“I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”
So sings Thom Yorke on one of British alt-rock band Radiohead’s biggest hits, one we expect he plans to perform Wednesday night, July 19, during a strangely controversial concert in Tel Aviv. (Check out this Times of Israel article on the longtime love affair between the band and the Jewish state.)
Yorke has become an unlikely anti-BDS hero this summer as he first confronted pro-Palestinian demonstrators disrupting a concert in Scotland, then took on the leaders of the artistic wing of Britain’s boycott, divestment and sanctions forces, former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters and filmmaker Ken Loach.
As they frequently do with prominent performers who prefer art and music over politics, Waters, Loach & Co. have relentlessly pressured Radiohead to cancel its show in Israel — that evil, oppressive country that in recent weeks has welcomed the likes of Britney Spears and Guns N’ Roses to stage wild concerts before more than 60,000 fans each.
We’re sure those crowds (like Radiohead’s) included a range of religions and ethnicities, not that Waters and friends would let any evidence of pluralism and freedom deter them.
As near as we can tell, the BDSers seem hurt that a fairly progressive band like Radiohead refuses to be bullied into marching to the repressive tune of artistic boycott. The problem is that Yorke insists on thinking for himself.
“Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing its government,” Yorke wrote to Loach on Twitter on July 11. “We’ve played in Israel for over 20 years through a succession of governments, some more liberal than others. As we have in America. We don’t endorse Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America. Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression. I hope that makes it clear Ken.”
Yorke had unleashed his frustration at the boycotters in an interview Rolling Stone published in June: “Just to assume that we know nothing about this. Just to throw the word ‘apartheid’ around and think that’s enough. It’s … weird. It’s such an extraordinary waste of energy. Energy that could be used in a more positive way. …
“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.”
While Waters and his allies in the hate-Israel brigade in Britain have made it clear that they think Yorke is indeed a creep, we’re proud that the pride of Athens, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, is on our side — that is, the side of engagement and free artistic expression.
“I stand with Radiohead and their decision to perform,” Stipe posted Monday, July 17, on Instagram. “Let’s hope a dialogue continues, helping to bring the occupation to an end and lead to a peaceful solution.”
To paraphrase Stipe, it’s not the end of the world if Radiohead plays in Israel, and we should all feel fine about it.