The Philadelphia Orchestra’s announcement of a Israel trip in June 2018 sparked a tsunami of letters and protests by human rights advocates demanding the cancellation of the trip. Touted as a cultural mission, the trip was immediately clear as a ‘Brand Israel’ propaganda tour – celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary, while whitewashing the Israel’s expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes between 1947 and 1949.
Culture is inseparable from politics. Artists performing in Israel obscure the reality of the lived Palestinian experience of occupation and apartheid. The itinerary, prominently featuring the orchestra’s name and logo, lists visits to notables responsible for the implementation of Israeli policies which violate Palestinian human rights on a daily basis. For example, the Orchestra will have a “VIP visit” to an Israeli army base, plus a June 4 performance with Israeli army musicians. The orchestra also feted the tour at a gala event, led by Israeli Consul Dani Dayan, a longtime leader of Israel’s right-wing settlement movement.
The trip will also include invitees from Jewish Federation of Philadelphia, in partnership with The Philadelphia Orchestra on this “journey.” A previous version of that itinerary included an event with Israel’s right-wing anti-Palestinian, anti-Black Minister of Culture, Miri Regev. Regev’s name was removed from the itinerary just after the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted her involvement.
After concerned patron’s letters to the Orchestra opposing the trip were met with less than satisfying responses that avoided key issues raised, eleven longtime subscribers and donors issued a collective statement. They announced their decision to withdraw their support of the Orchestra if it does not cancel its Israel tour.
The full statement was sent to Philadelphia Orchestra Co-Presidents Ryan Fleur, Matthew Loden, and Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and appears below:
“Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity, so it would be wrong for Cape Town Opera to perform in Israel.”
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 26 October 2010
We are longtime subscribers and donors to The Philadelphia Orchestra. We are human rights advocates, and we support a just peace in Israel-Palestine.
We urge the Philadelphia Orchestra to cancel their tour in Israel, scheduled for June 2018, and to refuse to entertain Israeli apartheid. We strongly oppose this trip, knowing it is used to mask egregious Israeli policies of occupation, apartheid, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people.
We are especially opposed to the orchestra’s planned meeting with the Israeli army, whose snipers killed over 41 unarmed Palestinian protesters in the besieged Gaza strip and injured over 5000 in the last three four alone.
Palestinian civil society called on the international community to impose boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) measures against Israel, like those applied to South Africa during apartheid, until Israel respects Palestinians’ rights under international law.
We believe the Orchestra has a duty to do no harm. At the very least, it should not undermine Palestinian non-violent resistance or meet with the Israeli military that systemically represses the indigenous Palestinian people.
By performing in Israel, The Philadelphia Orchestra is complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights, as it is providing musical accompaniment to Israel’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba or catastrophe.
We will no longer support the Orchestra if it decides to lend legitimacy to Israel’s apartheid regime.
We sincerely hope the Orchestra will stand on the right side of history by canceling its Israel tour.
Marjorie C. Johnson
“Philly, Don’t Orchestrate Apartheid,” the resolute local campaign coalition, is into its fifth week of purposeful protest actions ranging from flooding the inbox of the orchestra and local papers with letters and Op Ed submissions, and petitions urging the orchestra cancel its trip. Animated by their unwavering commitment to Palestinian human rights and justice, spirited protesters have become a weekly presence at the Kimmel Center in Center City Philadelphia where they vigorously challenge orchestra-goers with political signs, flyers, chants, photos, videos, street theater, and an open mic.
In pursuit of its demand that the beloved Philadelphia Orchestra not normalize apartheid, the unrelenting campaign to cancel the Israel tour is successfully disrupting pleasure–as- usual for orchestra Aficionados in Philadelphia.
Though supporters of the Israeli government’s right-wing policies may work to raise funds for the orchestra as a result of the tour, the orchestra will likely continue to lose support from constituents concerned with rights and justice for all. This decision to play Israel is out of tune with the orchestra’s history. And while the stakes are highest for Palestinians, the loss of patronage and esteem impacts the orchestra.
Who else is on the right side of history?