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Call for Proms organisers to cancel concert by Israel Philharmonic Orchestra led to suspension of four musicians

One of four musicians suspended by the London Philharmonic Orchestra is taking a claim for discrimination on the grounds of belief to an employment tribunal.

Sarah Streatfeild, who has played violin with the LPO for 25 years, was suspended for six months without pay last September after she signed a joint letter to the Independent calling on the Proms to cancel a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

The letter said: "The IPO has a deep involvement with the Israeli state – not least its self-proclaimed 'partnership' with the Israeli Defence Forces. This is the same state and army that impedes in every way it can the development of Palestinian culture, including the prevention of Palestinian musicians from travelling abroad to perform."

Sue Sutherley, a cellist, and the violinists Tom Eisner and Nancy Elan were also suspended for signing it.

Tim Walker, the LPO's chief executive, and Martin Hohmann, its chairman, said at the time that the musicians had identified themselves as members of the LPO.

"The orchestra would never restrict the right of its players to express themselves freely, however such expression has to be independent of the LPO itself," they said.

"The company has no wish to end the careers of four talented musicians but … for the LPO, music and politics do not mix."

In her claim, Streatfeild says her humanist beliefs compelled her to make a stand but thought the letter was intended for the BBC management and not a public forum. She added the letters "LPO" for identification purposes only.

She is seeking a formal apology for the damage caused to her reputation, and an order that she has been discriminated on grounds of her beliefs as well as compensation for the injury to her feelings, loss of earnings and reputation.

The Proms concert by the Israel Philharmonic went ahead two days after the letter was published, but was disrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters so noisily that the BBC took its live broadcast off the air.

Avi Shoshani, the Israel Philharmonic secretary general, said this month that the orchestra might never come back to the UK. He told the Times: "Why should I put my musicians in such an unpleasant situation? We want to make people happy – that's what music is all about – and if people behave in such an uncivilised way why should we be part of it?"

Two days after the protests, the violinist received an email from the LPO which said she was being suspended with immediate and indefinite effect. Her suspension was later set at six months.

Sutherley is now back at the LPO, while Eisner has played with an orchestra in Denmark. However, Streatfeild is not thought to have worked since September. After the musicians were suspended from the LPO, a group of artists, filmmakers and writers including Sam West, Mike Leigh and Mark Wallinger wrote to the Telegraph to protest against the decision, saying "A healthy civil society is founded on the ability of all to express non-violent and non-prejudiced opinions, freely and openly, without fear of financial or professional retribution."

A Facebook group, End suspension of the LPO4, was set up in September, while in December Norman Lebrecht, the pro-Israel writer and broadcaster, called on the LPO to "temper justice with compassion" and reinstate the musicians before Christmas. Lebrecht had originally blogged about the letter, describing the names of the musicians protesting as a "list of shame".

Shazia Khan of Bindman's Solicitors, for Streatfeild, said: "Making a stand about the invitation to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was a question of conscience for my client. Mrs Streatfeild is devastated that her career and livelihood was stopped by the LPO and in such an abrupt and public manner immediately after she expressed her beliefs. Notwithstanding this she is disappointed she has had to issue legal proceedings and invites the LPO to engage with her in an attempt to resolve the dispute outside the court arena."

The LPO said it had no further comment.

Alex Needham
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