Radiohead’s Thom Yorke: Israel Boycotters Are “Offensive” and “Patronizing”

The leader of the band Radiohead, which is scheduled to make its ninth trip to Israel next month, blasted proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign as “offensive” and “patronizing in the extreme” in an interview published Friday in Rolling Stone magazine.

“I’ll be totally honest with you: this has been extremely upsetting,” Thom Yorke said of calls from former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters and others to boycott Israel. “There’s an awful lot of people who don’t agree with the BDS movement, including us. 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 s*** 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].”

Yorke also pointed out that the band’s guitarist, Jonny Greenwood, “has both Palestinian and Israeli friends and a wife who’s an Arab Jew.”

“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,” he observed. “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.”

“But at the same time,” Yorke said, “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.”

The argument that supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel are “patronizing” in assuming that members of Radiohead don’t know anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

J. J. Burnel, bassist for the influential punk band The Stranglers, criticized Waters last November for his efforts to isolate Israel, saying, “I think he’s pretty ignorant, he doesn’t know the situation.”

After calling the political reality in Israel “complicated,” Burnel elaborated, “If my neighbors told me that they would kick me here out back into the sea, I would kind of get quite defensive.”

While the Rolling Stone article claimed some artists have heeded the BDS call to boycott Israel, “many others have ignored it.” Most popular acts, including the likes of Alicia Keys, The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, and Bon Jovi, have performed in Israel despite the efforts of the BDS campaign. Even The Pixies, who were long said to be boycotting Israel, performed in Tel Aviv in 2014.

Two sponsors of Roger Waters’ tour, Citibank and American Express, pulled their support for him last November. The financial giants apparently acted due to shareholder concerns after the Anti-Defamation League described Waters in 2013 as having “absorbed classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”

[angela n. / Flickr ]