Artists and activists continue to push back against Radiohead, two days before the band goes ahead with a gig in Tel Aviv. On Monday, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mike Leigh condemned Radiohead’s intransigence toward Palestinians. “As the lights go out in Gaza and Palestinian cancer patients die because they are denied travel permits by Israel, while a Palestinian poet in Israel lives under house arrest for a poem she wrote on Facebook, while a young circus performer from the West Bank languishes in administrative detention without charge or trial – Thom Yorke speaks loftily about ‘crossing borders’ and ‘freedom of expression,’” Leigh said, adding, “One has to ask, freedom for whom exactly?” Leigh noted that the Israeli venue Radiohead will play at is built over the ruins of Jarisha, an ethnically cleansed Palestinian village.
For months, Palestinian civil society has called on the iconic UK band to cancel their performance and respect their demand for a boycott. Radiohead’s frontman, Thom Yorke, has repeatedly scoffed at the Palestinian picket line and disparaged the international solidarity effort. Last week, filmmaker Ken Loach warned Radiohead that if it goes ahead with the show, its members “may never live it down.” In response to Loach’s appeal, Yorke tweeted last week that “music, art and academia is about crossing borders, not building them.”
“We know borders very well, Radiohead,” dozens of Palestinian students and scholars in the UK and Palestine reply in a letter published by The Guardian on Monday. They add: “the only people creating borders in Palestine are Israel and its allies. Millions of us are imprisoned behind walls and barriers, and if we want to cross we have to beg our occupiers for permission, which is often denied to us.” “Every day, Palestinians in Gaza are dying because they cannot leave the outdoor prison that Israel has created and access life-saving medical care. Every day, Palestinians are stopped at checkpoints, harassed, turned away and sometimes even shot,” the students write. The students accuse Radiohead of the “betrayal of all social justice movements that seek international solidarity when confronted with decades of violent racism, oppression and continued erasure.” Radiohead will be performing for an audience mostly comprised of Israelis who have served in the occupying army which has slaughtered thousands of Palestinians in Gaza over the last eight years, the students assert. “Radiohead’s excuses echo the ones used by artists in the 1980s who took money and crossed the anti-apartheid boycott picket line to perform for whites in South Africa,” they add.
Another letter signed by Palestinian artists implores the band to stand “on the right side of history.” “Simply stating you do not endorse [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu does not change that the Israeli government will use, and is already using, your performance and status for specific political ends, that is: diverting from its crimes against Palestinians,” the artists write. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) stated that Yorke “continues to stubbornly ignore the voice of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who have called on artists to refrain from entertaining apartheid.”
Yorke’s intention to break the Palestinian picket line has won the endorsement of right-wing Israeli media, along with that of Michael Stipe of the US-based band REM, who, like Radiohead’s Yorke, has previously championed social justice causes. Stipe posted an image to Instagram over the weekend stating: “I stand with Radiohead and their decision to perform. Let’s hope a dialogue continues, helping to bring the occupation to an end and lead to a peaceful solution.” PACBI responded to Stipe that “dialogue” has “literally been going on for decades, and it has done nothing to bring us any closer to securing our freedom, justice or human rights.”