Thursday, 1 September 2011

She's going to be branded as just another Jew-hating Jew

Jessica Duchen has written a hard-hitting piece in support of the orchestral musicians' letter in The Independent criticising tonight's appearance at the Proms by the Israel Philharmonic. Headed "Proms exploited for arts propaganda campaign", the letter states:

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.
Our main concern is that Israel deliberately uses the arts as propaganda to promote a misleading image of Israel. [...]

The Director of the Proms, Roger Wright, was asked to cancel the concert in accordance with the call from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott (PACBI). He rejected this call, saying that the invitation is "purely musical". 

I tend to sympathise with Mr Wright. Radio 3 has a record of putting music above politics. The BBC has had at the Proms Daniel Barenboim's West-East Diwan Orchestra, which I trust will be back in future years. Almost certainly it was the Barenboim name which swayed the decision.

Back in the early 1960s, the BBC invited Yevgeny Mravinsky, the legendary conductor/trainer of the  Leningrad Philharmonic to conduct a Prom. This was by no means a friendly gesture to the Soviet state which sponsored the orchestra. If anything, it was the reverse, as the USSR, a decade after Stalin's death, was still reluctant to allow more than a few trusted musicians with exit visas. In the event, Mravinsky upset the authorities in some way and was barred. On a personal note, I missed the chance to see one of the world's greatest in action. By the time he was back in the state's good graces and was permitted to travel to London, I had already settled in Swansea.

I do have doubts about Proms programming being so dominated by foreign orchestras. It is fine to take some weight off the BBC Phil, but the price is to become more dependent on the visitors' agenda. Moreover, not every orchestra in the 2011 season has, in my opinion, reached the world-class standards espoused by Mr Wright.

That is clearly not a criticism which can be levelled at the IPO. Ms Duchen and the signatories to the Indy letter argue for a boycott on political grounds, in the same way that South African sports teams were boycotted in the apartheid era. There is a parallel in that sportsmen were regarded as liberals by SA nationalists and one has the impression that there is less support for their country's war crimes among Israel's intellectuals than the people who put Israel's present regime into power. But there is doubt that a cultural boycott, even if were possible, would have the same effect on the Israeli electorate than a cricket and rugby boycott affected the sports-mad South Africans. Another sidelight is that the IPO's conductor is Zubin Mehta, an Indian who, if I remember correctly, was not totally comfortable when he was in charge of the conservative - to say the least - Vienna State Opera orchestra.

The Jewish Chronicle has already labelled the boycott call as  "absurd" and "anti-Israeli". One recalls their hounding of Jenny Tonge when she made her emotional response to the plight of Palestinian women.  Unfortunately, too many in positions of power in this country take the JC as representative of Jewish opinion and ignore the more measured reporting of Israel's own Haaretz which will no doubt treat the call for the IPO boycott, as it has reported previous campaigns against Israeli actions, dispassionately. One trusts that Ms Duchen will not suffer professionally as a result of her blog, but she shows no signs of being personally affected by any potential criticism as an "ashamed Jew".

Anyway, aware that merely listening to tonight's concert is not going to have any physical effect on the Netanyahu regime, I intend to enjoy a quintessential Prom mix comprising the avant-garde, the popular and the unfamiliar, played by an excellent orchestra.

No comments: