IPO picket

CAIA protest of The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) Concert

CAIA held an information picket outside Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday night, Oct 28, to protest the performance by the IPO – their first in Toronto for 26 years.  The IPO came to Toronto as guests of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) which has been actively normalizing Israeli apartheid — it just finished a tour of Israel. Now it is bringing its rebranding/whitewashing-apartheid efforts to Toronto by hosting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. See CAIA’s letter-writing action from earlier this year:

About twenty members of CAIA and supporters gathered an hour before the start of the concert at the corner of King and Simcoe, close to the main entrance of Roy Thompson Hall. Our banner, placards and (out of tune) electric violin drew in curious passers-by and concert goers. One of the most common questions they asked was why were we protesting an orchestra that was “only playing music”.

Yes, the IPO plays music. But it doesn’t tour only to play music. According to its own website it acts as a cultural ambassador with a mandate to “represent the state of Israel across the world”. The American Friends of the IPO, one of the orchestra’s main sponsors, calls the IPO “the preeminent cultural ambassador for the State of Israel” and says that “the goodwill created by these tours … is of enormous value to the State of Israel.”

In the mid-2000s the Israeli government started to realise the value of goodwill and how it could use “culture” to deflect attention from its human rights abuses. Commenting on their rebranding program, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at the time that “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits… This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

The IPO’s involvement in Israel’s militarism is well-documented. In 1948 during the Nakba, or catastrophe, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes by armed militias and later Israeli soldiers, the IPO “traveled in armored cars … raising the morale of civilians and soldiers alike.” In 1967, as Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, “Zubin Mehta arrived in a plane full of ammunition from Europe.” IPO’s website further notes that during the 1973 war, “the Orchestra continued to perform before IDF soldiers from the Golan Heights to Sinai”.

The IPO’s support for the Israeli military continues with their current  program for “Subsidizing tickets for IDF soldiers: The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra allows IDF soldiers free entrance tickets to the Orchestra’s concerts in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem.” The IPO has not distanced itself from Brand Israel efforts, or official Israeli policies. It continues in its role as an ambassador for Israel, whitewashing its crimes and effectively giving a greenlight for these oppressive policies to continue.

In addition to discussing these issues we handed out mock-programs, both on the street and in the theatre. The program was of particular interest to young concert goers who had come for the music and were surprised to learn of the role of the IPO in promoting Brand Israel.

This picket is one of a number of protests being organised for other stops on the IPO’s tour of North America.

Thai classical musician Sainatee Suárez speaking at the IPO protest in New York City on 25 October, 2017 said “Let’s not pretend that music is a single, universal language (it is not) that magically generates rainbow bridges surpassing social and political and economic entanglements — rather, let’s directly confront the Israeli state’s violent project of appropriation and erasure using the IPO as its instrument.”