The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign claimed to have struck a blow against a group they claimed were "cultural ambassadors for Israel".
Five Scottish protesters stood up, one after another, at the concert in the Queen's Hall to disrupt the performance, denouncing "Israeli army musicians", before being bundled out and arrested. The group campaigns for a cultural boycott of Israeli.
But the audience yesterday rallied to the musicians – two of whom are members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, established to promote harmony between Israeli and Arab musicians and cultures. Some tried to silence the protesters or drown them out with clapping.
Hugh Kerr, formerly the MEP overseeing the European Parliament's music policy, was at the concert. He said: "I am a long-time supporter of Palestinian rights, as I suspect were many in the Queen's Hall this morning. However, the effect was totally counterproductive."
The Scotsman's music critic, Susan Nickalls, called it "absolutely disgraceful … Even if one might have sympathy with the Palestinian cause, this was not the platform. The audience had come to hear an uncontroversial programme of Brahms, Smetana and Haydn, not the views of political activists."
The Edinburgh International Festival's theme this year is "Artists without Borders" and includes performers from Israel, Iran and Palestine.
A spokeswoman said the four musicians – Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler, Amichai Grosz and Kyril Zlotnikov – had indeed done the military service required of Israeli citizens. However, they are now full-time musicians.
The EIF's artistic director Jonathan Mills, who also watched the concert, said: "I was moved by the commitment to their artistry in performing their entire programme and in doing so they were rewarded with a rare but very well-deserved standing ovation."