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Palestinians, Roger Waters and Ken Loach respond to Radiohead

Radiohead's Thom Yorke performing with Atoms for Peace in 2013 [Henry Laurisch / Wikipedia]

Award-winning film director Ken Loach and Roger Waters have joined Palestinians and activists in responding to comments made by Thom Yorke in defence of Radiohead’s scheduled show in Tel Aviv on July 19th. Yorke described approaches made to the band on behalf of the Palestinian movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and the boycott movement as a whole, as “divisive”, “extremely upsetting” and “an extraordinary waste of energy” in an interview last Friday with Rolling Stone.

Read More: Radiohead: BDS campaign is an ‘extraordinary waste of energy’

Yorke’s comments follow an open letter to Radiohead urging them to cancel the planned show in Tel Aviv, signed by artists including Thurston Moore, Ken Loach, Maxine Peake, Roger Waters, and Young Fathers, as well as anti-apartheid veteran Desmond Tutu. The letter called on Radiohead to “do what artists did in South Africa’s era of oppression: stay away, until apartheid is over.”

In a message posted on Monday by Artists for Palestine UK, whose pledge to uphold the cultural boycott of Israel has been signed by more than 1200 UK-based artists, Ken Loach replied: “Thom’s is a simple choice: will he stand with the oppressor or the oppressed?”

Roger Waters said in a statement to Rolling Stone that he has “made every effort to engage with [Yorke] personally, and would still like to have the conversation”. Waters added: “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.”

Thom Yorke had told Rolling Stone that BDS activism does “not encourag[e] dialogue”. But Seamus O’Brolchain of Radiohead Fans for Palestine replied in an open letter to Yorke, “We sent you letters in the post, we politely tried to hand them to a band member at a public event, we called your agents and your publicists, and you ignored us. Not even an acknowledgement, nothing at all. We tried to open a dialogue and it was you who refused.”

Also responding in a statement, Artists for Palestine UK said: “Palestinians who read Yorke’s comments will wonder if he knows anything at all about their dispossession and forced exile, and what it’s like to live under military occupation. He doesn’t mention the Palestinians other than to say guitarist Jonny Greenwood has ‘Palestinian friends’. A lot of us do, Thom. That doesn’t mean we think it’s okay to play a 40,000-strong stadium built on the ruins of a Palestinian village.”

Read More: Fans try to rock Radiohead’s conscience

Ben Jamal, Director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: “It is saddening that Thom Yorke feels patronised by the union of fellow musicians and Palestinian civil society respectfully asking the band not to cross the picket line. He makes no mention of the reason why – an entrenched apartheid system and an illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza that entered its 51st year today.”

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a founding member of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, commented: “Just as progressive artists boycotted Sun City in the past, they are called upon to boycott Tel Aviv to avoid whitewashing Israel’s system of occupation and apartheid and its denial of Palestinian rights.”

“Thom Yorke got one thing right: boycotts called for by oppressed communities struggling for their rights are indeed ‘divisive.’ In the Montgomery Bus boycott, the Delano Grape Farmers boycott, the South African anti-apartheid boycott, among others, those who continued business-as-usual with the oppressors were set apart from those who chose to stand on the right side of history, with the rights of the oppressed. Where does Radiohead see itself?”

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