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Radiohead castigates BDS call to boycott Tel Aviv performance

Iconic British alternative rock band Radiohead have robustly withstood an open letter from the Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement demanding that they cancel their July 19 ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ tour closing performance in Tel Aviv.

“The kind of dialogue that they want to engage in is one that’s black or white. I have a problem with that,” said Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.

“It’s deeply disrespectful to assume that we’re either being misinformed or that we’re so retarded we can’t make these decisions ourselves. I thought it was patronizing in the extreme. It’s offensive!” Yorke told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview last week.

The BDS movement calls for a general boycott of the Jewish state, alleging mistreatment of Palestinians by the State of Israel.

Letters such as the one Radiohead received are nothing new. All international stars who intend to perform in Israel receive them, with the aim of achieving a total cultural boycott of Israel. The April 23 letter was signed by 50 prominent figures including Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu who opposed the Apartheid regime and American musician Thurston Moore.

Many notable performers, however, have simply ignored such letters including Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Britney Spears, who is also to perform in Israel in July. In contrast, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello and Devendra Banhart aligned themselves with the boycott and cancelled their performances.

After a long silence Radiohead decided to make its position clear.

“I’ll be totally honest with you: this has been extremely upsetting,” Yorke said. “There’s an awful lot of people who don’t agree with the BDS movement, including us. I don’t agree with the cultural ban at all, along with J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky and a long list of others.”

The BDS letter calls on the performers to “think again – because by playing in Israel you’ll be playing in a state where, UN rapporteurs say, ‘a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinian people.’”

Yorke responded: “Just to assume that we know nothing about this, just to throw the word ‘apartheid’ around and think that’s enough… It’s such an extraordinary waste of energy, energy that could be used in a more positive way.”

The band, which last played in Israel in 2000 prior to the advent of the 2005 BDS movement, claims personal knowledge of the situation in Israel. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood has both Palestinian and Jewish friends and his wife described herself in a Tweet as an “Arab Jew.”

The BDS demands are particularly upsetting for Yorke because Pink Floyd’s Waters, his long-time contemporary, has been a leading BDS force. Yorke said Walters should have engaged with him personally. Waters responded that he has “made every effort to engage with [Yorke] personally, and would still like to have the conversation.”

Waters and Pink Floyd led the anti-establishment musical movement of the 1970s and 80s with mega-hits such as “The Wall,” which was thought to portray Waters feelings of inner isolation but has lately been paralleled to the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Waters’ grandfather died in World War I and his communist father in World War II, before father and son could even meet. Waters’ recent song writing themes have been largely anti-war.

Prolific on tour, Pink Floyd almost exclusively performed in Western nations, although they did perform in Neve Shalom Israel in 2006, which Waters now describes as “naïve” as he too ignored letters urging him to boycott. He had hoped for a mixed audience at this venue noted for its diversity, although few Arabs turned up.

It now seems that Waters has joined the “establishment” he once decried. Waters, an atheist, now lives in an affluent area of Long Island, N.Y. with his fourth wife, luxury cars, swimming pool, butler and nearby helicopter taxi service to Manhattan. In 2013, on a European tour, he placed a pig on a Star of David, along with other religious symbols.

Echoing Pink Floyd’s famous line, “We don’t need no thought control!” Radiohead’s Yorke said of Waters and his BDS colleagues, “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.”

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Joni has worked in education and management and has been a writer for Kehila News Israel since 2016. He holds an MBA, as well as teaching qualifications. He lives in the north of Israel with his family.

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