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October 29, New York, NY – Outside Manhattan’s normally staid Lincoln Center cultural complex tonight, 50 New Yorkers delivered a clear message rejecting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s (IPO) deliberate use of art to whitewash Israel’s systematic and brutal repression of the rights of the Palestinian people. The IPO, which was holding a fundraising concert, calls itself “Israel’s musical ambassador throughout the country and the world” and helps to project a positive image of Israel, diverting attention from Israel’s human rights abuses, as part of the Israeli government’s “Brand Israel” initiative.
Many of the well-dressed patrons, who had paid up to $5000 apiece for tickets to the IPO concert at the Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, looked disturbed to encounter a radical marching band, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra (RMO), and a crowd of protesters with chants that included, “Your orchestra is classy, your piano is so grand, we’d love to have you play for us when you stop stealing land;” and “Oboe, trumpet and bassoon, apartheid is out of tune.”
Other passers-by read the literature being distributed by protesters and, in some cases, took up signs and joined the demonstration. Eight dancers in a second floor Alice Tully Hall studio with floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the protest, inspired by the RMO’s renditions of “Which Side Are You On?” and “We Shall Not Be Moved,” treated the crowd to an impromptu dance performance.
Daniel Strum of Adalah-NY explained, “Culture in the service of the Israeli government, that denies Palestinians basic rights, including their right to cultural expression, should be protested and boycotted.” American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra calls the IPO “Israel's finest cultural emissary” and notes that “[t]he goodwill created by these tours...is of enormous value to the State of Israel.” An Israeli Foreign Ministry official explained the government efforts to rebrand Israel that the IPO supports to the New York Times in 2009 saying, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits…This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
Yasmine Megahed from Adalah-NY said, “The IPO’s use of classical music to support government militarization is wrong. More and more people are rejecting the Brand Israel strategy, and joining the growing movement to boycott Israel.” An October news report explained that the IPO receives 14 percent of its funding from the Israeli government. In the same piece, Julian Rachlin, the IPO’s conductor for tonight’s performance, lamented that there is not more government funding but simultaneously affirmed his support for Israel’s militarization, explaining that “most of the [government’s] money goes to the army, and rightly so.” While IPO conductor Zubin Mehta expressed concerns about some Israeli government policies in a 2012 interview, the IPO’s support for the Israeli government and military has not wavered since 1948. The IPO was also the target of lively NYC protests at performances in 2011 and 2012.
On October 27th, the same New York groups protested outside the performance of Israeli musician Idan Raichel at the Beacon Theatre. Raichel is another self-proclaimed propagandist for the Israeli government and its apartheid policies towards the Palestinian people. The peaceful, spirited protest of chanting and singing was met by hostility and racism from many concert-goers.
The groups organizing tonight’s protest are part of the growing international movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, to pressure Israel to end its human rights abuses. The Palestinian-led BDS movement is a nonviolent campaign for Palestinian rights inspired by the international boycott campaign that helped to abolish apartheid in South Africa.
For photos of the protest: http://adalahny.org/photo-gallery/1094/pictures-israel-philharmonic-orchestra-protest-oct-29-2013