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Fans try to rock Radiohead's conscience

April 20, 2017 at 11:12 am

Image of the rock band Radiohead [Daniele Dalledonne/Flickr]

The rock band Radiohead is being urged to cancel a performance in Israel and support the Palestinian people’s campaign for justice instead. Thousands of the band’s fans around the world were dismayed to learn that not only had Radiohead agreed to perform in Tel Aviv, but also that the gig venue is on land that was home to a Palestinian village until it was ethnically-cleansed and destroyed by the nascent Israel army in 1948.

Rock legend Roger Waters believes that celebrities can use their fame to sway and influence public opinion on the political stage. He is trying to persuade the members of Radiohead to join the cultural boycott of Apartheid Israel and help to turn the tide in the Israel-Palestine conflict by being part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The singer-songwriter — one of the founding members of legendary band Pink Floyd — is hoping to use all of his persuasive powers on Radiohead following the announcement that they will play in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park this summer.

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Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Colin Greenwood and Phil Selway, who formed Radiohead in 1985, added the Tel Aviv date to their world tour despite an open letter appealing to all artists to boycott Israel in protest at its military occupation of Palestine. “Tel Aviv’s hipster vibe is a bubble on the surface of a very deep security state that drove out half the indigenous Palestinian population in 1948 and has no intention of letting their descendants back in,” said the well-known artists and writers who issued the appeal. “If you go to Tel Aviv, your presence will be used by the Israeli authorities to reassure their citizens that all’s right with the world and nobody really cares that the Palestinians are suffering… Please don’t go.”

Artists for Palestine UK (APUK) have also urged Radiohead to cancel the Tel Aviv gig scheduled for 19 July. “Singer Thom Yorke once talked about the conflict he felt between being ‘incredibly angry’ at the state of the world ‘and being so tired you just want to give up’,” the organisation commented. “But even if his band now want to take the second option, his fans do not. Protests against Radiohead’s appearance in a state which each week announces more seizures of Palestinian land are already growing. Artists for Palestine UK will join them: Radiohead must not entertain Apartheid in Israel. We remind the band: no one now regrets boycotting Apartheid South Africa.”

Actor Morgan Freeman [Kim Støvring/Flickr]

Actor Morgan Freeman [Kim Støvring/Flickr]

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Furthermore, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has published another open letter urging the band, which last played in Israel in 2000, to “respect the cultural boycott picket line.”

However, arguably the most active and morally-powerful campaigning so far has come from the American chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, which has launched a petition directed at Radiohead. JVP members unfurled a giant banner at the band’s Greek Theatre show in Berkeley on Tuesday.

“I’m a huge fan,” explained Susannah Nachenberg of JVP Bay Area. “I unfurled this banner not to shame them, but to show frontman Thom Yorke and the band that they will be losing a huge fan if they go through with their planned concert in Tel Aviv.” The band knows what social justice means, she added. “They’ve stood up for Tibet and against the War on Terror. York even tweeted about not normalising Trump. And as artists with a conscience, Radiohead should stand in solidarity with Palestine.”

Thousands have already signed JVP’s petition calling on the band to cancel their concert. Nachenberg’s pertinent point is that if Palestinians had freedom of movement and other basic human rights “there’d be no need for an international call for a cultural boycott.”

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She pointed out that since the band last played in the Zionist state around 200,000 illegal settlers have moved into illegal colony-settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem; the Apartheid Wall has been built on Palestinian land, cutting off farmers from their fields, students from their classes and people from medical facilities; and three military offensives have been launched on Palestinians living in Gaza, killing and wounding thousands of civilians. “What’s more,” said Nachenberg, “hundreds of Palestinian civil society organisations have come together to call for an international cultural boycott of Israel until it abides by international law, and Radiohead shouldn’t cross that picket line.”

It remains to be seen if fans and campaign groups can rock Radiohead’s conscience and prove that Palestinian freedoms and equality count more than performing for Israeli Apartheid. If they can’t, then the band’s solid reputation for standing up for what’s right will take a huge, albeit entirely self-inflicted, blow.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.