Guardian readers take issue on antisemitism, Palestine and the right to protest

January 18, 2012
Sarah Benton

Israel, Palestine and the meaning of antisemitism

Once again a Jewish writer (Tanya Gold, 17 January) complaining about antisemitism deliberately ignores the distinction between false accusations against Jews over the centuries and justified criticism of the Jewish takeover of Palestine, a land that in living memory had a population that was 90% Arab, including my grandparents. Should the victim of a crime keep quiet because false accusations have been made against the criminal in the past? Let it be said loud and clear – it is entirely possible to criticise Israel without being antisemitic. To deny this is to argue against freedom of speech.
Karl Sabbagh
Newbold on Stour, Warwickshire

I was horrified by the antisemitic game-playing on an LSE ski trip recently and pay tribute to the solitary Jewish student who got a bloody nose for objecting. My own Jewish nostrils are very sensitive to any whiff of antisemitism and I never smelled even a hint of it during my LSE years. Tanya Gold is right to fear that this event indicates greater acceptability today of antisemitic discourse, though, unlike her, I regard John Galliano’s “non-murderous” antisemitism as a nasty manifestation of this trend too. Yet I am equally bothered by Tanya’s elision of criticism of the Israeli state with such discourse.

The “Jewish state” does not merely “defend itself” – it occupies and steals Palestinian land. It is not antisemitic towards anyone (including many Israeli Jews) to say so. I didn’t heckle at the Israeli Philharmonic Proms performance, but I don’t think they should have been invited: they are actively engaged in supporting the occupation when, in their own words, they play “special concerts for IDF soldiers at their outposts”.

I don’t know anyone who demands “that Jews denounce Israel” to achieve political acceptability. Yet I have frequently been viciously abused by those fellow Jews who object when I ask Israel to cease betraying Judaism’s historic humanitarian traditions.
Naomi Wayne
(Law student, LSE 1968-71), London

I am appalled that the London Philharmonic Orchestra maintains its unjust decision to suspend Sarah Streatfeild and others (Report, 13 January) based on the fact that these players, in their letter of protest to the BBC, have signed themselves as Name, (instrument LPO). If the LPO’s powers that be felt any public clarification was needed that these four musicians were expressing their personal view, this could have been easily done. But who are the powers that be?

The LPO is a so-called self-governing London orchestra but, in my experience, this does not mean the collective voice of the musicians carries much weight. I suspect the powers that be are the manager and members of the board. Orchestral players in self-governing orchestras can often be blamed for their passivity and consequent loss of their voice, but in this case I can’t believe they support such treatment of colleagues. It would be very honourable if the principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowsky, and past LPO principal conductors Kurt Masur and Bernard Haitink were to make representations to the LPO to reinstate and compensate the players. More meaningful would be for the LPO’s musicians to collectively make these demands for their colleagues by not playing another note until they are met.
Peter Thomas
Ex-leader, Philharmonia and City of Birmingham Symphony orchestras

Violinist suspended for Israel Proms protest takes claim to tribunal
Call for Proms organisers to cancel concert by Israel Philharmonic Orchestra led to suspension of four musicians

Alex Needham,,

One of four musicians Orchestra is taking a claim for discrimination on the grounds of belief to an employment tribunal.

Sarah Streatfeild, who has played violin with the LPO for 25 years, was suspended for six months without pay last September after she signed a joint letter to the Independent calling on the Proms to cancel a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

The letter said: “The IPO has a deep involvement with the Israeli state – not least its self-proclaimed ‘partnership’ with the Israeli Defence Forces. This is the same state and army that impedes in every way it can the development of Palestinian culture, including the prevention of Palestinian musicians from travelling abroad to perform.”

Sue Sutherley, a cellist, and the violinists Tom Eisner and Nancy Elan were also suspended for signing it.

Tim Walker, the LPO’s chief executive, and Martin Hohmann, its chairman, said at the time that the musicians had identified themselves as members of the LPO.

“The orchestra would never restrict the right of its players to express themselves freely, however such expression has to be independent of the LPO itself,” they said.

“The company has no wish to end the careers of four talented musicians but … for the LPO, music and politics do not mix.”

In her claim, Streatfeild says her humanist beliefs compelled her to make a stand but thought the letter was intended for the BBC management and not a public forum. She added the letters “LPO” for identification purposes only.

She is seeking a formal apology for the damage caused to her reputation, and an order that she has been discriminated on grounds of her beliefs as well as compensation for the injury to her feelings, loss of earnings and reputation.

The Proms concert by the Israel Philharmonic went ahead two days after the letter was published, but was disrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters so noisily that the BBC took its live broadcast off the air.

Avi Shoshani, the Israel Philharmonic secretary general, said this month that the orchestra might never come back to the UK. He told the Times: “Why should I put my musicians in such an unpleasant situation? We want to make people happy – that’s what music is all about – and if people behave in such an uncivilised way why should we be part of it?”

Two days after the protests, the violinist received an email from the LPO which said she was being suspended with immediate and indefinite effect. Her suspension was later set at six months.

Sutherley is now back at the LPO, while Eisner has played with an orchestra in Denmark. However, Streatfeild is not thought to have worked since September. After the musicians were suspended from the LPO, a group of artists, filmmakers and writers including Sam West, Mike Leigh and Mark Wallinger wrote to the Telegraph to protest against the decision, saying “A healthy civil society is founded on the ability of all to express non-violent and non-prejudiced opinions, freely and openly, without fear of financial or professional retribution.”

A Facebook group, End suspension of the LPO4, was set up in September, while in December Norman Lebrecht, the pro-Israel writer and broadcaster, called on the LPO to “temper justice with compassion” and reinstate the musicians before Christmas. Lebrecht had originally blogged about the letter, describing the names of the musicians protesting as a “list of shame”.

Shazia Khan of Bindman’s Solicitors, for Streatfeild, said: “Making a stand about the invitation to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was a question of conscience for my client. Mrs Streatfeild is devastated that her career and livelihood was stopped by the LPO and in such an abrupt and public manner immediately after she expressed her beliefs. Notwithstanding this she is disappointed she has had to issue legal proceedings and invites the LPO to engage with her in an attempt to resolve the dispute outside the court arena.”

The LPO said it had no further comment.

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