Toronto Symphony Orchestra: Don’t play in Israel!

On May 2, CAIA and 15 other signatory organisations sent a letter to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO), urging them to reconsider their decision to perform in Israel on May 11 and 13. Please take a minute to reinforce the message in our letter by sending your own message to the TSO using the five easy steps below:

One-minute e-Action in five easy steps:
Cut and paste into subject line: “TSO, Just Say No! Don’t play in Israel”
STEP 2: Cut and paste the following sample letter into body of e-mail (modify as you wish), and add your name/city at bottom.
STEP 3: Cut and paste TSO email address into “To” line of your email: flabelle@TSO.CA, (Francine Labelle, TSO Director of Public Relations)
STEP 4: Cut and paste CAIA into “Bcc” line:
STEP 5: press “Send”!

Sample Letter:

To the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Chair, Vice-Chair and Board of Directors

Later this month the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) departs the city for an international tour of four countries, including it’s first-ever tour of Israel. Performances are scheduled in Jerusalem on May 11 and in Tel Aviv on May 13. This unprecedented tour begins with a concert at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall on May 3, and will be reciprocated with a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Toronto on October 28, 2017.

Pronouncing this tour of Israel as a celebratory and harmless milestone event, TSO conductor Peter Oundjian has described it in neutral and positive terms as “creating a cultural exchange” between the two countries. Far from disinterested neutrality, however, by touring Israel the TSO is in fact lending its prestige and reputation to legitimize a state which is responsible for ongoing human rights abuses. These include holding two million people under siege in Gaza for the past ten years and regularly attacking them with its massive military force, flouting both international law and official Canadian policy by moving half a million of its citizens into illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and continuing to destroy Palestinian homes and olive groves to facilitate these illegal activities.

The upcoming TSO tour is also being promoted in “conjunction with Canada’s 150th birthday”, hailing these concerts in Israel as ones in which “the TSO can be a cultural emissary representing Canada at its very best in its 150th year.” This celebratory framing conceals this year’s 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which remain unmentioned in the TSO promotions. It also blatantly disregards and erases the foundational violence and ongoing histories of colonialism, racism and indigenous displacement and eviction shared by Canada and Israel.

It is clear that this celebratory smokescreen is a continuation of the original “Brand Israel” strategy ( – a failed campaign created in 2005 which highlighted arts and culture as a key plank in a strategy for building complicity between the Israeli state and its partners, including Canada. “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, [we will use] theatre companies [and] exhibits,” said Arye Mekel, the Israeli foreign ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs in 2008.] “This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

One of the earliest projects in this rebranding campaign was the Spotlight on Tel Aviv program at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It was also one of the campaign’s most notable failures when over 1000 people, including hundreds of famous filmmakers and celebrities, signed onto the “Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation” in protest against this Brand Israel initiative and in support of the Palestinian global campaign for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

The TSO’s upcoming tour of Israel is the most recent face-lift and continuation of this largely discredited rebranding effort, shifting the players on the game board slightly but with the same intentions and goals of normalizing and whitewashing Israeli apartheid and human rights abuses through complicity with global partners, both state and private.

In Toronto, one of the most enthusiastic partners is Mayor John Tory who, in May 2016 sent the City’s Director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights to deliver the keynote address to a conference in Jerusalem which hyped that city as multicultural, inclusive and diverse (while whitewashing the ongoing and profound racism in Toronto). In response to Toronto’s participation in the conference, a letter to Toronto Mayor Tory from the General Union of Palestinian Women clearly identified the problem: “Your participation in this conference plays in the hands of Israel’s propaganda. Falsely presenting Jerusalem as a ‘culturally competent city’ masks the city’s reality: arbitrary killings of indigenous Palestinians and systematic discrimination with the explicit aim of ridding the city of its Palestinian residents. Equity cannot exist in Jerusalem until Israel’s systematic discriminatory laws are changed. We urge you to refrain from aiding our oppression: cancel your participation in this conference.”

Despite these attempts to normalize its occupation and apartheid with a façade of cultural inclusivity and multiculturalism, Israel’s systematic and ongoing human rights violations continue unabated and are clear for everyone to see. In the past year alone these have included:
• Ethnic Displacement Policies: Over 350 Palestinian homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem demolished by Israel, displacing 1,429 people including 751 minors.
• Military killings: 98 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, nearly three years after the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014 when Israeli forces killed 2,251 Palestinians and wounded 11,231 of whom 10 percent suffer permanent disability.(
• Imprisonment and Collective Punishment: 6000 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli prisons including 600 held without trial in Administrative Detention.
• Illegal Settlements: The inauguration of Donald Trump has triggered accelerated settlement approvals. Just days after the start of his presidency Israeli authorities approved 566 settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem and 2,500 in the occupied West Bank ( These settlements are considered illegal under international law. Meir Turgeman, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor said “The rules of the game have changed (in Israel’s favour) with Donald Trump’s arrival as president.”

In their press release, the TSO claims to be “acting as a global ambassador for Toronto and the country” on their tour of Israel. In addition to having no mandate to do this, the TSO clearly reveals itself as being deeply out of touch with mainstream public opinion, as evidenced by a recent EKOS poll ( which found that between 66 per cent to 78 per cent of Canadians find it reasonable to sanction and/or boycott Israel over violations of international human rights law.

For all of the above reasons, the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA Toronto) and the following undersigned organizations urge the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) to reconsider its decision to perform in Israel.

Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA Toronto)
Actions4Palestine (A4P)
Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario (CFS-O)
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME)
Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice (CUSJ)
Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA Victoria)
Faculty for Palestine (F4P)
Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) Canada
People for Peace, London (Ontario)
Stop the JNF-Canada
Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA York)
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP Ryerson)
University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) BDS Ad Hoc Committee
Women in Solidarity with Palestine (WSP)