There was a lot to jeer at this past Sunday. I’m not referring to the lackluster Super Bowl game in Atlanta, but rather the shameful Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) protest against the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) in front of Carnegie Hall.
The IPO annual gala took place on February 3 to raise money for the legendary orchestra, and featured a brunch and concert performance. As attendees entered the concert hall, they were jeered at by BDS proponents calling for a cultural boycott of the Jewish state.
The IPO was partly created as a refuge for Jewish musicians facing boycotts and imminent death during the rise of Nazi Germany. Its founder, Bronislav Huberman — a Polish violin virtuoso and child prodigy who had performed countless concerts all over the world — found work in Europe scarce as the cloud of Jew-hatred spread over the continent.
He fled to pre-state Israel, where he envisaged an orchestra as a refuge for musicians persecuted by the Nazis, as well as a contribution to Jewish cultural life in the young city of Tel Aviv.
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Huberman raised money to bring over other musicians who had been fired from positions in European orchestras, ultimately saving countless lives from certain extermination in the death camps of Austria, Germany, Poland, and Hungary.
How telling it is that Jewish musicians are attacked today with hateful slander and appeals for a boycott, just as they were in the 1930s. Protest chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” are thinly veiled calls for Israel’s destruction. And lest anyone misinterpret their intentions, BDS supporters put a fine point on it a few years back, when they sang “Shoot the Jew!” during a performance by an Israeli jazz musician in South Africa.
IPO gala attendees were not spared this rhetoric on Sunday either. The BDS protest organizers galvanized attendance by describing the IPO fundraiser as both “lavish” and “outrageously expensive,” and attendees as “wealthy,” relying on standard antisemitic tropes about Jews and money.
The IPO boycott rally was organized by Adalah-NY, but similar ones against other Jewish national treasures, such as the Batsheva dance company and the Jerusalem Quartet, are a constant presence on the international music scene.
It’s a different time, and it’s taking place in a few different places, but the rallying cry remains the same.
The world looks away at its peril.