Thursday, 22 September 2011

High time for clemency

I'm rather arbitrarily comparing big and small here, and in the case of the small, Israel may have been the starting point but is no longer the issue (snapped that White Rabbit in Jerusalem's Mane Yehuda district two years ago, by the way - is it a Banksy?)

Obama's UN veto on Palestine strikes me as the biggest disappointment yet, on a par with his inability to intervene in the greatest horror last night, the execution of a man who remained innocent until proven guilty (what's the saw? Better twenty guilty men go free than that an innocent man should hang).

Anyway, one shouldn't be surprised about the USA's intractable association with Israel: in came a telling statistic from Peter Phillips that the Israel Philharmonic indeed gets little funding from its own government but - surprise, surprise - has most of the shortfall met by America. And don't get me wrong: I do believe that in some respects Israel remains a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. But in the areas where it so flagrantly isn't, there must be room for self-examination and not just the kneejerk assertion that anyone who says there's a serious problem must be anti-semitic. We well know, though, that no rational argument is possible here, it's been too deep wired over thousands of years.

As it happens, the Israel Philharmonic doesn't really figure any more in the case of 'the LPO four', the orchestral musicians who put their signatures to a petition in the Independent seeking the boycott of the IPO's visit to the Proms. The grey area which remains is whether it was they or the organisers of the petition who appended 'London Philharmonic Orchestra' to their names and professions. If it was the players - and this should have been properly established by due process - than an emphatic public caution from an organisation which should not have been linked with the cause was totally justified.

What remains indefensible is the decision to bar the players from all activity with the orchestra, first for nine months, now for six. Big deal. As I wrote in an email to LPO chief executive Timothy Walker yesterday - you can send one, too, to - 'a suspension, even if only for six months, is extreme, and reflects badly on nobody but the orchestral management'.

No reply as yet. Last night I was harangued by a person closely associated with the orchestra for trying to raise the issue as objectively as I could in the LPO's opening concert of the season, as if it had no place even in interval chit-chat. Anyway, I attended - some of my colleagues returned boycott for boycott - with the intention of giving the great Jurowski's latest piece of daredevil programming its due, but also of raising the peripheral issue, in my Arts Desk review, and have done just that. VJ, incidentally, did what he thought he could to plead for the players but doesn't feel beyond making his point that more is within his remit as principal conductor.

I was, of course, relieved that there were no protests in the hall, but deeply disappointed that no-one had the decency to support the players by issuing leaflets in the foyers. The gist should have been, 'enjoy the concert, but be aware of the issues' - the line taken by protesters at the BP-sponsored Trafalgar Square live screening of the Royal Opera Cendrillon. This eco-ballet, Swan Lake as parable of swans in oil, photo courtesy (I trust) of the Indymedia UK website, did not 'disrupt the event' as the site claims; it took place half an hour before curtain up.

I didn't catch the quarter-hour happening, as I arrived just before official 'curtain up'. I did, however, get a very witty and articulate leaflet. But on Wednesday there was nothing before or after the concert. That's sad.

23/9 Update: 117 signatories in a letter to the Telegraph, including Mike Leigh and Miriam Margolyes, have expressed their outrage. I don't think they've approached it from quite the right angle, but they've made their feelings known. And Timothy Walker - who still hasn't responded to my email - tells the Telegraph: 'This all became an issue when we started to receive emails and letters from supporters, a lot of whom are Jewish and felt that the players were taking an anti-Jewish position. Some said they weren't going to come to the concerts or give us any money.' Hmm - that says rather more than it should, doesn't it? And I believe two of the players in question are Jewish, so what does that make them - self-hating?


Andrew said...

Agree mostly, though I'm pretty sure that Obama has no power to intervene in an execution which is, after all, very much a state issue. The issue of state's rights has, of course, been a rather vexing one in America history.

David said...

Thought so. Poor fellow, his hands are so tied - I still believe he's a good man who means well in spite of everything.

Gavin Plumley said...

He's an idealist with no clout, but he may be paving the way for future generations to tackle key chinks in the USA's armour... dodgy foreign policy, healthcare, capital punishment. He may not have the strength to defeat these issues, but at least he introduces them.

Excellent post, David. Linked on the EM Facebook site.

David said...

Having been so absorbed by the compromises explained in The West Wing, I have a great deal more sympathy for him. Time and again the intransigence of the opposition in the Big American Divide is going to scupper progress - oddly parallel to what's going on in the Middle East...

Strong meat from Mahmoud Abbas at the UN, I thought. Surprised the World Service didn't pick up the phrase 'ethnic cleansing', but that's not an unreasonable expression when it comes to the settlements...

Susan Scheid said...

I also think Obama is a good man who means well, but he's too often not done well, and that we sorely need. (Perhaps I would be more sympathetic had I watched West Wing . . .)

On Troy Davis, while it is a state issue, it does not mean he could not have spoken out. Not to do so was a political calculation, where what was needed was leadership. At this point in his tenure, though, I do agree that his options are severely limited.

Probably his only chance to make bold moves was right at the beginning, but, while he has the oratorical skills, it's not his temperament.

We're in a sad state over here, and it's hard to see what will make that change. America's stance on Israel is a particularly frustrating case in point.

Geo. said...

On behalf of my country, I apologize 13.5 months in advance for the fact that in all likelihood, the electorate here will turn out President Obama in favor of an idiot even dumber than W., yet another profoundly ignorant Texas governor who thinks the world is only 6000 years old and that global climate change is a myth (and who will authorize the bombing of a Middle East country, 4 letters beginning with "I", simply for the heck of it). I hope that my pessimism will be misplaced, but I really don't think so this time. Obama is flawed, no doubt, but infinitely better than any of the appalling Republican candidates on offer now.

Not that I have much to say regarding "The LPO Four", but they were foolish to state that they represented the LPO in their statement on the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's Prom, when they should not have said that they represented the organization. I certainly would not have stated the name of my employer if I were to put my name to any comparable statement, because they'd have my hide, and rightly so. Having said that, a 30-day suspension would have sufficed to make the point.

David said...

Sue, you're right: what would it have cost Obama to say 'I am ashamed of this country in this instance, but there's nothing I could do'?

Geo., spot on, surely. The only beef I have with the current petitioners is that they're trying to say that academics append their universities' names in comparable letters to the papers, so why shouldn't the players have stated their orchestra? I might easily have so blundered myself, but having had it explained to me by lawyers and others, I can see why the contract with your employer might prompt action, albeit much more moderate than this one, which is patently absurd.

And with that I'm out of it unless my support is needed - just too disturbing to watch the right-wing opportunists ripping the players to shreds on blogs and tweets (ah yes, wondered why I don't usually go into twitterland).

Will said...

I maintain that Obama believes rational discourse is the way the business of government should be conducted and he behaves as if it hadn't been discarded with contempt some decades ago. He pulls his punches and compromises when it isn't required and/or appreciated, coming off as weak in the face of unprincipled sharks.

The Republicans are currently in a bit of a bind as they've sold what passes for their souls to the most extreme and lunatic elements of their political base; they are well aware of the Tea Party's ability to seek and destroy Republican -- not Democrat -- incumbents and candidates it feels are insufficiently radical Right and bigoted. The Pentacostal/Evangelical fanatics to whom they have pandered so sickeningly for so long, espouse clearly unconstitutional policy such as grounding US law in the Bible and (il)legally suppressing/deporting/incarcerating LGBT people. Worst of all for the Republicans is their insistence that Social Security and Medicare must be gutted or eliminated in its current form when such a huge percentage of the population is in or near retirement.

I believe it's going to be a vile, extremely dirty campaign and that what looks to be a Republican walk to power could well be a defeat if they continue willfully to ignore what's happening in this country and what its citizens really need in these highly troubled times. Thank you all for some reasoned and thoughtful comments.

David said...

'Deporting/incarcerating LGBT people', Will: I know they're vile, but is that stated in their policy? It's even more frightening than I thought.

Your wonderful but riven country seems so polarised now - it's almost as extreme as Israel; in both cases, so much to hope for, so many extremists. The difference is that the extremists in the Middle East are at the top of the tree. Yours, as yet, are not.

Will said...

Yes, David, many of the anti-gay religious sects and the newer anti-gay (aka pro-traditional marriage) political groups advocate such things as the deportation (what country, I wonder?), imprisonment, internment in camps, disenfranchisement and/or barring from public office of all LGBT people. One or two advocate execution.

The Republicans, at least so far, are unwilling to disavow these people because they need them to get elected. The rhetoric is exceedingly ugly and is all based on the fear tactics espoused by the Republicans going back to the McCarthy era and most recently reinvigorated during the George W. Bush administration by arch-strategist Karl Rove.

I understand that the most virulent extremists are a small group, but they remain part of the Republican base and a source of deep concern.hillence

Geo. said...

For David, what Will said. The best analogy that I can come up with is perhaps try to imagine the BNP on steroids and you might have an idea of the Tea Party in the US. Their attitudes towards LGBTs would not be far off from that Ugandan bigot of the Rolling Stone paper there (not to be confused with the US magazine, of course) who was on the BBC World Service recently, casually expressing his homophobia with the attitude "Oh, you don't hate homosexuals too? What's your problem?".

Plus, regarding the Troy Davis case, President Obama would not have had the power to rescind the sentence anyway, because the final arbiter is the Supreme Court of the United States, i.e. the judicial branch here, not the executive branch.

David Damant said...

I believe that the problem for Obama is that he is not a politician - that is, someone who can see exactly what lever to press with which person, how to gather a sufficient flock or coalition, how to marginalise opponents, etc This is a talent needed in the politicians in all countries, but it is especially vital in the States as a result of the separation of powers. It was said that Kennedy was not adroit at these manoeverings and that the programmes which Johnson put through subsequently and successfully were due to his political skills and knowledge of Congress ( of course if Kennedy had lived these skills would have been at his disposal with Johnson as Vice President)