a new venue. While orchestras all around the world are offering a culture of communication, the PSC promote a culture of conflict.
"The IPO will never be short of an audience at thousands of venues across the world."
Vivian Wineman, Board of Deputies president, said: "The audience reaction clearly showed that the PSC's actions backfired and actually lost them support."
Radio 3 broadcast an uninterrupted recording of the concert on Wednesday afternoon.
Mark Gardner, of the Community Security Trust, said that since the concert was a commercial event, security was provided by the Albert Hall, and not by the CST.
But he said that the CST had previously informed the Albert Hall of "the obvious potential for disruption, with this being a high profile event in front of such a large live audience. "