In ignoring Palestinian calls, whose freedom does Radiohead support?

Support for Palestine and BDS at a Radiohead gig in Glasgow on July 7.
Thursday, July 20, 2017

Artists and activists have pushed back against English rock band Radiohead, as the band goes ahead with its gig in Tel Aviv.

Two days before the July 19 show, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mike Leigh condemned Radiohead’s intransigence towards 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.

He added: “One has to ask, freedom for whom exactly?”

Leigh noted that the Israeli venue for Radiohead’s show is built over the ruins of Jarisha, an ethnically cleansed Palestinian village.

For months, Palestinian civil society called on the iconic band to cancel its performance and respect their demand for a cultural boycott of Israel as part of the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) campaign.

Radiohead 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 replied in a letter published by The Guardian on July 17.

They added: “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 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’s show was for an audience mostly comprised of Israelis who have served in the occupying army that has slaughtered thousands of Palestinians in Gaza over the past 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 warned the band about standing on the wrong side of history, stating: “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 Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said Yorke “continues to stubbornly ignore the voice of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who have called on artists to refrain from entertaining apartheid”.

Radiohead’s determination to break the Palestinian picket line has won endorsement from right-wing Israeli media, as well as Michael Stipe of US band REM, who, like Radiohead’s Yorke, has championed social justice causes.

Stipe posted an image to Instagram 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”.

On July 15, PACBI hosted a live video discussion between Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, who has been an outspoken critic of Radiohead’s plan to break the boycott, and Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Waters criticised artists and performers who believe they are above Palestinian civil society’s demands for boycott.

“I think that artists who say that they can somehow improve the situation by going and playing in Israel and having conversations with Israeli artists [are wrong],” Waters said. “We should observe the picket line.”

Waters said that he and other well-known artists, including Loach and musician Brian Eno, had “begged” Yorke to have a conversation with them about the matter, but had been ignored.

[Abridged from Electronic Intifada.]

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