Radiohead have hit back at a campaign urging the British band to cancel a scheduled concert in Israel, calling efforts to get them to adhere to the Palestinian call to Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction (BDS) Israel "offensive".
The experimental rock icons are scheduled to close a tour on July 19 in Tel Aviv, but a number of activists and artists, including Nobel Prize-winning anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu, novelist Alice Walker and Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters, have urged Radiohead to heed Palestinian activists' calls.
The open letter, signed by dozens of other artists and public figures, reminded Radiohead:
Palestinians have appealed to you to take one small step to help pressure Israel to end its violation of basic rights and international law….Please do what artists did in South Africa's era of oppression: stay away, until apartheid is over
Radiohead had initially stayed silent on the boycott calls, even as a banner urging them to cancel the Tel Aviv show was hung at a recent concert in Berkeley, California.
JVP activists call for @radiohead and @thomyorke to respect the Palestinian led cultural boycott until Israel's apartheid ends. #RespectBDS pic.twitter.com/t3Xv0nfXPf
— JewishVoiceForPeace (@jvplive) April 19, 2017
But Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke responded on Friday that boycott campaigns sow divisions that fuel right-wing leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May. "All of this creates divisive energy. You're not bringing people together. You're not encouraging dialogue or a sense of understanding," Yorke told Rolling Stone magazine. He said the campaigns like BDS are:
It's such an extraordinary waste of energy. Energy that could be used in a more positive way
But Samir Eskanda, a British-Palestinian musician and manager, said that boycotts are in fact meant to be divisive. "Boycotts called for by an oppressed people against that system of oppression are by definition 'divisive'," Eskanda told Al Jazeera.
"They divide those who support human rights and an end to oppression from those who choose to be oblivious to the struggle for those rights and who abrogate their moral obligation to do no harm."
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The Academic Boycott
In the interview with Rolling Stone, Yorke also lashed out at the academic boycott, saying of universities: "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?"
But according to Eskanda, Yorke's comments appear to be made without regard to the situation that the Palestinians live under: "While the Palestinian BDS movement endorses a free exchange of ideas, it is obvious that it has to be just that: free, which excludes situations of colonial oppression, apartheid and military occupation."
Speaking to Al Jazeera in response as to why Yorke "just can't understand why going to play a rock show [in Israel … is a problem]", Eskanda quoted Enuga S. Reddy, who was director of the UN Centre Against Apartheid, and in 1984 spoke of "people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism.
"They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime," Reddy said.
Brits support BDS
Yorke's latest comments also appeared to be at odds with public opinion in the UK.
A new poll published on Friday by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign showed that "43 percent of Brits thought the Palestinian call for BDS was reasonable – over three times as many as those who thought it was unreasonable (13 percent)".
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign's findings also found that "support for Palestine is remarkably consistent across party lines – despite [Labour Party leader Jeremy] Corbyn and May's differing views on the subject", as nearly half the British population think the UK should review its trade and financial relationships with illegal Israeli settlements.
Read: New UK poll finds overwhelming cross-party support for Palestine