Donald Trump. George Bush. Tony Blair. The World Trade Organization. Factory Farms. Spotify. Tibet. Radiohead singer Thom Yorke has taken a stand against quite a few political figures and issues over the years. Is Israel next?
It increasingly looks unlikely — for now. Radiohead is scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv on July 19 as a part of the group’s “A Moon Shaped Pool” Tour. Palestinian activists have called on the band to cancel its concert in the spirit of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which seeks to replicate the boycott movement against Apartheid South Africa and to isolate Israel internationally. In a recently signed open letter, some 50 performers and notables, including South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, called for Radiohead to cancel the concert. “Surely if making a stand against the politics of division, of discrimination and of hate means anything at all, it means standing against it everywhere, and that has to include what happens to Palestinians every day,” the letter states. “Otherwise the rest is, to use your words, ‘mere rhetoric.’”
Here’s a sampling of what prominent fans and foes are saying about the Radiohead concert as well as the issue of cultural boycott:
Gabe Friedman, Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “Why Radiohead’s Israel Show Matters”
“The people who would actually be affected by a Radiohead concert boycott are young, liberal Israelis who are most likely to sympathize with the Palestinian cause. Rather than engage with Israel’s cultural sector, whose members can actually bring their tools and talents to bear on shaping public opinion, boycotts leave them ever more isolated.”
Gabe Friedman grapples with some of his cultural icons, and their support of the BDS movement he finds unproductive and unpalatable. This isn’t a matter of criticizing the Israeli government, Friedman says, but an attempt to delegitimize the Israeli state itself. Efforts to prevent Radiohead’s concert only empowers the most strident of partisans and alienates those sectors of Israeli society with the ability and outlook to foster reconciliation and progress.
Itay Stern, Haaretz:“Performers Are Flooding Israel: A Sign Of The Cultural Boycott’s Failure?”
“The boycott movement — whether one believes in its advantages or whether one views it as an impediment to a dialogue between artists and their audiences, whether one believes it’s working or not — seems to be failing when it comes to the appearance of major artists in Israel. If a band such as Radiohead, one of the most successful in the world, can be brought to Hayarkon Park when it can get any stadium in Europe within minutes, this means that it is consciously choosing to do so.”
Itay Stern reports on the issue after speaking with multiple producers, tour organizers, and activists, coming to the conclusion that the success of cultural boycott efforts have recently waned. An increasing number of international artists are performing in Israel in the coming months. Insiders believe this is because musicians have realized that performing in Israel does not result in any meaningful financial damage, thus limiting the scope of the campaign to artists directly involved or supportive of BDS. BDS activists counter that more artists are simply not scheduling concerts in Israel instead of canceling them, but the sheer numbers of international performers coming to Israel contradicts that messaging. Though pressure swells, the actual cultural boycott has diminished.
Gideon Levy, Haaretz:“Roger Water Sets The Record Straight: I Hate Apartheid, Not Israel”
“In the 1970s and ’80s there was no question – we all focused on South Africa because it was the obvious place to focus. It was a place where it looked like all of us who took part in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, as it was called then, might have an effect, and might cause changes in policy in that small part of the world. Israel is that bit of the world now. Whether Israelis or anyone else like it or not, it just is.” — Roger Waters
Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, one of the leaders pressuring international artists against performing in Israel, gave a wide-ranging interview to Israeli anti-occupation journalist Gideon Levy. Waters describes why cultural boycott is needed, is effective, and is meant not to delegitimize the Israeli state, but to bring an end to what Waters calls an apartheid regime administering the Palestinian territories.
David Renzer and Steve Schnur, Jerusalem Post:“Why Roger Waters Fails To Sway Prominent Musicians Into Boycotting Israel”
“While Waters (and we) laments the loss of innocent life, his functioning as a ‘bull horn’ for spreading untruths and misinformation only fan the flame rather than seek to use the power of music and culture to unite.”
In The Jerusalem Post, Renzer, former CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, and Schnur, head of music for Electronic Arts (video games), forcefully reject all components of Waters’s boycott campaign. They dismiss Waters’s apartheid labeling as absurd and as the words of a man who uses anti-Semitic rhetoric. As leaders in promoting music as a bridge to peace, Renzer and Schnur centrally find efforts to cancel concerts in Israel to be counterproductive when cultural events can actually bridge societies and treat concertgoers as individuals for once. These fans mustn’t be punished because of what their government (supposedly) does, the two proclaim.
Steven Davidson is an editorial fellow at the Forward.