Thom Yorke hits out at Roger Waters and others calling for Radiohead to cancel Israel gig

Band play a concert in Tel Aviv on July 19

Thom Yorke has responded to calls for Radiohead to cancel their upcoming gig in Israel as part of a widespread music industry boycott of the country.

The band are due to play a show at Tel Aviv’s Park Hayarkon on July 19. Following the announcement of the gig, an open letter issued by Artists for Palestine UK – and signed by musicians including Roger Waters, Thurston Moore and Young Fathers – asked the group to “think again” about their decision.

Speaking recently to Rolling StoneYorke described the situation as “extremely upsetting”, “offensive” and “an extraordinary waste of energy”, saying: “I don’t agree with the cultural ban at all, along with J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky and a long list of others… There are people I admire [who have been critical of the concert] like [English film director] Ken Loach, who I would never dream of telling where to work or what to do or think.”

Yorke continued: “The kind of dialogue that they want to engage in is one that’s black or white. I have a problem with that. It’s deeply distressing that they choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public. It’s deeply disrespectful to assume that we’re either being misinformed or that we’re so retarded we can’t make these decisions ourselves. I thought it was patronizing in the extreme. It’s offensive and I just can’t understand why going to play a rock show or going to lecture at a university [is a problem to them].”

The singer went on to chastise his critics for assuming that the band’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood is uninformed on the matter, saying: “The person who knows most about these things is [Radiohead guitarist] Jonny [Greenwood]. He has both Palestinian and Israeli fans and a wife who’s an Arab-Israeli. All these people to stand there at a distance throwing stuff at us, waving flags, saying, ‘You don’t know anything about it!’ Imagine how offensive that is for Jonny. And imagine how upsetting that it’s been to have this out there. Just to assume that we know nothing about this. Just to throw the word ‘apartheid’ around and think that’s enough. It’s fucking weird. It’s such an extraordinary waste of energy. Energy that could be used in a more positive way.”

“This is the first time I’ve said anything about it,” Yorke said. “Part of me wants to say nothing because anything I say cooks up a fire from embers. But at the same time, if you want me to be honest, yeah, it’s really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years. They talk down to us and I just find it mind-boggling that they think they have the right to do that. It’s extraordinary.”

Yorke went on to criticise ex-Pink Floyd man Waters, who recently worked with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on his new solo album. “Imagine how this has affected me and Nigel’s relationship,” Yorke said. “Thanks, Roger. I mean, we’re best mates for life, but it’s like, fuck me, really?”

“All of this creates divisive energy,” Yorke added. “You’re not bringing people together. You’re not encouraging dialogue or a sense of understanding. Now if you’re talking about trying to make things progress in any society, if you create division, what do you get? You get fucking Theresa May. You get [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you get fucking Trump. That’s divisive.”

The original boycott letter told Radiohead, that “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’.” It further claimed that Radiohead have previously turned down a cultural boycott of Israel, adding: “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.”

It concluded by saying: “Please do what artists did in South Africa’s era of oppression: stay away, until apartheid is over.”