Radiohead’s Thom Yorke Fends Off Critics Who Urge Israel Boycott: ‘It’s Really Upsetting’

Alt-rockers resist pressure to cancel upcoming Tel Aviv concert

Last Updated: June 7, 2017 @ 12:13 AM

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke has had it up to here when it comes to critics assailing his band for a concert the UK alt-rockers booked in Israel.

“It’s really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years,” said the singer in an interview with Rolling Stone.

The first time Radiohead performed in Israel was back in the summer of 2000. After 17 years, the band will return to the country this July to close out their “A Moon Shaped Pool Tour” with a show at Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv.

But, as Rolling Stone reports, “it’s already shaping up to be the most controversial show of their career.”

In response to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in 2005, a Palestinian-led movement called BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) called for a “complete cultural boycott of Israel until Palestinians are granted the ‘right of return’ and Israel’s West Bank barrier is dismantled.” While some artists — like Gorillaz and Elvis Costello — have adhered to the ban, others have disregarded it.

More recently, both fans and fellow musicians have turned up the heat on Radiohead to respect the cultural boycott. In April, a collective of prominent British personalities published an open letter, urging the band to stand down from its scheduled Tel Aviv performance. At a concert in Berkeley, fans held up a banner, “chastising them for playing the ‘apartheid’ state of Israel.”

After months of silence, Radiohead has finally weighed in on the issue in the Rolling Stone interview. Yorke expressed frustration with those who overtly criticize the band instead of “[engaging] with us personally.”

Yorke ended the interview by emphasizing the importance of civil discourse in the face of controversial issues. “All of this creates divisive energy. You’re not bringing people together. You’re not encouraging dialogue or a sense of understanding. Now if you’re talking about trying to make things progress in any society, if you create division, what do you get? You get f- Theresa May. You get [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you get f- Trump. That’s divisive.”

Radiohead’s Tel Aviv concert will take place on July 19.

Here are Yorke’s complete comments on the matter, as told to Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene:

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.
There are people I admire [who have been critical of the concert] like [English 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. It’s deeply distressing that they choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public. 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 [is a problem to them].
“It’s deeply distressing that they choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public.”
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?

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. 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.

This is the first time I’ve said anything about it. 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.

“It’s such an extraordinary waste of energy. Energy that could be used in a more positive way.”
Imagine how this has affected me and Nigel’s relationship. Thanks, Roger. I mean, we’re best mates for life, but it’s like, fuck me, really?

[Godrich responds: “I don’t believe in cultural boycotts. I don’t think they’re positive, ever. And actually, I think that it’s true to say that the people you’d be denying [the music] are the people who would agree with you and don’t necessarily agree with their government. So it’s not a good idea. Thom and Roger are two peas in a pod, really, in certain respects. They just have a disagreement about this, but they’ve never even met. I think Thom feels very protective of Jonny, which I completely get. But I’m not in the middle of Thom and Roger. Fucking hell, I wouldn’t like to be in the middle of those two. No.]

All of this creates divisive energy. You’re not bringing people together. You’re not encouraging dialogue or a sense of understanding. Now if you’re talking about trying to make things progress in any society, if you create division, what do you get? You get fucking Theresa May. You get [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you get fucking Trump. That’s divisive.