Letter to Carnegie Hall: Cancel the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's Performance

October 1, 2012

Dear Clive Gillinson, Sanford Weill, and all Administrative Staff and Trustees at Carnegie Hall,

We are a group of New York City-based human rights activists and artists supporting the struggle for justice, human rights, equality, and democracy in the Middle East. We are writing with respect to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall.

As you may be aware, in 2006 the Israeli government launched a public relations initiative called “Brand Israel,” which seeks to use art and music to distract from Israel’s human rights violations. According to Israels Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by sending Israeli artists and musicians abroad, “you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” This cynical use of art and music serves to obscure Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, home demolitions in Jerusalem, kidnappings, bombings, multiple forms of collective punishment, and countless other grave abuses.

Supporting this attempt to hide the Israeli government’s crimes against humanity runs counter to New York City’s values of justice and equality. Your collaboration with the IPO also violates Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against complicit Israeli institutions until Israel ceases its violations of Palestinian rights and respects international law. This boycott, modeled on the boycott of apartheid South Africa, will continue until Israel ends its military occupation of Palestinian land, grants equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respects the right of refugees to return to their land.

We respectfully request that you cancel the IPO’s upcoming October performance for reasons set forth in greater detail below.

How the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Whitewashes Israel’s Oppression of Palestinians

The IPO is not an apolitical cultural institution; it is actively complicit in whitewashing Israeli human rights abuses, apartheid, and occupation of Palestinian land. Its website aptly notes that the IPO serves as “Israel’s musical ambassador throughout the country and the world.” American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra calls the IPO “Israel’s finest cultural emissary” and notes that “[t]he goodwill created by these tours … is of enormous value to the State of Israel.” The IPO has done nothing to distance itself from the Brand Israel campaign, nor has it ever made a public statement against the oppression of the Palestinian people. On the contrary, the orchestra proudly touts its special concerts for Israeli soldiers.

The IPO’s involvement in Israeli militarism is nothing new. In 1948, when 750,000 Palestinian people were forced out of their homes, the orchestra “traveled in armored cars … raising the morale of civilians and soldiers alike.” In 1967, as Israel was occupying the parts of Palestine they did not occupy in 1948, “Zubin Mehta arrived in a plane full of ammunition from Europe.” In further support for Israeli occupation beyond even the borders of historic Palestine, the IPO’s website notes that during war, “the orchestra continued to perform before IDF soldiers from the Golan Heights to Sinai”.

Brand Israel initiatives such as the IPO’s tour are designed to distract from the facts, including:

- Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands;

- Israel’s more than 200 Jewish-only settlements andoutposts built on Palestinian land in violation of international law;

- IsraelsApartheidwall in the West Bank that further appropriates Palestinian land, also in violation of international law according to the International Court of Justice;

- Israels demolition of about 27,000 Palestinian homes since 1967;

- Israel’s 2009 invasion of Gaza, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, prompting allegations of war crimes by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission.

- Israel’s 30 new and pending laws, in addition to the ones already in place, that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and enshrine their status as second-class citizens.

Palestinian Culture Suppressed

Institutionalized Israeli oppression of Palestinian people extends to all sectors of society, including artists and cultural workers. Hana Awwad, former dancer with El Funoun Popular Dance Troupe, explained to Adalah-NY, “Exhibits and performances by Palestinian artists are systematically banned, sabotaged, and closed down by the Israeli occupation. Artists themselves are targets of violence, arbitrary arrests, and deportations. Israel's three-tiered system of occupation, colonization, and apartheid ruthlessly suffocates the livelihoods of Palestinian communities, including our right to artistic and cultural expression.”

Palestinian singer, musician, and broadcaster Reem Kelani writes regarding the upcoming October IPO performance: “I am dismayed to hear that Carnegie Hall will be hosting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on 25th October. When the Soviet Union exploited its artists for political propaganda, people across America expressed their outrage and concern. On the other hand, when Israel uses the arts as propaganda to promote a misleading image, many in the US and Europe strain themselves to look the other way. Through "Brand Israel", of which the IPO is a prime asset, denials of human rights, violations of international law, and theft of property and land are veiled behind a cultural smokescreen.

“In recent weeks, an Israeli court in Haifa ruled, in the case of the Israeli Army’s killing of US citizen, Rachel Corrie, that its soldiers had done nothing wrong and that she had brought it upon herself. Isn’t it time for America to stand up for the interests and rights of its own citizens and not to be complicit in Israel’s crimes, as will be perceived by this invitation to the IPO?”

New York City’s Values Demand the Boycott of the IPO

As South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu noted, “[j]ust 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.”

It is likewise inappropriate for Carnegie Hall, as one of New York’s major cultural institutions, to host the IPO, a cultural ambassador of Israeli apartheid. Hundreds of artists of conscience are taking a stand, including a growing number of musicians such as Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Roger Waters, the Pixies, and Gil Scott-Heron, who have refused to play concerts in Israel.

We hope that, like a growing number of Israelis, the IPO will take a strong, unequivocal stance against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and support justice and equality for all. Until then, we will continue to urge a popular boycott of and protests against the IPO’s performances in New York City and elsewhere.

We look forward to hearing from you within the next week about whether you will respect the call for a boycott of Israeli institutions by cancelling the IPO’s upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall, and by committing not to partner with them again in the future. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss this matter further and to answer any questions you may have.


Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel