There is a controversy surrounding Radiohead’s upcoming concert in Tel Aviv in July, as a long list of artists (among them TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and of course Roger Waters) have now signed an open letter to Radiohead, asking the famous UK band to cancel their date in Israel, by declaring that ‘a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinian people’.
The letter underlines Radiohead’s previous humanitarian positions, such as their campaign for free Tibet, or a gig for the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which seems to be in opposition with them allegedly ignoring Israel’s oppression of Palestinian people.
Here is the letter:
London, April 24th 2017
Dear Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway,
You’re listed to play Tel Aviv in July this year.
We’d like to ask you to think again – because by playing in Israel you’ll be playing in a state where, UN rapporteurs say, ‘a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinian people’.
We understand you’ve been approached already by Palestinian campaigners. They’ve asked you to respect their call for a cultural boycott of Israel, and you’ve turned them down. Since Radiohead campaigns for freedom for the Tibetans, we’re wondering why you’d turn down a request to stand up for another people under foreign occupation. And since Radiohead fronted a gig for the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we’re wondering why you’d ignore a call to stand against the denial of those rights when it comes to the Palestinians.
Radiohead once issued a statement saying: ‘Without the work of organisations like Amnesty International, the Universal Declaration would be mere rhetoric’. You’ve clearly read Amnesty’s reports, so you’ll know that Israel denies freedom to the Palestinians under occupation, who can’t live where they want, can’t travel as they please, who get detained (and often tortured) without charge or trial, and can’t even use Facebook without surveillance, censorship and arrest.
In asking you not to perform in Israel, Palestinians have appealed to you to take one small step to help pressure Israel to end its violation of basic rights and international law. 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. Otherwise the rest is, to use your words, ‘mere rhetoric’.
You may think that sharing the bill with Israeli musicians Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis, who play Jewish-Arabic music, will make everything OK. It won’t, any more than ‘mixed’ performances in South Africa brought closer the end of the apartheid regime. Please do what artists did in South Africa’s era of oppression: stay away, until apartheid is over.
Tunde Adebimpe, musician, TV on the Radio
Conrad Atkinson, artist
Richard Barrett, composer
David Calder, actor
Julie Christie, actor
Selma Dabbagh, writer
William Dalrymple, historian, writer and broadcaster
April De Angelis, playwright
Shane Dempsey, theatre director
Laurence Dreyfus, musician and director, Phantasm Viol Consort
Geoff Dyer, writer
Eve Ensler, playwright
Bella Freud, fashion designer
Douglas Hart, musician and director
Charles Hayward, musician
Remi Kanazi, performance poet
Peter Kennard, artist
Peter Kosminsky, writer/director/producer
Hari Kunzru, writer
Paul Laverty, screenwriter
Mike Leigh, writer/director
Ken Loach, director
Miriam Margolyes, actor
Kika Markham, actor
Elli Medeiros, musician
Pauline Melville, writer and actor
Roger Michell, director
China Miéville, writer
Thurston Moore, musician
Maxine Peake, actor
Dave Randall, musician
Ian Rickson, director
Michael Rosen, writer and broadcaster
Alexei Sayle, comedian and writer
James Schamus, screenwriter, director and producer
Nick Seymour, musician, Crowded House
Adrian Sherwood, record producer
Juliet Stevenson, actor
Ricky Tomlinson, actor
Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa
Alice Walker, writer
Harriet Walter, actor
Roger Waters, musician
Susan Wooldridge, actor and author
Robert Wyatt, musician
Young Fathers, musicians
So, with the South Africa comparison, and Desmond Tutu’s name on the list, they want to make of this a new Paul Simon/Graceland controversy. According to Pitchfork, Thurston Moore even added his own separate declaration:
‘If any concerned, humanitarian-conscious activists employ a boycott to protest brutal injustice in their country and request artists and scholars to refrain from working and/or being promoted as supportive of the normalization of that country—then I choose NOT to cross that line and suggest to all to not be complicit. It is a small sacrifice in respect to those who struggle in honourable opposition to state-sponsored fascism.’
Should Radiohead listen and cancel their show? Are we even close to comprehend the situation in the middle-east and take a position as radical as canceling a Radiohead show? And should musicians get even engaged in this type of political marasmus? Or should they adopt the let’s-ignore-the-governments-and-let’s-just-play-for-the-fans attitude,… no matter what?
And the letter is correct to note that Jewish-Arabic band Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis have joined the bill for Radiohead’s July date in Israel, it is important to note that these musicians are, according to a press release, ‘composers of the most popular Iraqi songs from the early 20th century’, while they are based in Israel. Doesn’t this should be taken as a unifying message from Radiohead’s side? Jonny Greenwood has even collaborated with Dude Tassa in 2009, as he has collaborated with another semi-Israeli project, Junun, which is opening for them at other dates. The band has close tied with Israeli musicians and fans and Greenwood is even married with Israeli-born Sharona Katan.
It’s not as If Radiohead were playing a private concert for the Israeli government or the army. Why should musicians police what other musicians decide to do? Radiohead members are all adults and as informed about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Roger Waters or Thurston Moore are… it looks condescending from their part to tell Radiohead what to do and what would be their advice regarding all these other countries where human rights are not respected? Where does the boycott stop?
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