Anti-Israel protests disrupt London concert, punches thrown
More details are coming in on the protests by Palestinian supporters who disrupted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London Thursday night, leading to the cancellation of the live radio broadcast on BBC Radio.
The concert started as normal and then "a group of 10 to 15 people stood up in the choir stalls [behind the orchestra]," said London lawyer Paul Infield, 56, who was in the audience. "Each person was carrying a white sheet on which had been drawn a letter spelling out 'Free Palestine.' " The group was singing words to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and went quietly when ushers removed them, he said.
Infield continued his account, saying that many in the audience of close to 6,000 booed, hissed and shouted "Get out!" and "Go home!" along with obscenities. The audience also responded to the protest with slow hand clapping, which is considered an offensive gesture in Britain. Subsequent disruptions, which eventually numbered about half a dozen, were played out in a similar fashion. A man who had silently displayed an Israeli flag was also removed by Royal Albert Hall staff.
According to Infield, the final disruption of the evening involved some shouting from the gallery about the siege of Gaza, which was silenced with a punch thrown by an adjacent audience member. Both parties were escorted quickly from the premises.
The British newspaper the Telegraph reported that the group Palestine Solidarity Campaign was responsible for the disturbances.
Throughout the concert, Mehta stood silently on the podium with his back to the audience, waiting for quiet before continuing on, according to reports.
All Proms concerts are broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. When it became clear that the disturbances were more than a one-off, the live feed was taken offline and replaced by BBC studio recordings of the same pieces by a different orchestra.
A statement from the BBC said, "The invitation to the Orchestra was a purely musical one, offering the opportunity to hear this fine Orchestra in conductor Zubin Mehta’s 75th year, so we are disappointed that BBC Radio 3 audiences were not able to enjoy the full performance."
Pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protesters were positioned outside the Royal Albert Hall as well. In March, similar protests were staged outside Walt Disney Concert Hall when the orchestra played in Los Angeles and when Mehta received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Here's one person's video from inside Royal Albert Hall:
Photo: Zubin Mehta conducts the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in March at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times