Pro-Palestine Groups Rebuke Thom Yorke's Defense of Israel Show

Artists for Palestine U.K. decry Radiohead singer's comments to Rolling Stone

Two pro-Palestine groups have condemned Thom Yorke's defense of Radiohead's decision to play a concert in Israel. Credit: Dimitri Hakke/Redferns/Getty

Two pro-Palestine groups have responded to Thom Yorke's defense of Radiohead's decision to perform in Tel Aviv, Israel on July 19th. In April, 47 prominent figures, including Roger Waters and Desmond Tutu, signed an Artists for Palestine U.K. petition that urged Radiohead to cancel the show in solidarity with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which calls for a complete cultural boycott of Israel until Palestinians are granted the "right of return" and the West Bank barrier is demolished. Earlier this month, Yorke responded in Rolling Stone, calling the outcry "patronizing," defending Radiohead's ability to make their own "moral decision[s]" and arguing that the backlash "creates divisive energy."

Now Artists for Palestine U.K. has issued another statement, in which they criticized Yorke for responding to their initial petition with "Off-the-cuff remarks, rather than the considered response the signatories … were hoping for.

"We read the remarks closely, for some sign Thom Yorke appreciates he and the band are going into a live colonial situation," the statement continued. "We couldn't find that sign. Palestinians who read Yorke's comments will wonder if he knows anything at all about their dispossession and forced exile, and what it's like to live under military occupation. He doesn't mention the Palestinians other than to say guitarist Jonny Greenwood has 'Palestinian friends.' A lot of us do, Thom. That doesn't mean we think it's okay to play a 40,000-strong stadium built on the ruins of a Palestinian village. We don't dispute Radiohead's ability to make 'moral decisions.' Our signatories simply think Radiohead are making the wrong one."

Director Ken Loach – one of the artists who signed the April petition, and whom Yorke mentioned specifically in his response – also reacted to the singer's statements. "Thom's is a simple choice," Loach said. "Will he stand with the oppressor or the oppressed?"

Another group, Radiohead Fans for Palestine, also issued an open letter, signed by member Seamus O'Brolchain, who called out Yorke for not recognizing that the calls to boycott ultimately come from Palestinian citizens, not just artists signing a petition. "If you're going to justify your show in Tel Aviv, it is them you you should be addressing," he said. "Saying you're upset because Ken Loach didn't call allows you to avoid the real point, which is that you are playing on occupied land against the wishes of an oppressed people. And you're ignoring the voices of those people. Do you even care?"

Along with eliciting various petitions, the controversy surrounding the Israel concert has also flared up at recent Radiohead shows. During a gig at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California, a large banner was held up chastising the group for playing the "apartheid" state of Israel. O'Brolchain also suggested that Radiohead Fans for Palestine would be protesting the group's upcoming headlining set at Glastonbury.

Artists for Palestine U.K. Statement
Rolling Stone did well to prise a reaction from Thom Yorke to the many appeals by musicians, Palestinians and others for Radiohead to withdraw from their Tel Aviv concert in July.

These were off-the-cuff remarks, rather than the considered response the signatories to Artists for Palestine UK’s April 24 open letter – who included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Thurston Moore, Juliet Stevenson, Peter Kosminsky, Bella Freud, Tunde Adebimpe and Robert Wyatt among many others – were hoping for.

We read the remarks closely, for some sign Thom Yorke appreciates he and the band are going into a live colonial situation. We couldn’t find that sign.

Palestinians who read Yorke’s comments will wonder if he knows anything at all about their dispossession and forced exile, and what it’s like to live under military occupation. He doesn’t mention the Palestinians other than to say guitarist Jonny Greenwood has ‘Palestinian friends’. A lot of us do, Thom. That doesn’t mean we think it’s okay to play a 40,000-strong stadium built on the ruins of a Palestinian village.

We don’t dispute Radiohead’s ability to make ‘moral decisions’. Our signatories simply think Radiohead are making the wrong one.

Yorke complains people have been ‘throwing shit’ at the band in public rather than approaching them privately, but we know of at least three colleagues of the band who have approached them privately – in fact we held off our open letter for weeks in the hope this private diplomacy would yield results. It didn’t.

Yorke complains about Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and the dangers of divisiveness. He doesn’t seem to appreciate that Radiohead’s concert is itself a political statement, and a deeply divisive one. It’s telling the Israeli public they really don’t need to bother their heads with the Occupation and the boring old story of Palestinian suffering. Throw off the army uniform; forget what you’ve seen and done, because Radiohead are telling you it has no consequences. They’ve made a moral decision on your behalf. Radiohead are here to tell you everything’s all right.