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Violinist Nigel Kennedy, whose remark about the “apartheid” conditions faced by Palestinians was censored from a BBC Prom concert broadcast, has vigorously defended his comment, adding more fuel to the row about the BBC’s decision. See the Jewish Chronicle’s coverage here and here.

In an open letter to young  musicians of the Palestine Strings with whom he shared the stage to spectacular effect on August 8, Kennedy, who is billed to play at the Last Night of the Proms on September 7, wrote:

Your performance at the Royal Albert Hall was something to be proud of and demonstrated the benefits of people being treated equally as opposed to being decimated and robbed by an apartheid system.

As you have seen, there is huge support for stopping the abuse of your human rights. My short comment [about apartheid] was purely observational and humanist. It surely wouldn’t 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. Many thanks however to [everyone] for giving a world platform to the important discussion concerning Zionist apartheid.

I hope life is treating you ok. We all miss you over here. I’m sorry to hear that the “normal” treatment of Palestinian people by the Israeli authorities led to you being detained for twelve hours. I am looking forward to playing with you again soon and to the days when we can play on a level playing field in Palestine and throughout the world.

No further information is available at the time of writing about the detention of the young musicians Kennedy refers to.

The BBC has insisted that Kennedy’s “apartheid” remark was cut for purely editorial reasons. But an article in the Jewish Chronicle before the TV broadcast on August 23 referred approvingly to lobbying efforts by Zionists, among them Baroness Deech, a well-known pro-Israel advocate and former BBC governor.

The decision to censor has provoked serious online discussion in musical and activist circles, with writers’ organisation PEN and Index on Censorship weighing in in Kennedy’s defence. The Daily Telegraph published a letter signed by 32 Jews opposed to the BBC’s decision, among them actress Miriam Margolyes and writer/comedian Alexei Sayle.

An online petition – Don’t Censor the Palestine Prom – has gathered more than 1,100 signatures and remains open.


This picture from the Proms website beautifully illustrates  the collaboration between Kennedy and the young musicians from Palestine Strings. BBC/Chris Christodoulou

This picture from the Proms website beautifully illustrates the collaboration between Nigel Kennedy and the young musicians of the Palestine Strings. BBC/Chris Christodoulou

In an astonishingly supine display of cowardice, the BBC has bowed to pressure from Zionist lobbyists and said it intends to cut out an allusion to Israeli apartheid  when it broadcasts a Promenade concert by the brilliant and mercurial violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Kennedy, a long-standing supporter of Palestinian rights, used the word “apartheid” in a brief reference to the hostile life circumstances of young Palestinian musicians performing with him at the Royal Albert Hall in London on August 8.

At the end of a warmly received re-working of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons involving Arabic, Jazz and many other styles, Kennedy said:

“Ladies and gentlemen, 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.”

The concert had indeed shown that, in the face of adversity, Palestinian musicians could hold their own on one of the most prestigious of world stages. Audience reaction on the night was rapturous and reviews by music critics in the TimesGuardianIndependent and Telegraph were overwhelmingly favourable.

An in-depth advance piece in the Financial Times had offered a valuable insight into the way music and politics are intertwined in the lives of Palestinian players.

It must have been fury at the granting of a such a high-profile platform to Palestinian cultural self-expression that sent the pro-Israel camp into a vengeful frenzy. Marcus Dysch, political correspondent at the incorrigibly Zionist Jewish Chronicle, wrote that former BBC governor Baroness Deech had demanded an apology from Kennedy for his “offensive and untrue” remarks.

Tweeting about the story he had written, Dysch celebrated a deliberate attempt to undermine the growing boycott movement directed at Israeli crimes:

“Another #BDSfail – BBC to cut Nigel Kennedy’s anti-Israel rant from Proms broadcast”

Even the JC editors thought “anti-Israel rant” was a bit strong, preferring to label Kennedy’s innocuous words a “slur”.

The BBC said: “Nigel’s comment to the audience at his late-night prom on August 8 will not be included in the deferred BBC 4 broadcast on August 23 because it does not fall within the editorial remit of the proms as a classical music festival.”
This excuse is similar  to the BBC’s lame justification for beeping out rap artist Mic Righteous’ shout  of “Free Palestine” on Radio 1Xtra in February 2011 and for the last-minute pulling of an advertised TV documentary about archaeology in the Holy Land earlier this year.

A campaign is now underway to stop the BBC redacting Kennedy’s offending truths from its August 23 Prom broadcast.

Sign the petition.

Comment on the Proms Facebook page

Write to BBC chairman Chris Patten (chris.patten@bbc.co.uk or lord.patten@bbc.co.uk), copying the BBC Trust (trust.inquiries@bbc.co.uk) and asking them to make sure your letter goes to Patten and relevant executives.


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:


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: