Latest: Israeli musician responds to Prom attack

Latest: Israeli musician responds to Prom attack


norman lebrecht

September 02, 2011

Ori Kam, a viola player, joined the Jerusalem Quartet after it was attacked at the Wigmore Hall last year by some of the same agitators who disrupted the BBC Proms last night. Although he was not in the quartet at the time, his view is that of a musician unfairly targeted by a politically motivated fringe. Here’s what he writes to slipped disc:

I was pleased to come across this discussion. This is the proper venue to exchange different viewpoints on this issue. I wish there were more public forums to have this discussion rather than the disruptions of concerts, which achieve only further entrenchment into our prefabricated ideas.

I applaud anyone who, in this day and age, takes a step to further causes larger than our daily routines, regardless of eminence or importance. I also applaud anyone who stands up for palestinian human rights and for the cause of a palestinian state, because I believe that the sane and responsible elements in our regions need all the support they can get. That applies to Israel, the palestinian authority, as well as to all countries in the region.

Having said that, I would like to raise some point for thought on this issue.

First, why limit the fight to palestinian rights in Israel and the west bank? The refugee issue was a result of the war in 1948. Even in the most pro-arab historical narratives, the responsibility for this war lies in all the participating countries. In that case, should not the refugee issue be a shared responsibility of the region? Why focus only on the west bank and not the appalling condition of palestinians in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt? Their treatment there is far worse than in the west bank or gaza.

As for refugees, in the 1940?s the world was full of refugees. Some were jewish refugees from countries like Syria, Iraq, Morocco and Egypt. These refugees were never compensated nor do they demanded citizenship or property from the countries that expelled them. Jewish refugees from eastern europe are fighting still today for their property with little or no success. I’m not saying that this makes any of the situation “right”, but in the space of “right” and “wrong” one often loses sight of what’s possible.

Finally, I think we have to be careful in targeting individuals and private organizations, who appear in commercial (as opposed to state-sponsored) events. I and my quartet are individuals and not state representatives. Our concerts are commercial events, which are not supported or presented by the state. We can not be held responsible for our government’s actions. Who would imagine boycotting Lang Lang for human rights violations in China? Few consider boycotting products manufactured in China or firms that do business there. I’m sure many of the musicians who signed this letter regularly travel to China to perform with their orchestras. I am often left with the questions why is the standard different for Israelis? The New York Philharmonic or Lorin Maasel traveled to North Korea to entertain the Junta that is responsible unprecedented atrocities. Who ever considered disrupting any of their performances?

The Israel Philharmonic is not a state orchestra. It received minor government support for targeted outreach activities. Zubin Mehta has been a strong voice for cohabitation and peace in the region. I call for people who really care about our region to support sane, rational and cultured elements in our region. Not marginalize them further.

I am always happy to have my opinions challenged, and am looking forward to hearing your comments.

Ori Kam


  • Peter Colwell says:

    Thank you for this Ori – I agreed with most of what you say. I have visited Israel and the Palestinian territories many times (due to go again in a couple of months) and I know how complex the situation is. That said there are many things done by the israeli Government and military which I fine inexcusable but I am sure the way forward is dialogue and not violence or abuse.

    Good point about Maazel and NYPO visit to North Korea and Lang Lang and China. One might also add that given last nights behaviour it seems permissable for anyone to disrupt a concert because the actions of its Government are odious – huge implications for musicians on international tour from USA (given their record in Iraq), Russia (ditto Chechnya) and so on.

    I hope the Jerusalem Quartet’s concerts in London (and anywhere else) go ahead without incident. I will try to get to one!


  • I also cannot agree with disrupting a concert as a political statement as little as that I would believe screaming and yelling at someone is an aid towards reason. Neither do I believe that the IPO represents the actions of the Israel State. Even if they did, it’s still music and that transcends boundaries and people’s political beliefs. That’s it’s nature. All the arguing and self righteous use of victim/perpetrator status will never do that. This doesn’t mean that the people who signed this letter to cancel Israel at the proms should be shamed, ridiculed, called people of no note who know nothing of what’s going on, sympathetic tourists and then be told be Norman Lebrecht that Kreisler, Heifetz, Oistrakh and Isaac Stern wouldn’t have signed the petition (as if he can speak for them from beyond the grave) or that even if they wouldn’t that it has bearing on somebody else’ statement. I’m shocked that I didn’t even know about the plight of Palestinian refuges in Lebanon and other places (truly shocked and saddened!), but this doesn’t excuse the situation in the West Bank nor does it qualify it as being worse in other places. When Palestinian and Israeli women march in solidarity against the violence on both sides, this isn’t even reported in corporate media, let alone what the Israeli military is really doing in occupied territory daily. In fact, music, the arts or anything that awakens the humanity in everyone is likely not to be acknowledged when people can be distracted and mesmerized by the politics of military force; and so as you mention there are many cases of injustices on all sides that aren’t politically correct enough to be even noticed. Maybe it’s better that way, as politics won’t ever really cause the solutions they are touting? I don’t know. It is sad…

  • Janey says:

    I had placed this comment under Mr. Kam’s original comment, but will paste it here now:

    Thank you for commenting. A reasonable and thinking post. I hadn’t thought about Palestinians elsewhere in the region, although admittedly I should have. I appreciate this reminder. Perhaps if the topic were broadened at least some limited solution may be found – instead of simply focusing on one country.

    I appreciate the note about China. Very true. Unfortunately, I do think an element of anti-semitism is always mixed in this issue, even though I, frankly, don’t agree with quite of few of Israel’s actions regarding the Palestinians. I also don’t agree with quite a few of China’s actions, Burma’s actions, Malaysia’s actions, Russia’s actions, Saudi Arabia’s actions, etc., for the record. But it is true that artists from these countries are never boycotted. (Regarding several of them, their orchestras or other arts institutions are fully state sponsored, or sponsored by individuals tied completely to the state.)

    • Paolo Beretta says:

      Janey ,I respect yr arguments, but for one exception, in general well-thinking people are not driven by anti-semitism but anti-zionism, big difference.

  • Anne S says:

    A reasonable comment by Mr Kam indeed. But not entirely so. The Palestinian refugees dispersed in the Middle East happen to have deeds to property and previous addresses. They were literally booted out. Why should the countries that harbor them take on the burden of their assimilation? What has Israel done to encourage such a move in the first place? Every single day witnesses further persecutions of the Palestinians who remain in Israel. New settlements, new expulsions, newly demolished homes, new restrictions.. Who is to say that if the Palestinians living outside of the Occupied Territories were to be assimilated, Israel would not push the remaining Palestinians and Israeli Arabs out in a similar manner? Today’s Israelis have not forgotten their horrible persecution at the hands of the Nazis: they continue to call for prosecutions of camp guards, they fight for the return of their stolen property and in some cases they have received compensation. And rightfully so!! Yet the Palestinians are not expected to have any remotely similar rights. It is undeniable that the Palestinians used to live in that land no matter which way one looks at it. Isn’t it time for a more “reasonable” approach? Israel has been cursed with aggressive rulers who do not have the courage to break through the “persecute and conquer” strategy. I have spoken to many Israelis who wish to give peace a true chance. The Jewish people have given the world many scientists, philosophers, thinkers, humanists, Nobel prize winners… Why are they unable to reach out to their collective wisdom and seriously give peace a chance by first acknowledging the humanity of those they persecute. Today’s Palestinians are guilty of many misdeeds and violence. But Israel has the upper hand on the ground and carries the greater burden of problem-solving.
    Having said that, I do not support disrupting concerts and deplore the hooliganism at the Proms. I do however wish much peace for all.

  • Nabih Bulos says:

    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.

    • Ori Kam - violist, Jerusalem String Quartet says:


      As usual a pleasure to read your comments. I do have to correct what you’re saying because as usual it’s a threaded with flawed facts. For example:

      [the IPO] “nevertheless maintains its place as a representative of Israel from the days of Bronislaw Huberman”
      Unfortunately for your claim, there was no state of Israel during the days of Bronislaw Huberman. The orchestra was founded in 1936, 12 years before the founding of Israel and was named “the Palestine Philharmonic”. Bronislaw Huberman died in 1947 and never saw the founding of the state of Israel.

      “as well as attempts to introduce the words “Jewish state” in the constitution” – Here we find another misconception. The UN resolution that created the state of Israel, created it as a Jewish state. In it’s declaration of Independence, Israel is clearly defined as a Jewish state, with full rights to all religions. If only Israel lives up to that promise.

      Nabih, arguing that the refugees are a consequence of the founding of the state of Israel might sound good, but it’s not historically correct. It also shows again the lack of any kind of taking of responsibility by the narrative of Israel’s neighboring countries. Had there not been a war in 1948 the situation would have been very different. The war was a result of the neighboring countries not accepting the UN resolution. That is historical fact. The actions of these countries also “swallowed” the territories assigned by the UN for a palestinian state. Not by Israel. Responsibility for the solution of the refugee problem is a shared one.

      As for giving the second world war as an example of how to treat refugees and victims of a conflict, this is not a good example for what you are calling for. Germans did not pay “reparations”. They were required to offer social security and disability, equal to what they pay their own population. My grandparents, who lost property in the war, were never compensated for that property. Further more, none of them are eligible for citizenship in the countries of their origins.

      Hope to see you very soon,

      Be well my friend.

  • Alberto Portugheis says:

    I loved the sensitive and sensible letter by Ori Kam. There is however, one inaccurate historical detail. Ori says “The refugee issue was a result of the war in 1948.” To be accurate, Ori should have written “The refugee issue was a result of the creatin of the State of Israel in 1948, done in a way to guarantee wars”

    I was a very small child in Argentina when Golda Meir visited the country. I heard her speech and – although I had only just started to read – managed to read an interview with her. I remember telling my father “Israel is in for decades of wars”.

    I am absolutely delighted to see that Ori is an universal man, so aware of what goes on in the world. In the context of this Forum, he mentions “Syria, Lebanon and Egypt”. What surprises me is that he does not “connect” these conflicts. If he monitored the activities of “War” Enjoy (officially Peace Envoy) Tony Blair, he will have a much clearer vision of the situation.

    As to Ori’s idea – shared by Steven Isserlis – that a Two State solution “is” the solution, I’m afraid I don’t agree. Politicians, (the unofficial “agents” for weapon manufacturers and war-financing Banks) want two States. This nis only, to allow a stong Palestine to build proper Armed Forces and have “proper” wars with Israel.

    CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) and SIPRI, the Swedish Institute monitoring weapon and all kind of “military money” transactions, will confirm what I say.

    As for Steven’s comment on the Peace-loving Israelis, I couldn’t agree more with him. However, unlike Steven, I do not separate the “people” of Israel with the Government of Israel. Where did the Government come from? Politicians are also the “people”. The problem is that, once an individual enters Government, he no longer is in control of his actions. He/she now belongs to the international business world, with rules that have to be obeyed.

    If there is someone there with time in hand for research, it would be good if he/she could look into the speeches of famous politicians in high office at the beginning of their careers, when as young hopefuls they uttered the most promising political and social ideas. I suggest each politician gets two pages in the book.
    One for the reproduction of that early speech of an aspiring, honest, sincere politician; the other for a speech given 20 or 30 years later, when in a position of power. We will clearly see politicians are NOT in control.

    In my work for Peace, Justice and Human Rights I have met with hundreds of politicians, from almost every country on the planet. They all agree with me.

    Back to the original “reason” for this discussion, I would like to state that not only I oppose actions like the one we observed at the Royal Albert Hall, but oppose ALL types of boycott. No matter how much I can disapprove of the politics of any Government, I don’t accept that the people of that country should be punished.

    To end on a musical note, I would like to say that talking about the Israeli/Palestinean (also Jewish/Muslim conflict) without consideration to the entire Earth we all share, is equal to talking about the B flat in bar 20 of the “Arpeggione”, expecting in doing so that the world will know, understand and love Schubert.

    • Marsha says:

      If you are going to refuse to separate the people of Israel from it’s government, then you must apply the same standard to the people of Gaza who elected a terrorist organization, Hamas, as their government. Despite leaving Gaza 6 years ago, Israelis are bombarded EVERY DAY by rockets which are totally aimed at killing and maiming civilians. Hamas is holding an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, for 6 years. He has been denied visitation from the International Red Cross. No one has heard from him in TWO YEARS. Despite these gross human rights violations, Israel continues to send in medical supplies and other basic necessities, and supply power, to Gaza. Israel lets Gazans and West Bank Palestinians into Israel for medical treatment. Israel does not apply a double standard as far as housing, it destroys illegally built housing both Arab AND Jewish. The Palestinian Authority has spurned Israeli peace gestures time and time again. The PA has also NEVER rescinded it’s charter call for violence despite this being a condition of the Oslo Accords. In fact, PA books and other school materials CALL for violence. Don’t think for one minute that this is anti-Zionism and not anti-semitism. The world hasn’t learned a thing in the years since the greatest atrocity ever perpetuated on mankind. The difference is now we have Israel. The Palestinians COULD have had a state 63 years ago. But it is clear they do not want a state alongside Israel, they want a state INSTEAD of Israel.

      • Alberto Portugheis says:


        It seems to me, you only read Israeli or Jewish newspapers. But, above all, you sound a very young person, who’s not been around when Israel, in the 1980s co-operated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in “creating” Hamas. Israeli military instructors of the day trained Hamas soldiers, since Hamas was thought of as a powerful political force, challenging the influence of Yasser Arafat and his PLO,

        When you mention that “Israelis are bombarded EVERY DAY by rockets”, I wonder whether you ever ask yourselg: “how come the Gaza people have rockets?” “who arranged for those rockets to enter Gaza? do some research, you will be surprised.

        As to the rockets “….. which are totally aimed at killing and maiming civilians.”… what else do you expect from rockets. If you pay taxes, you are contributing to rocket manufacturing, trading and use.

        You write “Hamas is holding an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, for 6 years. He has been denied visitation from the International Red Cross.” Have visited Israeli military prisons and counted the hundreds of Palestinias soldiers held in them in similar conditions?

        As for Israel sending in medical supplies, or giving medical treatment to Palestineans, which is correct, I’d advise you to look into the number of Palestineans dead before they could reach Hospital, because of the hours spent at Israeli checkpoints.

        “Israel does not apply a double standard as far as housing” you claim. If not “double standard”, what would call the instructions received by an Estate Agent friend of mine, near Tel Aviv, who receives from Government a list of streeets, where he cannot sell or rent to Muslims. I say Muslims, because these people are also Israeli.

        As to “The Palestinian Authority has spurned Israeli peace gestures time and time again.” follows discussions and agreements with Israel, USA, etc, Equally “The PA has also NEVER rescinded it’s charter call for violence”, is all part of the same accord.

        Authorities need to mantain tension and fear in society. Without these elements, so much weapon research, manufacturing and trade would be impossible. Arafat died a multi-millionaire thanks to his co-operating in keeping the situation dangerous and un-resolved.

        It is very easy to understand why you say “The Palestinians COULD have had a state 63 years ago”. However, in fainess to Humanity, you should also ask yourself “63 years ago, “why” did Palestineans have to lose their country?

        Palestineans were all Jews, Christians and Muslims, druids, etc. It could have staid that way. Jews from all “Holocaust” countries, as well as from the entire Diaspora could have gone to Palestine, settle there and everybody would have been happy. However, World War II was over and the disgrace
        “organisers” of that un-necessary war, the League of Nations, had to create conflict in other parts of the world.

        To this effect, they changed their name to United Nations and what happened since – and still happens – is history. War after war after war after war.

        I love Israel/Palestine. Much can and should be done.

        • Thank you for responding so well Alberto Portugheis

          • Alberto Portugheis says:

            Happy to know, Roelof, that you approved of what I wrote. In retrospect, I realise that the last sentence was incomplete. I wrote “I love Israel/Palestine”, I really wanted to say “I love the people of Israel and Palestine, as I love the people of all countries on Planet Earth”.

            This is why campaign – and will campaign until my last breath – for a de-militarised world. Because, Peace reigns in Israel and Palestine, manufacturers of weapons, landmines, mortars, bombs, spying and torture equipment, air-fighters, warships, etc,., Bankers, the Governments of Britain, USA and other powers will have no option than to look for another corner of the world where to fabricate a Game of War of similar proportions.

            Naturally the millions of employees in the Death Industry will be out of work for a while and manufacturers of soldiers uniforms will hate me!

            Never mind, I’m sure the world will be a much better world !

        • Alexander Radziewski says:

          Mr . Portugheis, you wrote before “Jews from all “Holocaust” countries, as well as from the entire Diaspora could have gone to Palestine, settle there and everybody would have been happy.”
          That was the purpose of the Aliyah in the 50 years before 1940 but it didn’t work. There were reasons for jewish immigration to Palestine around 1880 from Russia and baltic states and there were reasons to do the same especially after 1933 from Germany and last but not least after 1948 from the most arab countries. My uncle emigrated in 1938 and his wife -my aunt- left Marocco with her family in 1949.
          It didn’t work, because there were mainly arab politicians and especially the Mufti from Jerusalem Amin el-Husseini who was absolutely not interested in any mutual coexistence between jewish and muslim people in this area. He can be regarded as the father of the present conflict. This conflict can be summarized what is known as the three no’s of Khartoum in 1967: “no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and ‘maintenance of the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.” [] Could you please tell me what seriously changed in the official arab politics till now? Let the Palestinians have their own state. It means first responsibility for themselves AND the neighbours including the jewish State of Israel; than to articulate how to be an active part in establishing safety in the region for themselves and the neighbours including the jewish State of Israel. After the three No’s who forced especially the Palestinian’s to remain in their painfull position, it’s time to say the three YES: Peace with Israel, negotiations with Israel, recognition of Israel and sense of responsibilty of the palestinian people that they were also active in constructing their own faith because of the handling in the past and their own politicians -like Germany had to learn this lesson. Best Alex Radziewski

  • Andrew says:

    Palestinians are treated better under Israeli rule than in their own West Bank and Gaza. What nobody is willing to talk about is how spectacularly corrupt is their own leadership as well as of other Arab countries. Palestinians would live in relative peace if they would first be peaceful themselves and do the hard work of day to day life with its ups and downs and the political challenge of keeping their own leadership clean and transparent. But no, it’s easier to just blame Israel for everything and provoke. As one who has lived in Israel since 20 years ago and studied the goings on there intensively, I can say confidently that the Israeli govenrnments have bent over backwards to NOT hurt innocents and to arrive at peace that works well for both sides. Mutual stability serves them and they know it all too well. The hypocracy that emanates from certain sectors of European left wingers is vast.

  • Janet Green says:

    Ori Kam you are in denial about the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine without which the proposed ‘Jewish state’ would only have had only a narrow majority of Jews. The UN partition proposal did not envisage any kind of population exchange and in any case Israel took far more land than was allocated. Furthermore over 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed to prevent the return of the native population. The ethnic cleansing continues today in East Jerusalem, the Negev and the West Bank. Palestinians are being marginalised inside the Green Line and squeezed into smaller and smaller areas inside the Occupied Territories.

    • Alexander Radziewski says:

      Ms Green, english is not my mother language. So I searched about the term ethnic cleansing and found:
      Would you agree that this is a reliable source to explain the term ? If yes, it seems in my point of view that you are arguing absolutely inappropiate in using this term describing what happen to the arabs in 1948.
      If no, please feel free to publish a source of your choice and mentioning Ilan Pappe will not work, because since publishing his book about the allegedly ethnic cleansing, even he is not able to explain this term togehter with the special history on a reputable level.
      It’s fact that around 800.000 Palestinians became refugees during this time and the so called Naquba is still cultivated (I apologize if this is not the correct term) for the third and fourth generation as a unique trauma only happened to the innocent Palestinians. I guess that’s the propaganda you obviously believe in.
      It’s fact too that around 800.000 jewish arabs were more or less forced to leave their homes in arab countries and the most of them has choosen Israel as their new home country which makes the present Israel to a country which the majority of their non jewish AND jewish citizens are arabs.
      So, if lamenting about the faith of one group don’t denial what happened on the other side and finally it’s clear, there is no pure monopoly to be only innocent or to be at fault.
      Please read this article in the Telegraph:
      In England you can be proud to have such a high standard of democracy like the freedom of speech but this includes the duty to look and read with both eyes to have your personal opinion on an appropiate level of fairness. I very often miss this fair-play when debating what’s going on in the Middle-East and especially when criticizing the entire Israel. The English people are taking pride in their own high level of fair-play? Please, not only taking pride in, do it!