October 25, 2017, New York, NY - Forty-five New York human rights advocates protested outside a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) at Carnegie Hall this Wednesday evening.The IPO is a self-proclaimed cultural ambassador representing the state of Israel, helping to convey a positive image of Israel and divert attention from its human rights abuses, as part of the “Brand Israel” initiative.
Standing fifty feet from Carnegie Hall’s entrance, the protesters held signs, chanted and sang to tunes played by a radical marching band, capturing the attention of attendees and passersby. A small group of protesters from the anti-Arab hate group the Jewish Defense League came out to show support for the IPO, waving Israeli flags and displaying a sign that said “Level Gaza,” in keeping with Israel’s violent, militaristic policies.
The Orchestra is not an apolitical cultural institution. At this evening’s protest, Thai classical musician Sainatee Suárez said, “Let’s not pretend that music is a single, universal language (it is not) that magically generates rainbow bridges surpassing social and political and economic entanglements --- rather, let's directly confront the Israeli state's violent project of appropriation and erasure using the IPO as its instrument.”
Shortly after Israel’s 2009 assault on Gaza, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official explained government efforts to rebrand Israel to the New York Times, 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.” The protest supports the growing international call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, to pressure the state to end its human rights abuses. The Palestinian-led BDS campaigns for Palestinian rights are inspired by the international boycott campaign that helped abolish the legal apartheid system in South Africa.
According to Riham Barghouti from Adalah-NY, “2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, the forced expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians. At that time, the IPO, then called the Palestine Orchestra, toured Palestine and performed to raise the morale of the armed terrorist militias of the emerging state of Israel that were killing Palestinians and driving them from their homes. Since then, the Orchestra has provided unquestioning support for Israel’s apartheid policies.”
The Adalah-NY chorus and the radical marching band, Rude Mechanical Orchestra, accompanied the protestors in updated versions of “Which Side Are You On,” “We Shall Not Be Moved” and other songs, along with chants such as “The IPO won’t get our dimes, fronting for Israeli crimes” and “Zubin Mehta, listen up, you're conducting a cover-up.”
The IPO website proudly states that the Orchestra "represent[s] the State of Israel across the world.” American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra calls the IPO “the preeminent cultural ambassador for the State of Israel” and notes that “[T]he goodwill created by these tours…is of enormous value to the State of Israel.” The IPO remains closely intertwined with Israel’s militarism today, providing free concert tickets to Israeli soldiers, and running a program that brings Israeli soldiers who are musicians to practice music with at-risk children.