The highly innovative performance of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons included Arabic and jazz-inspired improvisations. The capacity audience at the Royal Albert Hall was enthralled and at the end of the concert responded with enthusiastic applause. Nigel Kennedy's address to the audience that included a passing reference to "apartheid" was greeted with loud applause.
Here is what Kennedy said in making the reference:
It’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from the experience of this night of music, that giving equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for amazing things to happen.
Click here to listen to the audio version.
His comments did feature in the online audio of the concert, but we have since learned that the BBC has decided to censor Kennedy's "A" statement from its TV broadcast of the concert.
Kennedy didn't engage in a political speech or rant, he simply used a word that millions in the world community associate with the profoundly unjust treatment of the Palestinian people in Israel and the occupied territories. It is a word that accurately describes the conditions faced by Palestinians - conditions that in many instances meet the legal definition of "apartheid" as defined by the UN.
An article that appeared in Mondoweiss provides more detail on the BBC censorship move:
According to The Jewish Chronicle, BBC governor Baroness Deech called for an apology from Mr. Kennedy and said that "the remark was offensive and untrue. There is no apartheid in Israel." Not only is there no apartheid in Israel, she claimed, but nor is there any in Gaza or the West Bank. (She made no mention of East Jerusalem.)
In fact, nearly all aspects of Apartheid, as defined by the UN, apply to Israel in all four of its guises: domestically, its military occupation of the West Bank, its military 'annexation' of East Jerusalem, and its siege of Gaza.
This legal definition includes:
• Any measures including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups, the prohibition of mixed marriages among members of various racial groups, the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or groups or to members thereof;
• Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognised trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
• Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups of the right to life and liberty of person;
• The infringement of their freedom or dignity, or by subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
• Arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group or groups;
• Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or in part;
• Inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.
Nigel Kennedy has refused to play in Israel due to its extensive and ongoing violations of Palestinian rights. A Haaretz article from 2007 entitled Punk rebel with a classical cause, quotes Kennedy on reasons for his musical boycott of Israel:
And today, I was really shocked when I saw the wall here. It's a new type of apartheid, barbaric behavior. How can you impose collective punishment and divide people from one another? We are all residents of the same planet. I would think that the world learned something from South Africa. And the world should boycott a nation that didn't learn. That's why I won't perform in your country.
A related Mondoweiss article by Tom Suarez includes some interesting historical background:
Kennedy is the protégé of the late Yehudi Menuhin, whose father, the intellectual Moshe Menuhin, was among the most articulate of early anti-Zionists. Moshe’s Decadence of Judaism in Our Time is a meticulously documented exposé of Zionism, written from first-hand experience.
When in 1897 the first Zionist Congress met in Basel, the BBC Proms concert series was already in its third season. Today, as the United States fuels the ‘peace process’ to further extend Israel’s sixty-five year lease on impunity, the Palestine Strings have not only made a refreshing artistic contribution, but their very presence on this high-profile London stage has reminded Britain that they still live and die under the catastrophe it set in motion nearly a century ago.
BBC video featuring the Palestine Strings with Nigel Kennedy at the Proms: