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'Free Palestine' protest disrupts Israel Philharmonic concert in London

About 40 demonstrators in the 3,000-strong audience repeatedly interrupted Thursday night's performance with boos, singing, cries of "free Palestine" and the unfurling of banners.

LONDON // Pro-Palestinian protesters forced the BBC to abandon coverage of a classical music concert featuring the Israel Philharmonic orchestra by disrupting the show from inside the Royal Albert Hall.

About 40 demonstrators in the 3,000-strong audience repeatedly interrupted Thursday night's performance - part of the prestigious, annual Proms series of concerts - with boos, singing, cries of "free Palestine" and the unfurling of banners.

Coverage of the concert, being broadcast by BBC Radio 3, was briefly interrupted at 7.45pm BST and then finally taken off the air completely after another noisy protest about an hour later.

The London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign had earlier called for the BBC to cancel the concert, claiming the orchestra showed "complicity in whitewashing Israel's persistent violations of international law and human rights".

Organisers had been expecting protests outside the famous London concert venue but demonstrators had also bought £20 (Dh120) tickets for the event and sat in small groups inside the hall, initially booing when conductor Zubin Mehta first appeared.

The majority of the audience reacted angrily to the demonstrations, prompting several reviewers yesterday to suggest that the protests could have been counterproductive. Erica Jeal, a music critic, suggested the interruptions "seemed to turn the audience - many of whom were no doubt sympathetic to the protesters - into avid supporters of the Israel Phil".

Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, from the London School of Economics, was one of about 30 protesters ejected from the hall.

"The orchestra is intimately connected with the Israeli state," he said afterwards. "We are saying not to forget the denial of human rights in Israel."

In a statement, the BBC said: "We regret that as a result of sustained audience disruption within the concert hall which affected the ability to hear the music, last night's Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Prom was taken off air. "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."

The broadcaster said that it would be repeating uninterrupted parts of the concert in a special programme on Wednesday.

It was not the first time pro-Palestinian demonstrators had disrupted a musical performance by Israeli musicians in the UK.

In August 2008, members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign halted a concert by the Jerusalem String Quartet at Queen's Hall in Edinburgh.



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