Demonstrators muffled the sounds of the Philadelphia Orchestra over the weekend in a protest of the company’s upcoming tour in Israel.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported about 60 activists protested the orchestra on Saturday after campaigning outside of the venue for nearly two months, “Two of the protesters that entered the hall led music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to slam his baton on the podium and walk off the stage. Some musicians began to leave, too, before the protesters, who were loudly booed by the audience, were forcibly removed.”
Palestinian novelist Susan Abulhawa started protesting the orchestra well before the recent protests in Gaza garnered headlines when the Israeli military killed more than 60 Palestinians in one day, coinciding with the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Abulhawa is part of the coalition that put on the Saturday event and campaign, organizers included Workers World, Black Lives Matter, Jewish Voice for Peace, Adalah NY, Philly BDS, Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, to name a few.
Yet over recent days, Gaza has been on her mind.
She explained in an interview with Philadelphia Magazine there were two disruptions, one inside of the concert hall and one outside.
“This boycott call is modeled after the South African anti-apartheid call in the ’80s and ’90s, and it was made because Israel has been able to act with impunity, as we have seen in Gaza. It is a brutal spectacle. No other country gets to act this way,” Abulhawa said.
The Philadelphia Orchestra will be performing in Israel from June 1 to 8. The tour was coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in commemorating Israel’s declaration of independence. A rundown of the trip from the Jewish Federation notes the orchestra will play “a trio of concerts in Israel as the only major North American symphony orchestra to visit the country during this celebratory Israel 70 year.”
The orchestra will have encounters with members of the Israeli government. Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent reported Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai will stop in on the group.
Head of the Jewish Federation Naomi Adler, told the Exponent the trip is about “cultural diplomacy”
“We’re producing a very high-level trip in which a community member can experience Israel culturally and be a part of the cultural diplomacy that’s involved in the trip and, at the same time, can follow the orchestra and end with this unbelievable culinary experience” she said.
The musicians will also meet with members of the Israeli military during their stay, which has been a focus of protesters.
“When they are going to Israel, they are not just playing a concert. They are going in celebration of Israel, and they will be meeting with the Israeli military,” Abulhawa told Philadelphia Magazine. According to an itinerary, the orchestra will take the stage in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. It will have a side by side performance with it Tel Aviv University Orchestra, meet with music student, and members of the Israeli army’s music program.
“Philadelphia Orchestra musicians will give master classes to members of the Outstanding Musicians of the IDF Program. The program enables young soldiers with musical talent to continue developing their skills during army service,” states the orchestra’s website.
The Philadelphia Orchestra made a statement in response to Abulhawa’s interview, which it said “goes on to state several falsehoods regarding our upcoming tour to Israel. The tour is not being planned in collaboration with the Israeli government, as Ms. Abulhawa claims. Additionally, Ms. Abulhawa wrongfully states that the Orchestra will be visiting an army base. The Orchestra will not be visiting any military bases while in Israel, but rather — as part of our residency activities to bring people together through the universal language of music — musicians of the Orchestra will give masterclasses to young students and members of the Outstanding Musicians of the IDF Program. The program enables young soldiers with musical talent to continue developing their skills during army service.”
The Orchestra also contested Abulhawa’s recollection of the conduct of the orchestra’s Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin during the protest, which the Philadelphia Magazine determined was not accurate.
This will be the second trip to Israel taken by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The first was in 1992.
8:04p.m., this post has been updated to acknowledge the large coalition of groups who organized the protest at the Philadelphia Orchestra.