The Corner

Thuggery at the Proms — and at the Met

I heard about this disgraceful event while listening to KUSC here in L.A. Friday morning:

Until Thursday night, nothing in the history of Proms broadcasts had forced a concert off air… But when the Israel Philharmonic played on Thursday evening, a band of around 30 thugs – none was wearing jackboots, but they should have been – launched into chanting and mock singing, disrupting the concert to such an extent that BBC Radio 3 decided it could not go on with the broadcast…

As the IPO began Webern’s Passacaglia, a dozen people unfurled a banner reading “Free Palestine” and started to sing about “Israeli apartheid” and “violations of international law and human rights”. As the orchestra played over the disruption, the hooligans were removed by security guards. Then, as Gil Shaham, an Israeli violinist, prepared to play an encore after the Bruch violin concerto, another group began shouting and started to scuffle with audience members.

You can see videos of it on YouTube. They will remind you of something. It is inescapable. There is a chilling air to the so-called protests: an air of Weimar Germany, and the way Nazi party members broke up meetings.

So far, so bad. Disruptions of concert events for political purposes are always disgraceful. But then the writer, Stephen Pollard, goes on to ask:

If, indeed, this was a protest against the actions of the Israeli government, rather than against Jews, where have been the similar disruptions of performances by Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Iranian or any number of other nations’ musicians? 

Well, I can name one right now: a performance of the Moiseyev Dance Company at the Metropolitan Opera in 1986, which was tear-gassed by members of the Jewish Defense League protesting Soviet emigration policies. I know, because I was there, covering the event for Time Magazine. From the Anti-Defamation League’s website:

September 2, 1986:

A tear gas grenade was thrown into the opening performance of the Soviet Moiseyev Dance Company at the Metropolitan Opera. Twenty people were sent to the hospital for treatment, including the Soviet Ambassador, Uri Dubinin. 4000 others were evacuated from the building. JDL members Jay Cohen, Sharon Katz and JDL leader Victor Vancier were arrested in 1987 for carrying out the incident. 

The performance had just begun when I head a whooshing sound. People closest to the stage on my side of the house (I was sitting toward the back, with my peerless editor, the late Martha Duffy) began to get up and rush out of the Met. Others shouted “Sit down.” Then the cloud of tear gas began to envelop the whole house and Martha and I had to fight our way out of the building, eyes stinging and gasping for breath. The folk dancers left the stage and the performance was canceled. 

Amazing: I had managed to survive the ’60s without once being tear-gassed and here I got it at the Met! The fact that, as I recall, I had just flown in from Europe that afternoon only added to my misery. The JDL also firebombed Avery Fisher Hall a month later, to protest the Moscow State Symphony. 

I have a somewhat less pungent memory of the Irish disrupting some British event (the Royal Ballet?) at the Met as well; several Irishmen jumped up singly and, at intervals, rushed the stage shouting “Brits out,” or some such, before they were carted away. 

I agree with my friend and colleague Jay Nordlinger: please leave your politics outside the theater door, no matter what your cause.

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