Here’s Yorke’s full comments on the issue, as reported at Rolling Stone:
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].
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. 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.
I read Thom Yorke’s interview in Rolling Stone. It needs a reply as it doesn’t tell the whole story.
On February 12th, hoping to start a dialogue, I sent an email expressing my concern about Radiohead crossing the BDS picket line to perform in Israel. A few hours later, Thom replied. He was angry. He had misinterpreted my attempt to start a conversation as a threat. So I tried again.
“Hey Thom,I’m sorry. My letter wasn’t meant to be confrontational. I was reaching out to see if we could have the conversation that you talk about in your reply. Can we?Love, R.”
I didn’t hear back. So silence prevailed for three weeks until March 4th when I sent a long heartfelt entreaty to Thom asking him again to talk.
In Thom’s interview with Andy Greene of Rolling Stone, in referring to Ken Loach and me, he says, “It’s deeply distressing that they choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public.”
That is not true, Thom. I have made every effort to engage with you personally, and would still like to have the conversation.
“Not to talk is not an option.”
Today is the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine by Israel. Fifty years living under military occupation. Fifty years for a people with no civil rights. Fifty years of no recourse to the law. Fifty years of apartheid.
The BDS picket line exists to shine a light on the predicament of the occupied people of Palestine, both in Palestine and those displaced abroad, and to promote equal civil rights for all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea no matter what their nationality, race or religion. All human life is sacred, every child is our child, exceptionalism is always our enemy. There is no Us or Them, only Us.
Yorke is, of course, entitled to his viewpoint. But why, we might wonder, did he feel the need to respond with such invective-laden charges against BDS and its backers? Why such angry indignation?
Yorke makes a first attempt at moral cover by citing a list of those who oppose any cultural boycott, including JK Rowling and Noam Chomsky.
While nominally correct regarding Chomsky, it’s a disingenuous selection, failing to note Chomsky’s more selective and nuanced endorsement of certain boycott tactics, as well as a lifetime’s work exposing and resisting Israel’s crimes. In that assertive spirit, Chomsky hasengaged with leading BDS figure Ilan Pappe over the boycott issue, helping to promote the actual narrative of tactical resistance.
Strikingly, although a short interview, Yorke doesn’t even mention the Palestinians, their treatment, the need to resist Israel’s aggressions, or how best to go about it.
Nor does Yorke care to note JK Rowling’s liberal Zionist contortions, or the criticism she faced across Palestinian civil society over her rejection of BDS and endorsement of the pro-Israel grouping Culture for Coexistence.
Again, it seems, Yorke is seeking safe liberal cover behind major names, and evading the core issue of Palestinian suffering.
Yorke continues in more injured voice, claiming that 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.”
Yet, why would Yorke himself make such facile assumptions about the understandings or motives of those campaigners? Does he really believe that bodies like BDS, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Artists For Palestine (including Waters and Loach), alongside groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, Radiohead Fans for Palestine, or anyone else asking them not to play Israel, take Yorke and his band to be so “misinformed” or “retarded” that they’re unable to take such decisions for themselves?
Why resort to such overblown, straw-man language? Why not simply accept that these are legitimate organisations and people making an open appeal based on rational argument, and that Yorke has the same rights and opportunities to oppose that view?
The call for an academic boycott is similarly derided and dismissed: “It’s like, really? You can’t go talk to other people who want to learn stuff in another country? Really?”
I have no idea whether Yorke has read the particular guidelines for academic disengagement laid out by bodies like PACBI. But it would, at least, be intellectually reasonable for him to know and reference them, rather than present the call for academic boycott as some random ploy to preventpeople wanting “to learn stuff in another country.”
In particular, Yorke’s anodyne wish for ‘open exchange’ includes no recognition of an academic system deeply inter-connected with its occupier state, providing every form of support for Israel’s military aggression, weapons development and hi-tech surveillance, continued land seizures, control of water supplies and other key resources, as well as the whole vital field of cultural and ideological production helping to hide and excuse those crimes.
Every international artist who plays in Israel serves as a propaganda tool for the Israeli government. International performances in Israel serve the government’s agenda of whitewashing its war crimes against Palestinians by creating a “business as usual” atmosphere wherein the status-quo, a reality of colonization and military occupation for Palestinians, becomes normalized. Maintaining this atmosphere relies heavily on creating a facade of Israel as a hip, advanced, progressive state with a vibrant and diverse cultural scene. In 2005 the Israeli foreign ministry decided to invest in a public relations strategy to “re-brand Israel,” diverting attention away from Israeli crimes by highlighting Israeli cultural and scientific achievements. Needless to say, the government which just celebrated 50 years of brutal military rule over the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip should not be assisted, even unintentionally. The government which legislated to suppress even the commemoration of the displacement of the majority indigenous Palestinian population in 1948 should not be given the chance to claim that artists and musicians are endorsing its policies. This effect of a performance in Israel can not be undone even with the best intentions. Any statement that you might wish to make on stage would be overshadowed by the fact that you would be crossing an international picket line established by the vast majority of civil society organizations in Palestine. On the other hand, if you decided not to play, it would send a strong message to the Israeli government that their racist policies and grave violations of Palestinian human rights will not be normalized. It would also send a message to the people of Palestine that you’re with them in their struggle in a very real way.
Please reconsider violating the Palestinian call for boycott. We remain at the ready to talk to you about any questions or concerns that you may have, and continue to welcome a conversation with you.
Again, note the studious argument behind that appeal, none of it intended to intimidate. It’s a laudable message of solidarity, serving to connect communities in pursuit of just resolutions.
Yet, for Thom Yorke, the boycotting of Israel, an occupier, apartheid state, is, apparently, “divisive”, resulting in the emergence of people like Netanyahu. That’s quite an inversion of cause and effect. By such logic, not only are BDS culpable, but a mass of Palestinians who support the boycott are responsible for creating their own oppressors.
It seems unlikely that Radiohead will change their minds now about performing in Israel. That’s their decision, their moral choice. But Yorke should refrain from slandering a BDS movement with serious, rational and well-supported ideas about how to advance human rights and justice for Palestinians.
There’s been no ‘talking-down’ or ‘telling’ Thom Yorke and Radiohead what to do, only fair and reasoned requests for them not to cross this picket line and partake in Israel’s whitewash. Accept or reject those arguments, but don’t run for cover behind faux outrage.