Entertainment & Arts

Radiohead on Israel gig: "Playing a country isn't the same as endorsing its government"

Radiohead Image copyright Andrew Milligan / PA
Image caption The band have played in Israel six times - but not since calls for a cultural boycott were first made in 2005

Thom Yorke has continued to defend Radiohead's decision to play a concert in Israel.

The band have repeatedly been urged to call off the show as part of a cultural boycott over Israel's policies towards the Palestinians.

On Tuesday, filmmaker Ken Loach wrote an open letter, accusing Radiohead of ignoring "human rights violations".

But Yorke hit back on Twitter, saying, "Playing in a country isn't the same as endorsing its government".

"We've played in Israel for over 20 years through a succession of governments, some more liberal than others.

"We don't endorse [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America.

"Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression.

"I hope that makes it clear Ken."


Writing in The Independent, Loach rejected Yorke's previous assertion that he, and others, had failed to approach the band in person, before making accusations in public.

"I and others are still willing to meet Yorke and his colleagues, together with Palestinian artists," Loach said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ken Loach is one of the most vocal supporters of the cultural boycott

"Radiohead are important to a lot of people around the world, not just because they are accomplished and very distinguished musicians, but also because they are perceived to be a progressive political band.

"None of us want to see them make the mistake of appearing to endorse or cover up Israeli oppression. If they go to Tel Aviv, they may never live it down."

Loach continued: "I don't know who is advising Radiohead, but their stubborn refusal to engage with the many critics of their ill-advised concert in Tel Aviv suggests to me that they only want to hear one side - the one that supports apartheid."

Radiohead have performed in Israel eight times - most recently in 2000 - but next week's show is the first time they've visited since the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement began in 2005.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Tel Aviv gig is the last date on Radiohead's world tour

In April, the group were petitioned by Artists For Palestine, who asked them to reconsider performing in a country "where a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinian people".

Among the signatories were South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pink Floyd's Roger Water, actors Maxine Peake and Miriam Margolyes, and Mercury Prize-winners Young Fathers.

Responding to that letter, Yorke explained that he did not agree with the BDS movement.

"The kind of dialogue that they want to engage in is one that's black or white," he told Rolling Stone magazine. "I have a problem with that."

Glasgow protest

He added: "The person who knows most about these things is [Radiohead guitarist] Jonny [Greenwood]. He has both Palestinian and Israeli friends and a wife who's an Arab Jew.

"All these people to stand there at a distance throwing stuff at us, waving flags, saying, 'You don't know anything about it!'. Imagine how offensive that is for Jonny.

"Part of me wants to say nothing because anything I say cooks up a fire from embers. But at the same time, if you want me to be honest, yeah, it's really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years.

"They talk down to us and I just find it mind-boggling that they think they have the right to do that. It's extraordinary."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pro-Palestinian signs and flags were waved during Radiohead's TRNSMT show last Friday

The band faced further protests when they played the TRNSMT festival in Glasgow this weekend.

A small section of the crowd raised Palestinian flags during the band's headline set - their final UK show of the year.

Yorke was alleged to have sworn at the protest, muttering "some people", as the band played Myxomatosis.

As of now, Radiohead is still scheduled to perform the concert in Tel Aviv's Park Hayarkon on 19 July. They will be joined at the show by the Jewish-Arabic band Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis.

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