Radio 3 interupted over Israel
This is a guest post written by Benedict Young – a member of York Palestine Solidarity Campaign
BBC Radio 3, at 13:17 (or so), March 29, was broadcasting a performance by the Jerusalem Quartet: string-playing Israeli soldiers, heavily promoted by the Israeli government in order to project a cultured image and so obfuscate what is going on in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Slightly clunky Mozart was noodling out of radios UK-wide. And I was nervous.
Since the Gaza massacre, Israel has been subject to a boycott campaign which is approaching the scale of the South Africa one in the 80s. Jeff Halper, an Israeli anthropology professor and bulldozer-stopper, describes Gaza as Israel’s Sharpeville massacre: the moment when the regime goes too far and enflames world opinion against it. Israel considers the boycott a threat to its existence and has commissioned various think-tanks to work out how to respond.
It’s all to do with what they call ‘nation branding’: a report delivered to one of Israel’s official conferences on the boycott says that the Gaza massacre damaged Israel’s international ‘brand’, calls for Israel to rebrand to undermine its critics, and proposed that its intelligence services become more active in Europe (esp. in London) in counterattacking. Cultural and intellectual events are a way to do this: the Jerusalem Quartet is one of these brand-promoters. So there they are, playing away on Radio 3, and I’m listening with great nervousness, because I guess that there must be plans afoot to disrupt the concert, and (naturally, selfishly) I’m wondering whether I’d have the guts to do such a thing myself.
In Scotland, last year, five people I know interrupted a concert by the Jerusalem Quartet; they were imprisoned and charged with racially motivated insults. It was said that they’d shouted insults at Jews; they denied it. Then it turned out that the BBC had a hi-fi recording of the whole thing, and the nearest thing they’d said to what they were accused of was ‘we support all Israelis of conscience,’ which is reasonably far from hate speech. The prosecution then retreated to the claim that any criticism of Israel is by definition anti-Semitic (incidently, Gordon Brown has signed a document which affirms this and defines boycotting Israel as anti-semitism).
The thing is: these five were due to be in court in Edinburgh to hear whether the judge thought there was any case to be heard on the precise morning that the Jerusalem Quartet was playing in London. Quel coincidence! And being broadcast live! The Israeli intelligence service would surely think that there were plans to disrupt it. So I was nervous, because I felt personally connected to whoever might be in the audience, getting ready to stand up, and the very thought of doing such a thing gave me the willies; and also because I suspected it was a trap. As soon as someone got up and shouted e.g., “They’re killing people in Gaza; And you with your silence are killing people as well?; Israel is killing people, killing Palestinians every day; We should stand for human rights; we shouldn’t be silent” [from the Scotland case], I feared some kind of counterattack would spring, live on Radio 3, to undermine the boycott case. Surely this would be the moment for Mossad or whatever to make a massive counterstrike.
The first piece ended. There was a long intervalic silence, during which I reflected that the Jerusalem Quartet were not actually very good, and then the second piece starts. And then it sounds as if the radio broadcast is overlapping with another channel. It’s disorientating. An operatic choir rises up in the same key as the Quartet – and goes on for about six seconds, somewhere around 13:17 BST, 29th March, on Radio 3. The violins falter, and then the BBC fades it out. The presenter stammers that there’s been a disruption and they can’t continue with the broadcast. We switch to filler.
The opera singer was just one woman; no doubt as I write this she’s in a cell. And her prospects to avoid prosecution are bleaker than for those in Scotland. But what would be the charge? And can Israel’s Zionist-Extremist government cope with an attack which is not only left-wing, but also left-field?