Musicians suspended over Israel Proms row

The London Philharmonic Orchestra management has some serious question to answer.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra has suspended four of its musicians for up to nine months for putting their names to a letter, published in the Independent, that called for the BBC to cancel a concert by the Israel Philharmonic.

For expressing support for the Palestinian boycott call, these individuals have received what has been called "the most severe penalty inflicted on London orchestral musicians in memory".

Plenty of people have been disturbed by the LPO management's response, including those who disagree with the views expressed by the four musicians. Classical music journalist Gavin Dixon, for example, has written that "the efforts by the LPO management to distance themselves from the views of these players has clearly been an over-reaction".

Norman Geras, someone who thinks that boycotting Israel is "contemptible", has written of his concern about "whether a nine-month suspension from one's job for writing a letter to a newspaper isn't rather excessive". Geras also raises the legitimate questions about LPO internal disciplinary policy, and asks:

Why should members of an orchestra not be free to signal their professional affiliation when publicly expressing their views? Academics do it as a matter of course, and no one assumes that the University of Edinburgh, or Oxford, or Birmingham, or wherever, is implicated in the views that their members have publicly espoused.

There are many unanswered questions here.

First: the letter appeared in the Independent on 30 August. On 2 September, in what seems like the first official public response to enquiries, LPO chief executive Timothy Walker told the Jerusalem Post:

The views expressed by four members of the LPO concerning the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Proms are the views of the individuals and not the company.

A reasonable (and rather obvious) clarification statement - but no indication that the musicians were liable to face internal disciplinary action, let alone the severity of a 9-month suspension. What happened between 2 September and the decision to mete out the punishment?

Second: On 8 September, the Jewish Chronicle reported that an LPO violinist had been suspended for launching "an anti-Israel tirade at a question and answer session". The article said that "LPO chief executive Timothy Walker confirmed she had been suspended indefinitely" and that "the LPO board will decide on what disciplinary action to take". But the recent confirmation of four suspensions by LPO is reported as because of signing the letter -- not for "an anti-Israel tirade". Which is it?

Third: On announcing the suspension, the official LPO management statement said "the board's decision in this matter will send a strong and clear message". This indicates that the severity of the punishment is motivated by deterrence, rather than being an appropriate response guided by established practice or policy.

Ben White is a freelance journalist specialising in Israel/Palestine.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.