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Sound and fury at the Proms over “apartheid” remark

This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of the BRICUP Newsletter, http://www.bricup.org.uk
Proms collaboration between Kennedy and the young musicians from Palestine Strings.  Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Proms collaboration between Kennedy and the young musicians from Palestine Strings.
Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Violinist Nigel Kennedy sent Israel’s apologists into a mighty spin during a Promenade concert in London on August 8 when he used the word “apartheid” to refer to the life circumstances of the young Palestinian musicians with whom he was sharing the stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Kennedy, addressing an overwhelmingly supportive audience for his innovative performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the Royal Albert Hall, “ it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from experiencing this night of music tonight, that given equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for amazing things to happen.”
Kennedy, an enfant terrible of the classical music world , had not played at the Proms for years but took advantage of a radical mix of programmes this time to revisit the Four Seasons with a number of jazz musicians, his own largely Polish Orchestra of Life and 17 players from the Palestine Strings wearing trademark keffiyehs. Aged between 12 and 23, these protégées of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music demonstrated considerable artistry in one of the world’s greatest performance spaces. No wonder the Zionist reaction to their mentor’s solidarity comment was so swift and strong.
Within days the Jewish Chronicle announced with satisfaction  that the BBC intended deleting Kennedy’s remark from its edited TV broadcast of the concert. Baroness Ruth Deech, a prominent Zionist and former BBC governor, had pronounced his words “offensive and untrue” and unfit to be heard during a Prom concert. The BBC, saying they did not“fall within the editorial remit of the proms as a classical music festival,” duly obliged. The critically-acclaimed concert went out on BBC4 on August 23 without the offending comments.  
In the interim BRICUP chairman Jonathan Rosenhead had joined supporters of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, among them actress Miriam Margolyes and writer/comedian Alexei Sayle, in signing a letter contesting the BBC censorship decision. It was published on August 22 in the Daily Telegraph (scroll down through the other letters to find it here) along with a fair-minded article by the paper’s Religious Affairs editor John Bingham.
The Jewish Chronicle named BRICUP and Rosenhead in its coverage.
The issue was taken up by wider activist circles with writers’ organisation PEN and Index on Censorship weighing in in Kennedy’s defence. Rock legend Roger Waters of Pink Floyd was moved to issue a long-awaited statement calling on fellow musicians to back the boycott.
petition calling on the BBC to revoke its censorship decision  quickly garnered more than 1,200 signatures.
Music commentator Norman Lebrecht, himself deeply pro-Israel, picked up the story, calling into question the provenance of a statement in which Kennedy described his comments as “purely descriptive and not political whatsoever” anddenounced the BBC’s “imperial lack of impartiality”. The flighty genius does not own a computer or use any new-fangled digital media so the statement was issued via a musician friend’s Facebook page. As a matter of interest, Lebrecht later posted YouTube footage of the concert, generating serious and largely favourable discussion on his blog.
Matters were complicated by Kennedy’s own manager Terri Robson – presumably with an eye to her charge’s potentially lucrative future bookings – publicly suggesting that the BBC was within its rights to censor him.
Thanks to links with pro-Palestinian classical musicians who are in contact with Kennedy – he does at least own a mobile phone – we were primed and ready when he once again re-iterated his pro-Palestinian stance in an open letter to the Palestine Strings.
He observed that his comment would surely not “have been censored if it had been referring to the benefits of the demise of the apartheid in South Africa when playing with an African ensemble”.
 
Kennedy’s letter suggested that the Palestine Strings had been detained for 12 hours on their return to Palestine. This turned out to be a misunderstanding. The players were not detained but Edward Said National Conservatory of Music’s Orchestras Manager, Tim Pottier, was held for 12 hours at the Allenby Bridge. An official at the conservatory explained in a private email, “Tim is now sadly used to long interrogations and waiting at the Bridge, although the return from the Prom established a record. The occupying authorities who control all entries to Palestine know him far too well and, I suspect, do not like what he does.”
This incident, naturally enough, was not deemed newsworthy by mainstream media. Indeed, although the Telegraph’s Bingham refers to “a bitter row over alleged censorship”, others showed zero interest in the BBC censorship story.
One late entry into the fray was pundit Dominic Lawson who chose to use his valedictory column in the Independent on September 2 to slag off Kennedy and Waters as part of a sinister army of antisemites holding Israel responsible for all the evils of the world.
His attack highlights the care supporters of BDS need to take in the terminology they use. Waters has defended himself expertly when challenged, but drawing attention to Baroness Deech’s Jewish-sounding maiden name (“nee Fraenkel”) rather than referencing her vociferous Zionism, and shooting down a pig-shaped zeppelin emblazoned with a Star of David (albeit alongside other symbols of oppression), has handed ammunition to the enemies of BDS. A call from a small group of German Jews to boycott a forthcoming concert by Waters has won mainstream coverage denied to the injustice done to Kennedy.
It remains to be seen, at the time of writing, if any further controversy will follow Kennedy’s planned appearance at the Last Night of the Proms on September 7.
As he himself noted when news of the BBC’s censorship plan became known:
“ . . . the BBC has created . . . a huge platform for the discussion of its own impartiality, its respect (or lack of it) for free speech and for the discussion of the miserable apartheid forced on the Palestinian people by the Israeli government supported by so many governments from the outside world.”

Finkelstein says international law is powerful weapon for boycott

Professor Norman Finkelstein stormed UK campuses in the week to November 11, lecturing to packed auditoriums in London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham on How to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict.

His main message was that since Israeli settlement, occupation and denial of rights to Palestinian refugees are all acknowledged as illegal under international law,  the campaign on these points is as good as won.

Norman Finkelstein addresses boycott activists. Photo: Brian Robinson

He said that Tzipi Livni, when serving as Israel’s foreign minister,  had declared:

“I’m a lawyer – and I’m against the law, international law in particular.”

She had good reason for saying that because under international law “Israel loses, on Jerusalem, on the West Bank and Gaza, on settlements and right of return for refugees,” said Finkelstein.

The relevance of this to the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) was teased out in discussion between Finkelstein and Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) on Friday afternoon, Nov 11, at UCL.

BRICUP chair Jonathan Rosenhead at the BDS discussion. Photo: Brian Robinson

Rosenhead opened with a review of the history of boycott as a weapon available to the weak oppressed by the strong, as in Ireland in the 1880s and in South Africa in 1960s-90s.

He said boycotts targeting Israel, begun in  2004, combine “symbolic protest, material intervention and political action.”  The overall aim was ending the Israeli system of oppression,  as called for by Palestinian civil society.

Rosenhead said freedom of expression in academia was a vital principle, but it was not absolute and could conflict with a higher principle, such as freedom and self-determination for an oppressed people.

Finkelstein said he supported the BDS campaign as a legitimate and potentially effective tactic. But he locked horns with Rosenhead and many in the audience when he argued that to go beyond goals that were enshrined in international law was to lose the possibility of reaching a broad public.

If your target is all Israeli institutions and your goal is an amorphous “system of oppression”, he said, the campaign may be morally pure, but it will be politically useless – a sect.

“The public will want to know, you are asking us to boycott until when? Until the Occupation ends, as defined in international law, or until Israel ends?  If the latter, you will have no possibility of reaching beyond the people in this room,” Finkelstein said.

From the audience, Naomi Foyle of British Writers in Support of Palestine (BWISP)  referred to the principles laid down by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), setting out the aims of BDS based on international law and human rights and including “dismantling the Israeli system of apartheid”.

She argued that Israel fits the United Nations definition of apartheid and that far from this position distancing us from the public, explaining the many ways in which Israel behaves like an apartheid state resonates within huge numbers of people.

Frank Barat, coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, read out the findings of the Tribunal session held last week in Johannesburg. The judgement said that Israel’s “rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid.”

Abe Hayeem, of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, said the boycott campaign laid considerable stress on the legal arguments when taking its message to the public.  “But governments don’t uphold the law, so civil society has to pressure Israel to come to its senses,” Hayeem said.

Tony Greenstein, anti-Zionist blogger and founding member of J-BIG, wrote later that Finkelstein’s focus on international law and institutions was misplaced.

Analysing Finkelstein’s evening lecture, Greenstein said: “Not once in his speech . . .  did Norman Finkelstein mention the word ‘Zionism’. It is as if Israel magically appeared. As if its behaviour towards Palestinians is some form of aberration. As if the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is out of character. And as if Israel, once it hands back all the 1967 territories, will become a normal state.”

“The real task ,” Greenstein wrote, “is to de-Zionist Israel and the creation of one unitary, secular and democratic Israel/Palestine.”

The full BDS discussion can be heard in an audio recording by Brian Robinson here and on video from InMinds here.

 The BDS discussion took place as part of Finkelstein’s lecture tour organised by students at University College London, supported by the Palestinian Return Centre and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods.
The tour was targeted by Zionists attempting to prevent Finkelstein’s trenchant pro-Palestinian message from reaching a wide audience.
University authorities in Manchester threatened to cancel his lecture there unless non-students were denied access, forcing the Action Palestine organisers to find an off campus venue at short notice.
University head of governance Martin Conway, responding to a letter of complaint from J-BIG,  insisted that they were simply following protocols to safeguard “the safety and security of our students and visitors.”
He denied there had been any pressure on the administration, but Action Palestine said the Jewish Society had alleged that Jewish students could be in danger if an open meeting was held.
Finkelstein said such suggestions were absurd. ” I have spoken at Manchester on at least two previous occasions without any incident,” he said.
On the day the tour ended, the pro-Zionist weekly Jewish Chronicle filled its front page with a hysterical outburst alleging that Finkelstein was one of “a wave of hate speakers” on UK campuses.
But as anyone who attended any of his lectures or has read any of his works will know, his learned, critical and challenging analysis of Middle East history and politics illuminates an area be-fogged with pro-Israel bias.
Click here for Brian Robinson’s audio recording of Finkelstein’s lecture at the Logan Hall, Institute of Education, on Friday evening, November 11.
See also comment from Tony Greenstein and Naomi Foyle.

STOP PRESS: FINKELSTEIN BOYCOTT DISCUSSION VENUE

 
Prof Norman Finkelstein will be in conversation with BRICUP chair Prof Jonathan Rosenhead
at 2 pm Friday November 11
in the Christopher Ingold Lecture Theatre
UCL Chemistry Building, 20 Gordon Street, London WC1 6BT
This is opposite the Bloomsbury Theatre.
To reserve your place please email  jews4big@gmail.com
 
Finkelstein and Rosenhead will discuss the proposition:
The Palestinians having being denied justice for 63 years, those who support their rights must endorse their call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), including academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
 
This is in addition to Finkelstein’s lecture at 7 pm in the Logan Hall, Institute of Education for which booking is required. 
http://www.eventsbot.com/events/eb253345787
 
After lecturing to packed houses in Leeds and Manchester on Monday and Tuesday, Finkelstein’s tour continues with dates in Birmingham and Nottingham before concluding in London on Friday.
 

“We will picket the Proms”:

BRICUP calls on ‘music-lovers of conscience’ to boycott the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

J-BIG endorses this statement from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine protesting the scheduled appearance of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms in London on September 1.

Add your voice by sending protest emails to Proms Director Roger Wright c/o his assistant: yvette.pusey@bbc.co.uk

Hard copy letters to:

Roger Wright,
Controller BBC Radio 3
Director BBC Proms,
Broadcasting House,
Portland Place
London W1B 1DJ

PRESS RELEASE 7th August 2011

BRICUP, the organisation promoting academic and cultural boycott of Israel within the UK, today called on promenaders to shun the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra when it plays at the Royal Albert Hall on 1st September.

BRICUP was responding to the open letter sent to the Proms organisers on July 18th by PACBI, its Palestinian counterpart.  PACBI referred to “the IPO’s complicity in whitewashing Israel’s persistent violations of international law and human rights”, mentioning specifically the IPO’s services to the Israeli army dating back to the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba in 1948 and the occupations of 1967, and continuing up to the present day: “the IPO proudly announces its partnership with the army under a scheme whereby special concerts for Israeli soldiers are organized at their army outposts”.  On behalf of the leading Palestinian musical and cultural organisations, PACBI called on the BBC to withdraw its invitation to the IPO.

BRICUP wrote its own letter to Roger Wright, Director of the Proms, on 31st July, attaching a copy of PACBI’s Open Letter for good measure. In it BRICUP’s chair, Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, wrote: “By inviting the IPO, a pillar of the Israeli state system and of its cultural propaganda campaign, you provide the Israeli government, perpetrator of the Cast Lead invasion of Gaza and of so many other violations of international law and of human rights, with the support that they crave.  Cancel the concert!”

Like PACBI, BRICUP has received no reply from the BBC.

“This is no surprise to anyone who knows what the BBC is like regarding Palestine”, said Dr. Sue Blackwell, one of 19 people who pursued an appeal to the BBC Trust concerning bias in the Panorama programme about the Israeli assault on the Mavi Marmara.  “The BBC would not even screen the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for civilians in Gaza who had had their homes and schools bombed in Operation Cast Lead, and they recently bleeped the word ‘Palestine’ out of a rap performance by Mic Righteous.”

“We can only assume they are ignoring us” said BRICUP’s Chris Burns-Cox.  “They are mistaken if they think we will just go away.  We are now calling on all music-lovers of conscience to boycott this Prom, and to call on the BBC to cancel it.  We will be picketing and leafleting outside the Royal Albert Hall on 1st September”.

Prof. Rosenhead said: “For years now the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been promoting ‘Brand Israel’, a deliberate PR campaign to divert people’s gaze from what they are doing to Palestinians. The idea is to craft a new image by focusing on Israel’s cultural and scientific achievements. This Prom concert by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra is part of the Brand Israel campaign.”

Notes for Editors

1.            Details of the Prom appear on the BBC website here:

2.            The PACBI (Palestinian BDS campaign) call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel:

3.            PACBI’s open letter: “Out of Tune with Human Rights”

   BBC Proms: Cancel Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Invitation

4.            BRICUP’s letter to Roger Wright:

July 31 2011

Roger Wright,

Controller BBC Radio 3
Director BBC Proms,
Broadcasting House,
Portland Place
London
W1B 1DJ

Dear Roger Wright

Israel Philharmonic at the Proms

You may already be aware of the call from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel for the invitation to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra to perform at this year’s Proms season to be cancelled. In case you have not, I attach a copy of their Open Letter.

I shall not repeat here the arguments in that letter, signed by an impressive array of Palestinian cultural organisations. They are supported also by British organizations concerned to see justice for Palestinians. Boycott is a non-violent way, requested by Palestinian civil society, to bring the pressure of world civil society to bear on the Israeli public and government. By inviting the IPO, a pillar of the Israeli state system and of its cultural propaganda campaign, you provide the Israeli government, perpetrator of the Cast Lead invasion of Gaza and of so many other violations of international law and of human rights, with the support that they crave.

 Cancel the concert!

Yours sincerely

(Professor) Jonathan Rosenhead

Chair, BRICUP

Please reply to: [ home address supplied ]

www.bricup.org.uk

Campaigners withdraw threat to picket Israeli Music conference after organisers confirm “No Israeli funding”

Press release from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine

24th March 2011

Groups campaigning for Palestinian human rights have declared that a conference on Israeli music is “no longer a priority for boycott”.

The conference “Art Musics of Israel: Identities, Ideologies, Influences” is being organised by the Jewish Music Institute (JMI), from 28th to 31st March. Some of its events are being held at SOAS, University of London.

Original publicity material for the conference had acknowledged support from the Israeli Embassy, London, and the British Israeli Arts Training Scheme (BI ARTS), “a British Council initiative in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture and Sport in Israel”. The British Friends of the Hebrew University was also mentioned.

Consequently the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG) and the Boycott Israel Network (BIN) all called for the conference to be boycotted. They prepared a letter to be sent to all those taking part, whether as speakers, session chairs or performers.

This decision was communicated to the Conference organisers, and a strong statement opposing the holding of the event was signed by distinguished practitioners from many musical fields. (See text below).

However, in correspondence with the protesters, Geraldine Auerbach, the head of the Jewish Music Institute, stated “I confirm that there is no funding directly or indirectly from the Israeli Government or institutions”. Subsequently all reference to the Israeli- related organisations was removed from the conference’s online publicity materials. Similarly Ms Auerbach, who had stated in the Jewish Chronicle that the Israeli Embassy was helping to promote the Conference, now stated that no such promotion had taken place.

After some further discussion and clarification, the protestors declared that although they still had strong concerns about the conference, they would not be picketing it and would no longer be writing to participants.

The Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) states “the Palestinian boycott call targets cultural institutions, projects and events that continue to serve the purposes of the Israeli colonial and apartheid regime”.

Reem Kelani, Palestinian singer and musician, said: “It is a stain on SOAS’ stature as an institution of academic excellence to host a conference which seeks to deny the existence of a Palestinian cultural narrative and whose primary purpose is to present a politically shaped Israeli musical history.”

Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead of BRICUP said: “Clearly the event has been formulated in close contact with the Israeli authorities, so that its programme and structure serve the Brand Israel agenda. Nonetheless we acknowledge that the organisers have now stated unambiguously that no Israeli funding or support has been received, even if they did change their story several times during our campaign.”

Deborah Fink, a professional soprano and founder member of J-BIG, said: “This is a victory for the BDS movement, and we continue to step up our campaign until Israel ends the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza and Palestinians are given their equality and human rights.”

PACBI and the British organisations are in agreement that the conference remains “completely boycottable”.

Although the campaigners have withdrawn their threat to picket or disrupt it, they are still intending to give out leaflets at some of the events pointing out the impossibility of holding an equivalent conference on Palestinian music because of the Israeli occupation.

Notes to Editors

1. The Palestinian Call for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel can be read at:

http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=869

More detailed guidelines on how the cultural boycott should be applied can be read at: http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1047

2. Text of the original statement opposing the conference:

“As musicians we are dismayed that the forthcoming conference on Art Musics of Israel (28-31 March), hosted by the School of Oriental and African Studies and the Jewish Music Institute, is to be supported by Israeli state institutions – namely the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture and Sport, as well as their London Embassy. The reason for this support is all too clear: the conference fits snugly into the state’s ‘Brand Israel’ campaign to draw a liberal, cultured veil over a brutish reality.

“That reality is decades of illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, contempt for international law, deadly assaults on Lebanon, on Gaza, and on a humanitarian aid flotilla, the continuing siege of Gaza, and the deliberate and wholesale disruption of Palestinian social, economic and cultural life.

“Music should not be enlisted as a cover-up for these ongoing crimes. We oppose this conference and urge other musicians not to participate in any way.”

Signed, all in personal capacities:

Derek Ball (composer) Sue Beardon (singer) Frances Bernstein (community choir leader) Raymond Deane (composer)  Deborah Fink (soprano) Lisa Heller (singer) Andy Irvine (Irish music) Fergus Johnston (composer) Reem Kelani (Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster) Les Levidow (violinist) Lubi (DJ) Ewan McLennan (folk musician/songwriter)  Dave Randall (musician) Leon Rosselson (singer-songwriter) Dominic Saunders (pianist) Leni Solinger (singer)  Kareem Taylor (musician) Nicolai V (DJ)

For further information contact:

music@bricup.org.uk