Over 70 people participated in a rally and press conference outside the Kimmel Center on April 6 to protest the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra’s plans to tour and perform in Israel in June 2018. The event was organized by a newly formed coalition, Philly: Don’t Orchestrate Apartheid.
The rally greeted concertgoers and musicians as they exited an afternoon performance. Participants carried banners and signs opposing Israel’s occupation of Palestine, along with enlarged pictures of Israeli soldiers terrorizing and arresting Palestinian children.
Earlier in the day, activists distributed flyers explaining objections to the trip to people attending the concert. The orchestra labels the trip “cultural diplomacy” and claims it is not “a political mission.” But the orchestra admits that the trip is “in celebration of [Israel’s] 70th anniversary” and was organized in close collaboration with Israeli government officials.
The trip’s scheduled performance in Jerusalem coincides with Israel’s unilateral declaration of that city as its capital, in violation of international law. There are no plans to tour cities in the West Bank or Gaza.
Israel kills hundreds in Gaza
Meanwhile, the Israeli army killed more than 30 Palestinian civilians in Gaza participating in the Great March of Return, which protested 11 years of total blockade and 70 years of occupation. (See article on news from Gaza.)
Palestinian activist and author Susan Abulhawa opened the news conference by reading excerpts from a letter sent in March to the orchestra management requesting a meeting. Over 100 musicians, artists, scholars, union members and activists, along with 30 social justice organizations, signed the letter calling on the orchestra to cancel the tour. A copy of that letter was sent with a special appeal to the orchestra’s unionized musicians in the American Federation of Musicians Local 77.
When orchestra co-presidents Ryan Fleur and Matthew Lode answered on March 26, they invoked “peace and tolerance through music.” Yet they plan to meet with Miri Regev, Israel’s minister of culture and sport. Regev recently likened African asylum seekers in Israel to “a cancer” — but apologized to cancer survivors for the association with Black people! Regev also posted a video of herself with Israeli soccer fans as they shouted genocidal chants at Palestinians.
One immediate result of the rally was the removal of Regev’s name from the orchestra’s website posting of the tour itinerary.
‘No cultural exchange of racism’
“It is not okay to use our city’s art in the service of apartheid,” Abulhawa stated, noting the solidarity that “Palestinians have and have always had with Black America. These connections between our struggles have to be continually made. Our solidarity transcends reciprocity.”
The Rev. Graylan Hagler, African-American pastor and activist from Washington, D.C., stated, “There should be no cultural exchange of racism, of apartheid, of dehumanization and the robbing of culture, history or Indigenous peoples’ land.”
Pam Africa, the minister of confrontation for the MOVE organization, asked: “How can the orchestra send people to a country where they are murdering Palestinians, who were there long before the Israelis came? When are you going to stand on the side of righteousness?”
“The African-American community,” stated Dr. Anthony Monteiro, just “commemorated the 50th anniversary of the brutal assassination of our leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At the same time, we watched in horror as the Israeli military … murdered unarmed Palestinians. We suffer almost just like the Palestinians. We call on the Philadelphia Orchestra to end its relationship with the state of Israel until that state stops killing innocent Palestinian people. … [King] would have stood with the Palestinian people without hesitation.”
Mike Wilson, from the anti-police brutality organization REAL Justice, stated: “It is natural to see alliance between Palestinian people and Black people in this country. Philadelphia is a city of color. If the people of this city knew what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people they would say ‘hell no’ to the orchestra trip. Even Super Bowl champion players in the Philadelphia Eagles made it clear they would not go.”
Palestinian activist Ribhi Mustafa from Al-Aqsa Mosque stated, “We stand in shame in the birthplace of freedom to talk about the Philadelphia Orchestra going to the state of Israel to perform while the Israeli state is murdering innocent civilians.”
We will be back
Retired union member Joe Piette noted that not all orchestra performers may want to go to Israel. He urged performers to stand in resistance to the trip. “We understand that the workers are not making these decisions and we stand by them and their union.”
Piette pointed out the 140 plaques to many Black musicians on the sidewalks in front of the Kimmel Center, calling out the names of Marianne Anderson, Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Pearl Bailey, Chubby Checker, Teddy Pendergrass and Bessie Smith: “These artists would be outraged that the orchestra would go at the same time Israeli snipers are deliberately shooting down innocent people.”
The next action will be a candlelight vigil (not silent though) on Thursday, April 12 from 6:00-7:30 p.m. outside the Philly Orchestra venue, the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, in remembrance of the martyrs of Gaza.