I’m not a particularly big Radiohead fan. Fake Plastic Trees was alright, No Surprises has something going for it, but they’ve never really done it for me. I was never sold on their ‘experimental’ phase and, to be honest, I’ve always found them a bit pretentious and, speaking as one who is into some pretty obscure (and, probably, pretentious) indie, that is saying something. I share this to make clear that I have no reason to defend or apologise for Radiohead.
But it does seem they are getting it in the neck for determining that they are going to play a gig in Tel Aviv. This has not been to the liking of those involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
First, there was criticism from Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd fame, who told the band to ‘think again’ about their decision to play in Israel. Thom Yorke responded thus:
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 Ken Loach, who I would never dream of telling where to work or what to do or think.
Yorke went on to state, ‘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’. He commented that the band’s guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, has both Israeli and Palestinian fans as well as an Arab-Israeli wife. ‘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’.
Since Yorke’s comments, director Ken Loach has waded into the debate:
— Thom Yorke (@thomyorke) July 11, 2017
It is worth pointing out comments from the Guido Fawkes blog:
The pernicious cultural boycott that the left is seeking is part of their effort to demonise the only Western-style liberal democracy in the Middle East. Nevertheless you can still enjoy Hollywood movies in Tel Aviv cinemas. You can even enjoy left-wing art house type films. In fact if you pop down to the Lev Cinema in Tel Aviv you catch the afternoon showing of “I, Daniel Blake” directed by, err, Ken Loach…
Radiohead, on the other hand, are entirely consistent in their stance. They played Glastonbury without endorsing the Conservative government, they play New York without endorsing President Trump and they can play Tel Aviv without endorsing Netanyahu.
As they pointed out in their original comments, there is something odd about refusing to play a university gig for people who want to learn, understand and come to see different points of view. It is surely for Radiohead to determine where they play, and how they want to influence whatever conversation they wish, not for those who have simply determined the Israeli government to be only evil all of the time. Radiohead have determined it better to effect a conversation among students with minds open to learning than it is to boycott the entire nation as a result of their government. The stance is as consistent as playing in any other country in which they do not support those in power.
Whatever one may think of the Israeli government, it is true that Israel is the only Western-style democracy in the entire Middle East region. Whatever else one may think about the Israeli government, the country have had to put up with various surrounding countries all making no bones about their desire to wipe the country off the face of the planet. Lebanon are trying hard to effect that end goal backed by the Iranians who have a stated desire to make it so. The Saudis, to whom we continue to sell arms, are also not averse to the destruction of Israel as are the Iraqis. One doesn’t really even need the fingers of one hand to count Israel’s allies in the region and their actual allies in the West aren’t the most helpful by selling arms to those who wish to destroy the country. If the Israeli government often look a bit jumpy and heavy-handed, it is not without just cause.
None of that, of course, is to say one has to like the Israeli government. Nor is that to say there are no significant problems with their approach to Palestine. It is to say that some on the left have a tendency to side with Muslim nations in a somewhat unthinking way whilst happily attacking Israel without due consideration (and the right vice versa). It is, therefore, heartening to see a consistent stance from somebody of the left. For a cultural boycott doesn’t hurt the government, it simply hurts the people. All a cultural boycott achieves is the ability for the government to continue doing whatever they want without other voices entering the country to offer an alternative view. Whatever one’s view of Israel and its government, BDS seems self-defeating. The people aren’t going to hear your views from 3000 miles away.