British arts world wades into row over Israeli orchestra

Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:23pm EDT
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By Alice Baghdjian

LONDON (Reuters) - Leading names in British arts world have criticised the London Philharmonic Orchestra's (LPO) suspension of four members who opposed a London concert by Israeli musicians.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, film maker Mike Leigh, actress Miriam Margolyes and 115 other prominent arts figures said they were "shocked" and "dismayed" at the suspension of the four musicians, and urged the LPO to reconsider its decision.

"One does not have to share the musician's support for the campaign for boycotting Israeli institutions to feel grave concern about the bigger issue at stake for artists and others. There is a link being created here between personal conscience and employment which we must all resist," the letter said.

"Why should it be so dangerous for artists to speak out on the issue of Israel/Palestine? We are dismayed at the precedent set by this harsh punishment, and we strongly urge the LPO to reconsider its decision," it said.

The LPO suspended violinists, Tom Eisner, Nancy Elan and Sarah Streatfeild, and cellist, Sue Sutherley, for nine months after they used its name in support of a boycott of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's (IPO) performance at the annual BBC proms in London.

The four musicians were signatories of a letter, published on Aug 30, which said "Israel's policy toward the Palestinians fits the UN definition of apartheid."

They stated their affiliation to the British orchestra along with their signatures -- "a convention which is common practice within the academic world," their supporters said in Thursday's letter.

"If they had signed their names without affiliation it would not have been an issue for the LPO," chief executive of the LPO, Timothy Walker, told the Daily Telegraph.   Continued...