Radiohead leading man Thom Yorke heavily criticized on Friday the “extremely upsetting” efforts by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and various artists to dissuade the band from performing in Israel next month.
Speaking to Rolling Stone magazine, Yorke said it was “deeply distressing” that a group of international artists, including former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, “choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public.”
The artists had called on Radiohead in an April letter to cancel the July 19 concert and a planned university lecture by Yorke, saying the band, known for its left-wing politics, should join Palestinian activists’ boycott calls.
But Yorke told the magazine: “I’ll be totally honest with you, this has been extremely upsetting. 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.
“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.”
He said it was particularly disturbing to be lectured by people he admired, singling out British film director Ken Loach “who I would never dream of telling where to work or what to do or think.
“The kind of dialogue that they want to engage in is one that’s black or white. I have a problem with that,” Yorke said. “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 and I just can’t understand why going to play a rock show or going to lecture at a university (concerns them).”
He added: “The university thing is more of a head fuck for me. It’s like, really? You can’t go talk to other people who want to learn stuff in another country? Really? The one place where you need to be free to express everything you possibly can. You want to tell these people you can’t do that? And you think that’s gonna help?”
Yorke noted that Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood was particularly hurt by the hatred the band had been subjected to over the upcoming concert.
“He has both Palestinian and Israeli fans and a wife who’s an Arab-Jew,” Yorke said. “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. And imagine how upsetting that it’s been to have this out there. Just to assume that we know nothing about this. Just to throw the word ‘apartheid’ around and think that’s enough. It’s fucking weird. It’s such an extraordinary waste of energy. Energy that could be used in a more positive way.”
Ending with a message to Waters, he said: “Thanks, Roger. I mean, we’re best mates for life, but it’s like, fuck me, really?”
Jonny Greenwood’s wife Sharona Katan was born in Israel. She described herself on Twitter as an Arab Jew who is proud to have Arab roots as she traces ancestry to Iraq and Egypt.
Waters had conceded in April that despite his urgings on behalf of BDS, the iconic British alternative rock group was resolved to perform in Tel Aviv this summer.
“I have engaged in a correspondence with some of Radiohead and they seem to have decided that they’re going to go ahead and do a concert in Tel Aviv, So there’s very little more that I can say on the matter,” Waters said.
“They have to make up their own minds about what they decide to do with their lives, and they have to go wherever their consciences lead them,” he said. “So I’m not going to sit here and badmouth them or harangue them. My personal view is that there is a valid and legitimate picket line that has been organized by [the boycott movement] and I would prefer it if colleagues in my business did not cross that picket line. But if people choose to, that is entirely a matter for them and their own consciences.”
Other signatories of the letter to Radiohead included novelists Alice Walker and Hari Kunzru, Thurston Moore of US alternative rock pioneers Sonic Youth and Nick Seymour of Australian rockers Crowded House. Retired bishop and Nobel Prize-winning anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu also signed the letter.
A cultural boycott campaign against Israel has had mixed success. Stevie Wonder pulled out of a Friends of the IDF benefit in Los Angeles and Lauryn Hill scrapped an Israel show, but numerous major names including Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Santana, Elton John, Lady Gaga, and Bon Jovi have performed in recent years. Britney Spears is playing in Israel next month.
Israel’s defenders have denounced the boycott campaign as hypocritical, saying the democratic country has been singled out when some prominent musicians are willing to play in dictatorships.
Radiohead last played Israel in 2000. That concert was part of a now-legendary Mediterranean swing where Radiohead previewed songs from “Kid A,” often called the band’s masterpiece, which were swapped online before the album’s release.
AFP contributed to this report.