Latest: A Palestinian musician responds to Proms attack on Israel Philharmonic

Latest: A Palestinian musician responds to Proms attack on Israel Philharmonic


norman lebrecht

September 04, 2011

Nabih Bulos is a Palestinian violinist who grew up in Jordan and has performed with Daniel Barenboim, Ivry Gitlis and Bono, as well as playing in the East-West Diwan Orchestra. In his response to the question raised by Ori Kam of the Jerusalem Quartet as to whether it can ever be right to disrupt a concert for political reasons, he argues that the British protesters damaged the very cause they claim to uphold. Read on, below:

Nabih Bulos


First off, let me say that I have had the pleasure of playing with Mr. Kam on several occasions, and find him to be an artist, as well as a human being, of the first calibre.

With that said, I have two issues with what he said: The first regarding the IPO’s status as a representative of the state of Israel, and the second relates to the issue of the Palestinians in other, neighboring, Arab countries.

The Jerusalem Quartet is a private commercial entity. Its existence does not rely on any state funds from the Israeli government (if one ignores the illogical extreme that its members were perhaps trained in state conservatories (I’m sure Ori can elaborate on that), but this is a separate matter). The Israel Philharmonic is a different thing. Regardless of the amount of funding it receives today, it nevertheless maintains its place as a representative of Israel from the days of Bronislaw Huberman, on to Leonard Bernstein. Can there be any doubt of this when so many great artists played with that orchestra as an act of solidarity with the state of Israel?

Regarding the matter of Palestinians in other Arab countries, as other commentators have said, no action in those countries excuses the Israeli government’s actions towards Palestinians in Israel. This includes the introduction of laws outlawing any economic boycott of goods made in settlements in Israel, as well as attempts to introduce the words “Jewish state” in the constitution, and other more conventional campaigns of violence. Furthermore, I question the idea that any Palestinian refugee, whether in Lebanon or Syria or Jordan today, is suffering the same sort of situation in Gaza, where there is a siege that has lasted for far too long. Whereas no one will pretend that refugees in those countries are living like kings, one cannot equate that to the situation in Israel, where those people were displaced from their own homes or face bureaucratic difficulties for the most basic rights. Also, the refugee problem in Jordan and Syria and Lebanon is a result of the creation of Israel, not the result of any action by its neighbors. Even though I’m a Jordanian of Palestinian origin (one of the lucky people whose parents received citizenship before the Jordanian government stopped this practise) why should those countries take those people in? And before I am told that the reason is because they are Arabs, I would argue that the word “Arab” is a construct that has no basis in any political reality in a post Sykes-Picot world, if it ever did. Whereas it is true that the Arab spring interests me as an Arab, this does not mean that I will take up arms if Somalia or Algeria or Morocco or Yemen, or any of these other supposed Arab hotspots, escalate.

The major point is that the refugee problem in those countries will be dealt with once a lasting and just peace is achieved in Israel, a peace that admits the culpability of Israel in 1948 and offers a right of return or commensurate financial compensation a la the reparations that are still paid by Germany to this day. And as an example of the supposed claims of Jews from Arab countries in their flight to Israel, in the downtown of Beirut there are still buildings that were owned by Jews who emigrated and they are as of yet untouched by the government. Again, I am not claiming that everything is just and glorious in the Arab countries, but let us not lose sight of the original problem.

With all that said, I personally disagree with any sort of disruption of a musical event. It strikes me as a singularly unfair way of protest, and does nothing but cast a negative light on the cause one is trying to uphold. A protest outside of the hall, making people aware of the issues regarding the entity they are dealing with, etc… all this is legitimate, but once people enter into the concert hall, the choice has been made and in a free and open society such choices should be respected. [italics added by site editor]


  • Paolo Beretta says:

    I didn’t realize a concerthall is another temple. As far as I am concerned defending the Palestinian cause by any means possible is legal in view of what the Israelis did and do to defend their “case”.
    Paolo Beretta

    • Julian Rowlands says:

      By using anti-democratic tactics that attacked freedom of speech and artistic expression, the protesters put the Palestinian cause in a negative light. The only potential value of this protest was publicity; it is not part of a general economic boycott. As the publicity generated was largely negative, the protest must be seen to be a failure. You say they were defending the Palestinian cause. How?

      If you consider it acceptable to use anti-democratic tactics in furtherance of your cause, and to blacklist musicians on the basis of their nationality, then you potentially open a pandora’s box of boycotts, blacklists and riots damaging our cultural life.

      The protesters valued their own opinions above the freedom of others to perform and enjoy great music; doesn’t this strike you as somewhat narcissistic and anti-social?

      Julian Rowlands

    • Nabih Bulos says:

      Paolo, you’re right, it’s not a temple, but I don’t think this particular form of protest serves any cause well, and does nothing to defend the Palestinian cause. When someone has already gone into the hall, supposedly after having heard and seen the protestors (and hopefully being informed by their actions), then that person has already made the choice to ignore these arguments and support the entity. Surely you agree that such a choice, even though it is opposed to your own, should be respected.
      As a Palestinian, I’m a firm believer in the rights of Palestinians and the intrinsic “rightness” of the Palestinian cause, but this does not mean that any action is justified. Indeed, isn’t the same argument that is used by the IDF to do “all that is necessary” in its dealings with the Palestinians?
      Incidentally, the Italics in my comment above are not my own, but that of Mr.Lebrecht, just to clarify.

  • Jasmine Murphy says:

    He had me sobbing.