Thom Yorke Responds To Controversy Over Radiohead’s Israel Concert

Radiohead are scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv on 7/19, a decision that has drawn a lot of criticism from fellow artists. Back in April, figures including Roger Waters, Thurston Moore, and Tunde Adebimpe signed an open letter asking the band to reconsider the gig “because 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.'” More than a month later, Thom Yorke has shared a lengthy response to the criticism via Rolling Stone.

Yorke begins, “I’ll be totally honest with you: this has been extremely upsetting,” before explaining that he doesn’t agree with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement that urges other nations to leave Israel alone until it changes its separatist policies. He notes that J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky, and others agree with him. He continues:

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. 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 university thing is more of a head fuck for me. It’s like, really? You can’t go talk to other people who want to learn stuff in another country? Really? The one place where you need to be free to express everything you possibly can. You want to tell these people you can’t do that? And you think that’s gonna help?

He also cites the perspective of bandmate Jonny Greenwood, who is married to an Arab-Israeli woman: “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.” Yorke adds that he believes those protesting the show have expressed a pedantic attitude toward Radiohead:

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 notes that Waters’ involvement in the open letter put producer Nigel Godrich, who has functioned as a sixth member of Radiohead for two decades and who produced Waters’ new album, in an awkward spot: “Imagine how this has affected me and Nigel’s relationship. Thanks, Roger. I mean, we’re best mates for life, but it’s like, fuck me, really?” Finally, he suggests that refusing to interact with people who have backwards policies will only reinforce those policies:

All of this creates divisive energy. 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 comments were apparently shared during interviews for Radiohead’s new Rolling Stone cover story.