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BRICUP | 13 January 2011


Dear Thomas Quasthoff,
We noticed that on January 11, Die Welt and most other German
newspapers reported you will be performing 'for the first time’ in
Israel in February. We interpret this, sadly, as your reply to us
and the many other people who have written asking you not to sing
in Israel. And we have to say we’re slightly surprised.

Because to perform with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is to
declare an identification with the State of Israel. We’re not saying
this because we’re a bunch of leftie English professors. We’re
saying it because the Israel Philharmonic itself says so.

Here’s its website describing the period 1947-1956, the decade, it
says, 'in which some of the world’s most renowned artists came to
identify through the orchestra with the State of Israel’. You’ll be in
illustrious company – Koussevitzky, Fricsay, Giulini – but do you
want your appearance to be spun this way? It will be, whether you
like it or not.

Here’s your conductor, Zubin Mehta, described by the IPO as
'arriving in a plane full of ammunition from Europe’ during the
1967 Six Day War, and soon afterwards conducting Verdi’s
Requiem in Bethlehem -- militarily-suppressed and illegallyoccupied
Bethlehem, but the website somehow doesn’t mention
this. Mehta calls the orchestra 'Israel’s flagship’, and he’s happy to
sail in it – but are you?

We’ve been trying to find evidence that the IPO has ever taken a
public stand against the Occupation. In 2007, the women’s peace
organisation Women in Black requested the orchestra to do so
before it played in Los Angeles; they delivered a petition signed by
a thousand people, including Silvia Tennebaum, step-daughter of
the orchestra’s founding conductor, William Steinberg. They
heard nothing back.

Proudly displayed on the IPO’s website are pictures of a concert it
gave in July 2010 near the fence enclosing Gaza’s traumatised and
hungry population. Was this concert meant to extend a hand of
solidarity and friendship to the human beings shut up in the ghetto
on the other side of the fence? It was not. It was to call for the
release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza.
Palestinians on the other side of the fence raised placards to
remind everyone there are at least 8000 Palestinians in Israeli
prisons, often held without charge or trial, and often tortured (see
the December 2010 report by the Public Committee Against
Torture in Israel). But under Maestro Mehta, the band played on.

So you will be performing with an orchestra that identifies
wholeheartedly and inextricably with the aims and policies of the
State. From the January 11 reports in the German press, it seems
you’ve decided you’ll go ahead and do so. 'Quasthoff in Israel’ –
very good for Brand Israel. Not so good for the Palestinian
struggle for rights and justice.

Yours sincerely,
Professor Haim Bresheeth
Mike Cushman
Professor Hilary Rose
Professor Steven Rose
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
London, 13 January 2011

Posted on 15-01-2011

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