Brendan O'Neill
The Telegraph (Opinion)
September 2, 2011 - 12:00am

Last night’s protest at the Proms against the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra represented a new low in anti-Israel agitation. It confirmed that everything and everyone connected with Israel is now looked upon by certain – mostly middle-class – radicals as toxic, diseased, a potential pollutant which must be kept out of decent Britain, perhaps by passing anti-Israeli quarantine laws. Not content with refusing to buy evil Israeli products and refusing to engage with evil Israeli academics, the anti-Israel lobby now wants to prevent people from hearing music played by evil Israeli musicians. They won’t be happy until everything Israeli – whether it’s fruit, books, ideas, visiting politicians or sweet, sweet music – is expelled from the UK.

No matter how much activists try to present this as a political campaign, designed to challenge Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, there is no doubting its visceral component. Modern-day Israel-bashers bring to mind those loopy people who claim to suffer from Chemical Sensitivity Disorder and who thus never wear deodorant or perfume or certain kinds of clothing and only eat organic foodstuffs lest they get poisoned by pesticides. Only middle-class radicals suffer from what we might call Israel Sensitivity Disorder, where they fight tooth and nail to ensure that they – and the whole of Britain – are never subjected to any idea or item that has its origins in poisonous Israel.

This has gone way beyond a normal political boycott, of the kind used by radicals in the past to put economic or political pressure on a section of the authorities. Rather, the aversion to everything Israeli has become a weird way of life for some people, where the aim is not so much to achieve any political goals as it is to achieve an inner sensation of super moral smugness. They treat Israel as a uniquely evil, fantastically wicked nation, the most evil nation on Earth in fact, if not in human history, whose every product and thought must be kept at bay. There is a deeply censorious streak in all this. In refusing to engage with Israeli academics and now trying to shut up Israeli musicians, anti-Israel protesters undermine academic and artistic freedom – they stand in the way of the free exchange of ideas and even of music between peoples and nations. Their attempt to shut up the Israeli Phil was especially shocking, since the sound being made by that orchestra did not even contain any ideas, only beauty. Mashing together philistinism with high levels of that trendy malady, Israel Intolerance, these protesters sought to prevent the playing of music purely on the basis of who was playing it – people from Israel.

The great and terrible irony is that anti-Israel activists claim to be fighting against Israel’s imposition of an apartheid system in the Middle East, yet they themselves practise a kind of cultural apartheid against Israel, demanding the expulsion from polite European society of everything that originates in that country. The end result is the cultural ghettoisation of Israeli thinkers, artists and musicians. Perhaps the Israeli Phil should only play behind tall brick walls, so that the rest of us no longer have to hear their apparently political, oppressive music. As it happens, I am opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and I wholeheartedly support Palestinians’ right to determine their own national and political affairs. But since when has that also meant having to develop an allergy to the people and the many wonderful things that emanate from Israel?


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017