22 February 2011 | Adalah-NY
February 22 – Seventy New Yorkers protested the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s (IPO) performance at Carnegie Hall Tuesday evening, using chants, songs and street theater to highlight the IPO’s role in whitewashing Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinian people. The orchestra’s performances are being met with protests in six of the seven cities on its US tour, including a protest last Sunday evening in West Palm Beach, an upcoming Wednesday protest in Newark, and further protests in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, as reported by the Israeli news website YNet.
Noelle Ghoussaini from Adalah-NY explained, “Tonight we sent a clear message to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli government’s “Brand Israel” campaign that their music cannot drown out Palestinians’ calls for justice.” The US protests respond to the call from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) to boycott cultural institutions like the IPO that work to normalize Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and whitewash the oppression of Palestinians in Israel, the occupied territories, and in exile.
Hundreds of well-dressed concert-goers paused on the edge of the sidewalk in front of Carnegie Hall, and looked across the street at the protesters’ signs, and listened to their chants and songs. Many were handed a mock IPO program that featured a cover photo of a past IPO performance in front of Israeli tanks for the Israeli army, and, on the inside, the PACBI’s call for an international boycott of the IPO.
Protesters held signs saying, “Israel Fiddles while Palestine Burns,” “Justice Presto not Lento,” “Without Justice There’s No Harmony,” and “Boycott the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra;” and they carried a banner with the words “Don’t Harmonize with Israeli Apartheid,” surrounded on each side by a violin with a rifle barrel as its neck. Protesters chanted, “We love Gustav, we love Mahler, but occupation makes us holler;” “For liberation take a stand, don’t let Is-ra-el rebrand;” and “Muslims, Jews, Atheists and Christians, stand for justice like Egyptians.”
In a street theater skit, a protester -turned-IPO conductor asked the crowd, “How can apartheid continue without us promoting the new, positive, aesthetically vibrant and civilized Israel? Don’t forget, there is “art” in “apartheid.” The conductor instructed three violinists to play progressively louder in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to drown out and cover up Israeli crimes against Palestinians that kept welling up behind the orchestra.
By serving as cultural ambassadors for Israel, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is supporting the “Brand Israel” initiative, a campaign by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to divert attention from Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and “show Israel’s prettier face, so we [Israel] are not thought of purely in the context of war.” The IPO refrains from criticism of Israel’s policies and is described by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as “Israel’s finest cultural emissary.” American Friends of the IPO further notes that “the goodwill created by [the IPO’s] tours…is of enormous value to the State of Israel. As a result, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra maintains its position at the forefront of cultural diplomacy and the international music scene.”
One corporate sponsor of the IPO’s US tour is Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, who hosted a gala IPO fundraiser. Leviev’s companies have been shunned by UNICEF, CARE, Oxfam, the British and Norwegian governments, and Hollywood stars for building illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and for involvement in human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Southern Africa.
The growing international movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel has gained momentum in recent years, with performers like Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, Roger Waters, Devendra Banhart, and the Pixies all refusing to play in Israel. The 2005 Palestinian civil society call for BDS until Israel respects Palestinians’ basic rights was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian civil society groups. The Palestinian BDS movement is a nonviolent campaign for Palestinian rights inspired by the international boycott campaign that helped to abolish apartheid in South Africa.