Philadelphia Orchestra teams up with Israeli soldiers

On this episode of The Electronic Intifada Podcast: Human rights activists keep up pressure on Philadelphia Orchestra over its Israel tour; Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak protested in San Francisco

For months, human rights activists have held demonstrations outside the performance hall of the Philadelphia Orchestra, demanding it cancel its upcoming trip to Israel.

Last week, as the orchestra left for Europe and continued to reject demands to cancel the concerts in Israel, the protests followed.

Activists in Brussels, Belgium interrupted the orchestra during a performance of a Brahms piano concerto with chants of “boycott Israel” and “free, free Palestine.”

The Brussels-based activists say that by ignoring the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) from Palestinian civil society, the Philadelphia Orchestra “is vouching for the politics of a criminal state.”

The orchestra conceded it is bracing for disruptions throughout its European tour, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

More than 100 artists, musicians and scholars, along with dozens of social justice organizations have called on the Philadelphia Orchestra to cancel the Israel trip, due to begin this weekend.

“Ignored completely”

Those protesting the tour have said that while the orchestra claims the trip is not a political mission, officials in Israel’s consulate in New York confirmed that the performance is meant to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding as well as the unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as its capital.

Activists attempted several times to speak with the orchestra’s leadership about their concerns but were “ignored completely,” writer Susan Abulhawa told The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

Abulhawa added that activists with the Philly Don’t Orchestrate Apartheid campaign then felt compelled “to take to the streets and begin having rallies and protesting outside of their concerts, and informing their patrons what’s happening and why we were there.”

On 19 May, protesters disrupted the orchestra’s performance inside the Philadelphia concert hall while dozens of activists rallied outside.

A video taken by an audience member sitting close to the stage shows them playing a recorded message through speakers just before the concert was to begin.

“Initially, there were cheers, but then there was heckling,” Abulhawa said.

According to the above screenshots, the orchestra has removed references from its website of a planned visit to an Israeli army base.

The group has also deleted mention of a scheduled meeting with Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev – notorious for her racism against Palestinians and Africans.

However, the orchestra says that its members will perform with active Israeli soldiers.

Abulhawa admonished the orchestra’s plans to play music with members of Israel’s occupying army, which killed more than 100 Palestinians and wounded more than 12,000 in Gaza since 30 March. “There’s no defense of it,” she said.

Protesters shout down Ehud Barak

On 16 May, human rights activists in San Francisco protested an event with former Israeli prime minister and former defense minister Ehud Barak, who was in town to promote his new memoir.

As activists demonstrated outside of the venue, others inside the event hall repeatedly stood up and loudly condemned Barak’s involvement in ordering attacks against Palestinians, specifically during the attack on Gaza in 2008-09, what is known as Operation Cast Lead.

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the assaults.

“The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone that [Barak] came to promote his book lauding his career as a ‘peacemaker,’ literally several days after continued massacres in Gaza where, I think, one could say Ehud Barak has some of his longest military legacy in his element as a war criminal,” Wassim Hage of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center told The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

A video of the protest during Barak’s event can be seen here:

“As the protestors spoke back to Barak inside the hall, there was a spirited demonstration for more than two hours” outside the Jewish Community Center, which hosted the event, according to activists with the Palestine Action Network of the Bay Area.

Eighteen activists were arrested during the protest.

Listen to the interviews with Susan Abulhawa and Wassim Hage via the media player above.

Theme music and production assistance by Sharif Zakout

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Why be surprised at the Philadelphia Orchestra visiting and performing in Israel? Life in the United States of America is as cheap as it is in Illegitimate Israel so long as you are the "wrong" race, religion, ethnicity, etc., etc., etc.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).