I was surprised to read in Rolling Stone that Thom Yorke believed critics of Radiohead’s scheduled concert in Tel Aviv were simply “throwing shit” at the band in public, without speaking to them privately. This is both inaccurate and – even if it were accurate – quite irrelevant.
Whether in apartheid South Africa in the past or apartheid Israel in the present, when an oppressed community asks renowned international artists not to lend their names to their oppressors’ attempts to whitewash their human rights violations, it is our moral obligation to heed their appeals. It should be about them and their human rights, not about us and our sense of pride.
It is also my understanding that several artists have approached Radiohead privately over the past few months, including Palestinian and progressive Israeli artists, and have appealed to them for a meeting to explain the need to respect the cultural boycott of Israel, called for by Palestinian civil society. As far as I know, these appeals have been ignored.
I approached Radiohead’s management with an offer to meet, along with Palestinian artists. That offer was repeated several times over the past three weeks. To date there has been no response at all from the band or their management.
This is deeply disappointing. I don’t know who is advising Radiohead, but their stubborn refusal to engage with the many critics of their ill-advised concert in Tel Aviv suggests to me that they only want to hear one side – the one that supports apartheid.
Yorke said he would never dream of telling me “where to work or what to do or think.” On the contrary, I think we should all discuss how to respond when answering calls from an oppressed community. In this case, Radiohead should heed their friends who tell them that by performing in Tel Aviv they will undermine not only the struggle for human rights but also Radiohead’s own reputation.
Palestinian musicians, artists, writers, filmmakers and cultural organisations have called on us to engage in an institutional cultural boycott of Israel, just as was done during apartheid in South Africa. They have asked us at the very least to refrain from undermining their struggle to end Israel’s military occupation, which turned 50 this month, its colonisation of their land, and its system of apartheid that dominates every aspect of their lives.
Yorke chides us for “throwing around” the word apartheid. The definition fits, all too well. Palestinian men, women and children are forced from their homes only to see Israeli settlers move in, they watch their homes being demolished as illegal construction of Jewish-only homes proceeds on confiscated Palestinian land, they travel on racially segregated roads and face humiliation at Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks.
Palestinians know that artists who cross their nonviolent picket line, no matter the intentions, end up whitewashing and helping to perpetuate this injustice, while Israel continues to ignore international law and UN resolutions.
I and others are still willing to meet Yorke and his colleagues, together with Palestinian artists. Radiohead are important to a lot of people around the world, not just because they are accomplished and very distinguished musicians, but also because they are perceived to be a progressive political band. None of us want to see them make the mistake of appearing to endorse or cover up Israeli oppression. If they go to Tel Aviv, they may never live it down.
Remember what the South African anti-apartheid hero, Desmond Tutu, often told us: there is no neutrality in situations of grave injustice. Radiohead need to decide if they stand with the oppressed or with the oppressor. The choice is simple.
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