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Friday, 2 September 2011

Throw the Bruch at them

Although there are doubtless many people who would love to see me brought to Bruch for my many misdemeanours, nobody took me to last night's concert of the Israel Philharmonic. In fact, I boycotted it, on the principled grounds that I have extremely little interest in classical music and so would rarely want to be in the audience for this orchestra or for any other. Oh, of course I didn't boycott it, that's a joke, but I am something of a Philistine on matters musical and was therefore at home watching Torchwood while some pro-Palestinian campaigners were disrupting the Israeli orchestra's performance. 

There is actually a time-honoured tradition of making a political protest by disrupting a musical performance - didn't some of the campaigners for Soviet Jewry use to do it? Not that I'm drawing an inaccurate comparison between the historic plight of Soviet Jewry and the politics of Israel/Palestine. Plus, how is disrupting a performance of the Israel Phiharmonic any different from disrupting a performance by the comedian Ivor Dembina, as some pro-Israeli campaigners did a few weeks ago? Seriously, what is the difference? Although I suppose heckling a comedian is one thing, and heckling an orchestra is quite another - the former is an established part of the art form, while the latter is just disruption.

Nobody has the legal or moral right to stop the BBC from organising and broadcasting the concerts of its choice, be those concerts performed by Israelis or by anyone else. Equally, nobody has the legal or moral right to stop an audience from attending and enjoying a concert, be it performed by Israelis or by anybody else. Had pro-Palestinian campaigners stood outside politely handing out literature explaining to concert-goers what they (the campaigners) think about Israel/Palestine, nobody would object - least of all me. Indeed, had they done that, and had the literature been at all well-written, then they might even have influenced the opinions of some of the people reading it - and surely influencing people's opinions is the aim of any campaign?

Instead, however, they sought to prevent the concert from being enjoyed by its audience (including on the radio); in other words, they tried to stop other people from doing something that those other people were perfectly entitled to do. As a liberal, I believe in not restricting someone's freedom unless that person is acting in such a way as to in itself restrict the freedom of another person. So I think it is quite reasonable to restrict the freedom of people who want to shout at concerts. It is reasonable for such people to be removed by security guards and, if they refuse to leave when asked to do so, then it is reasonable for them to be arrested.

After all, I once refused to eat in a Chinese restaurant in London called the Cultural Revolution. When you consider what the Cultural Revolution actually was, can you think of any sicker joke than naming a restaurant after it? So I chose not to eat there. I did not, however, go in, order a meal and then stand up and start shouting during other people's meals. I can well understand why an anti-Israel campaigner would not want to buy a ticket to a concert of the Israel Philharmonic; I can understand less why they wanted to buy tickets (generating revenue for which I'm sure the Israel Philharmonic is very grateful) and then stand up and start shouting and booing during the concert. I very much doubt that their antics changed the mind of a single person or won any converts to their cause. What, therefore, do they imagine that they achieved?

I see also that the Simon Bolivar Orchestra performed at the Proms the other week without facing similar disruption. This orchestra is much-lauded (presumably justly) by people who know infinitely more about music than I do. I myself would probably never attend one of their concerts, because I find progressive opinion's lack of concern about Venezuelan human rights abuses to be nauseating and hypocritical. That is not the orchestra's fault and they are doubtless excellent, but it sticks in my craw that Israel's musicians cannot play in London without being interrupted, while no attention whatsoever is paid to what is happening in Venezuela

You can't say that Israel's music is inseparable from Israeli politics unless you are also going to say that Venezuela's music is inseparable from Venezuela's politics. So, for that reason, I'd probably not want to go to a concert of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, and feel surrounded by people who think it's all marvellous and care nothing for what is actually happening in that country. That is my choice. But I wouldn't stand up and boo, and I wouldn't seek to stop the concert from happening for other people. If I did, then I would deserve to be thrown out by security guards.

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