A performance last month by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was met with protests from Adalah-NY, who urged Carnegie Hall to cancel the orchestra’s appearance in response to the Palestinians’ call for a cultural boycott of the Israeli “apartheid state” that – in their perspective – is occupying Arab land, building settlements, and repressing Palestinians. Zubin Mehta, the Philharmonic’s musical director, summed up the boycott by saying, “As long as they keep building settlements the world will be anti-Israeli.”
Adalah-NY is an organization committed to international protests of all things Israeli. “Tonight we are telling the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, and the Israeli government that its ‘Brand Israel’ campaign cannot cover up the injustice that Palestinians face,” said Adalah-NY member Daniel Strum while protesting outside of Carnegie Hall.
When asked if the criticism of Israel was fair, Mehta said, “Most of it is unfair. Part of it is fair.” Mehta opposes not only the settlements, but, he said, “the bombardments, by both sides! We’re firing into Gaza! They’re firing into Israel. Why? They’re not bombing the settlements! When is this going to stop?” He added, “We see photos of militants mourning, and the pictures break your heart. And there are millions of such mourners.”
Mehta, born in 1936 to a musical Parsi family in Bombay, is not Jewish, nor does he speak Hebrew, despite having spent at least three months of most years in Israel since 1961, when he first directed the IPO.
Israel’s more than 7 million people, he says, are more deeply polarized than ever before, but in new ways. “There’s no more left and right,” he says. “The traditional political dividing line has all but disappeared in Israel, as it has in America. But now there’s “black and white, religious and non-religious, rich and poor – so many cleavages.”
The orchestra, however, brings people together, which is why, he argues, trying to isolate Israel by targeting the IPO is both misguided – since the orchestra is a private foundation and not a state agency per se – and counter-productive. Music unifies people, he says.
Author Alice Walker and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters were among the celebrities who demanded Carnegie Hall cancel the Oct. 25 concert. The protests against the orchestra should not come as a surprise since leftist actors, writers, and artists have long delighted in bashing Israel. Vanessa Redgrave, one of the most pro-Palestinian members of the acting community, famously got booed when accepting her 1977 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Julia when she made reference to “Zionist thugs.” Later on during the ceremony, before presenting the writing awards, Paddy Chayefsky scolded Redgrave’s remarks to cheers from the audience, including Neil Simon, who made a jubilant gesture with his fist in agreement with Chayefsky, although the camera also caught a glimpse of disproval from Shirley MacLaine, who was nodding her head back and forth.
In 2009, the Toronto International Film Festival planned to honor the city of Tel-Aviv by highlighting its cinematic accomplishments. An open letter was sent to the festival, condemning it for spotlighting Israel in wake of what the letter’s signers viewed as Israel’s wrongful use of force against the Palestinians. The letter also mentioned the absence of any Palestinian filmmakers in the festival.
Among the signers of the letter were the aforementioned Walker, Harry Belafonte, David Byrne, Noam Chomsky, Julie Christie, Eve Ensler, Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen, and Wallace Shawn.
In 2010, Elvis Costello canceled two concerts in Israel citing the “intimidation, humiliation or much worse” inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians.