By Alice Baghdjian
LONDON (Reuters) - Leading names in British arts world have criticised the London Philharmonic Orchestra's (LPO) suspension of four members who opposed a London concert by Israeli musicians.
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, film maker Mike Leigh, actress Miriam Margolyes and 115 other prominent arts figures said they were "shocked" and "dismayed" at the suspension of the four musicians, and urged the LPO to reconsider its decision.
"One does not have to share the musician's support for the campaign for boycotting Israeli institutions to feel grave concern about the bigger issue at stake for artists and others. There is a link being created here between personal conscience and employment which we must all resist," the letter said.
"Why should it be so dangerous for artists to speak out on the issue of Israel/Palestine? We are dismayed at the precedent set by this harsh punishment, and we strongly urge the LPO to reconsider its decision," it said.
The LPO suspended violinists, Tom Eisner, Nancy Elan and Sarah Streatfeild, and cellist, Sue Sutherley, for nine months after they used its name in support of a boycott of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's (IPO) performance at the annual BBC proms in London.
The four musicians were signatories of a letter, published on Aug 30, which said "Israel's policy toward the Palestinians fits the UN definition of apartheid."
They stated their affiliation to the British orchestra along with their signatures -- "a convention which is common practice within the academic world," their supporters said in Thursday's letter.
"If they had signed their names without affiliation it would not have been an issue for the LPO," chief executive of the LPO, Timothy Walker, told the Daily 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," he said.
"Whatever the players' views are, we don't mind so long as it doesn't affect the company. I don't agree with music being used as a political football" he said.
All four would be welcomed back once their suspensions were finished, Walker said.
The IPO's proms concert went ahead on Sept 1, but pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the audience disrupted the performance, forcing the BBC to cut short a radio broadcast of the music.
(Edited by Paul Casciato)