Dozens of musicians, artists, playwrights and activists have urged the London Philharmonic Orchestra to reconsider its suspension of four members for expressing anti-Israel views.
In a letter published in the Daily Telegraph, 117 signatories, most of who have long track records of anti-Israel activism, attacked the LPO's action after the four players put their names and that of the LPO to a letter demanding that the BBC cancel the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's Proms appearance.
Among those to sign last Thursday's letter were Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, playwright Caryl Churchill, comedians Alexei Sayle and Ivor Dembina, writer Michael Rosen and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
They wrote: "One does not have to share the musicians' support for the campaign for boycotting Israeli institutions to feel a grave concern about the bigger issue at stake for artists and others."
Earlier this month, LPO chief executive Timothy Walker and chairman Martin Hohmann said the players' views were a "private matter" and that "music and politics do not mix".
‘Jewish supporters said they would not give us money’
But cellist Sue Sutherley and violinists Tom Eisner, Nancy Elan and Sarah Streatfield were each suspended for up to nine months.
The letter to the Telegraph added: "Why should it be so dangerous for artists to speak out on the issue of Israel/Palestine? We… strongly urge the LPO to reconsider its decision."
Mr Walker later appeared to say that the orchestra had bowed to pressure from Jewish supporters. He told the Daily Telegraph: "This all became an issue when we started to receive emails and letters from supporters, a lot of whom are Jewish and felt that the players were taking an anti-Jewish position. Some said they weren't going to come to the concerts or give us any money."
Mr Walker said "it would not have been an issue for the LPO" if the players had signed their names without mentioning their affiliation. Other players had "found it abhorrent" that one group of musicians could try to stop another playing a concert, he said.
Norman Lebrecht, music commentator and journalist, said: "This is not a political or free-speech issue, simply a matter of unprofessional behaviour. But I believe the punishment was too severe and should be set aside."
A letter supporting the "LPO four" also appeared in the Guardian last Friday, signed by more than two dozen people, the majority of whom are university music professors.