I thought the recent disruption, by protesters, of a performance of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was contemptible; and I think the views of those who want to see Israelis treated like international pariahs contemptible too. I have some questions, nonetheless, about this:
Four members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra have been suspended for calling on the BBC to cancel the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's Proms appearance earlier this month.
Cellist Sue Sutherley and violinists Tom Eisner, Nancy Elan and Sarah Streatfeild were among those who signed a letter to the Independent on August 30.
They claimed Israel was an apartheid state and called for the BBC to cancel the concert.
Each indicated their membership of the LPO alongside their signature. Their suspensions are expected to be for up to nine months.
My first question concerns whether a nine-month suspension from one's job for writing a letter to a newspaper isn't rather excessive.
Second, was it already a policy of the LPO, and one clearly stated to its members, that they must not put their names and LPO identification in letters to the press? Unless it was, these four members should not be suspended at all. They should be advised instead.
However, third and most importantly, why should members of an orchestra not be free to signal their professional affiliation when publicly expressing their views? Academics do it as a matter of course, and no one assumes that the University of Edinburgh, or Oxford, or Birmingham, or wherever, is implicated in the views that their members have publicly espoused. (Journalists also do it, and doubtless others besides.) Likewise, the public at large is unlikely to presume that the LPO itself has a view about Israel just because this or that member of the orchestra does. If in the course of his or her musical duties, playing for or otherwise representing the orchestra, a musician were to behave in an unprofessional way, wearing or carrying political insignia or shouting slogans or giving out statements of protest, that would be something else and properly subject to disciplinary action. But the mere expression of opinion alongside an identifier saying who the holder of the opinion is, is an unjust basis for dishing out penalties.