A month from today, Radiohead will visit Israel to play a concert in Tel Aviv. The band enjoys a long relationship with the country. They played their first international gig in Tel Aviv in 1993 and have since then returned to play three times. What should be a mundane rock concert, and an opportunity for young Israelis to enjoy one of the most successful bands of the last twenty years, has turned painfully political. The official Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign has encouraged the world of music and film to rally against Radiohead, lobbying them to abandon their show in Tel Aviv and to take part in a boycott against the Jewish state.
The BDS campaign regularly capitalises on the misguided world-views of celebrities to bully artists such as Radiohead into supporting a barbed attack on Israel´s public image. Major figures from the arts in Ireland, the UK, the US and elsewhere have publicly condemned the band. Here, the Musicians Union of Ireland have now been recruited to the official boycott by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Tonight, at Radiohead´s concert in Dublin, the IPSC intends to leaflet Irish fans in the hopes of dissuading them from attending (Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, 2017).
An open letter to Radiohead, signed by giants of world music, art and cinema was published last April by Artists for Palestine. Among the most prominent signatories are Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, and dedicated anti-Semite Ken Loach. The charges levelled against Israel by Artists for Palestine, and other anti-Israel advocacy groups, are notable in their inconsistency with the true nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The open letter decries Israel´s “system of apartheid”, the apparent rampant social exclusion in Israeli society, and the denial of basic civil rights to Israeli-Arabs and citizens of the West Bank and Gaza (Artists for Palestine UK, 2017).
As a fan of Pink Floyd and Sonic Youth, I can only say that their extensive repertoires are marvels of human achievement. Ken Loach, well known in Ireland as the director of the brilliant The Wind that Shakes the Barley, has consistently produced award winning films which break with cinematographic norms, while adhering to his unique style of social realism. As men of such mastery in their individual fields, one can only assume that their critical faculties are also intact. How then could they have arrived at such an empirically wrong conclusion about the nature of the state of Israel? Given their status as true geniuses of music and film, and their extensive media platforms, I feel it necessary to respond to the issues raised in their attack on Radiohead.
Each one of their claims is not only a BDS fabrication, but an affront to any genuine assessment of the situation in Israel-Palestine. The accusation that Israel is an apartheid state, comparable to pre-1991 South Africa, where Arabs are denied civil rights and “recourse to the law”, as claimed by Roger Waters, is a widely misused perversion. Were it not so profoundly disrespectful to those who genuinely suffered under the naked racism of the Afrikaner National Party, it would be laughable.
In Israel proper, I submit that Israeli-Arabs enjoy more freedom than their counterparts in any other neighbouring Arab state. Israeli-Arabs are given the same voting and employment rights as Jews and their religious rights are fully respected, which cannot even be said of certain conservative Orthodox Jewish groups within Israel. In the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and the Cabinet, you will find Arab representatives, among them prominent deniers of Israel´s right to exist! Israeli-Arabs are today some of the most influential members of civil society; occupying prestigious positions in the world of academia, business, culture and sport.
A brief investigation into the norms employed by the Israeli supreme court easily quashes Waters´ claim about Arabs´ recourse to the law. Even in times of conflict, such as the first and second Intifadas, and operations Defensive Shield, Grapes of Wrath, Cast Lead, and Protective Edge, civil petitioners, including Israel´s 1.6 million Arabs, have a degree of access to the Israeli Supreme Court which is unrivalled by any other Western nation. Unlike the regimes of Bashar Al Assad in Syria and president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt, which conduct counter-terrorist operations with zero recourse to their civilian judiciaries, the IDF and Israeli Police are frequently reprimanded by the Supreme Court in its efforts to strike an appropriate balance between security and liberty.
Compare the civil liberties of Arabs in Israel proper to their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza, beyond the jurisdiction of the IDF and Israeli Police. Here the accusation of apartheid would be legitimate. Under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Christians, homosexuals and women are entirely subjugated and in some cases persecuted. Further to Waters´ concern for Palestinian civil rights: in the West Bank and Gaza, political opposition is not tolerated. In the West Bank, a Facebook post critical of the Palestinian Authority can land you in jail. 23-year-old activist, Nassar Jaradat, was recently imprisoned for a comment on the site in which he spoke harshly of Jibril Rajoub, a senior PA official. Not content with harassing online activists and arbitrarily detaining hundreds of his citizens, Mahmoud Abbas has also sought to solidify his own control of the PA by dismissing and later imprisoning Osama Mansour, a senior official in the PA security apparatus (Toameh, 2017).
One of the claims made by the open letter is that Palestinians are “often” tortured by the Israeli security services. A cursory glance at Israel´s 1999 Supreme Court decision to outlaw even the mildest of enhanced interrogation methods (playing of loud music, covering a suspect´s head, keeping a suspect in the ´Shabach´ position), deflates this most spurious of BDS accusations. Israel is plainly not a country which practices torture. However, for those signatories with genuine concerns about the use of torture in the Middle-East, they need only look to the Gaza Strip. The orgy of murder taking place under the rule of Hamas is criminally underrepresented by anti-Israel groups. A slight suspicion of dissent or sympathy towards Israel will guarantee you a death sentence under Hamas. Gaza has been emptied of its gays. They are forced into exile in Israel and Europe by Hamas´ policy that, because they are guilty of violating the laws of Islam, they should be executed. The misery of Gazans must be attributed solely to the policies of Hamas, not the state of Israel, which devotes considerable energy to operationally defeating it.
There is no moral basis for artists to lobby Radiohead to boycott free and tolerant Israel. However, I do agree that countries which genuinely deny its citizens basic rights and exercise expansionist foreign policies should be subjected to cultural boycotts. In this regard, I agree with Roger Waters, Thurston Moore and Ken Loach. Unsurprisingly, however, their virtuous championing of freedom and equality is not borne out in their own actions.
Roger Waters and Thurston Moore, so preoccupied with the narrative of the oppressive Jewish state, expressed no concern for the one billion Chinese citizens living under a communist dictatorship when they played two concerts each in that country in 2007. On accepting the Auteur Award at the Raindance Film Festival in 2016, Ken Loach was silent in his onstage discussion about the festival´s forging of links with the Chinese film industry, despite the ongoing occupation and genuine brutalisation of Tibetans by the Chinese central government (Barraclough, 2017).
Russia, according to Human Rights Watch, is now more oppressive than it has ever been in the post-Soviet era. A 2016 report concluded that there is strict control over freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, political opposition, and rampant violations of the civil liberties of gays, Muslims and even individuals with disabilities (Human Rights Watch, 2017). The cruel repression of Vladimir Putin´s Russia has yet to offend Roger Waters and Thursten Moore, with Waters having played there four times between 2002 and 2011, and Moore once in 2007.
Ken Loach made the following direct appeal to Radiohead:
“I do hope Radiohead, and Thom Yorke in particular, realise the damage they will be doing to the Palestinians if they perform in Tel Aviv. The Palestinians’ land is being stolen, they are being oppressed in every way, their daily lives made intolerable, many are imprisoned unlawfully in Israel, including shockingly, their children. I’m afraid your pious words will mean nothing if you turn your backs on the Palestinians. For their sake, and your own self-respect, please think again”.
Mr. Loach is a repeat guest on Russia Today, the media arm of the Russian Government. Given Loach´s contempt for what he sees as Israeli land-grabbing and its treatment of Palestinian children, one would think his appearances on RT´s Underground would be an ideal platform for him to denounce the Russian occupation of Crimea, its brutal treatment of civilians in Dagestan and Chechnya, and the widespread imprisonment and assassination of Russian journalists and opposition figures. So far, I have not heard any such denunciations from the acclaimed director.
I do not demand that Messrs Loach, Waters and Moore engage in a cultural boycott against Russia, China or any other state (although in Moore´s case he would have at least done well to stay away from Jakarta in 1996 while Indonesia carried out a genocide in East Timor), however by their very own standards they should not perform in, or have any ties with, these countries. Surely, by the maxim that any nation occupying a foreign territory should be boycotted, the list of possible concert venues and film festivals would have to exclude the US, the UK, Turkey, Sri Lanka and France to name a few. Curiously, the Jewish state is the sole recipient of these artists´ indignation.
In response to an interview which Thom Yorke gave to Rolling Stone defending his band´s decision (Greene, 2017), Ken Loach stated:
“Thom Yorke´s is a simple choice: will he stand with the oppressor or the oppressed?”
Of course, this question articulates the exact reason why Radiohead should not give in to the bullying tactics of the BDS movement. Israeli citizens must contend with terrorism daily. No one in Israel is spared the horror of suicide bombing, vehicular and knife attacks, or rocket barrages against civilian population centres. The experience of every family in Israel resonates with that of 23-year-old Hadas Malka, stabbed to death last week in Jerusalem, 20-year-old Yael Yekutiel who was mowed down in a vehicular attack in January, and mother of four Ilana Naveh, murdered in 2016 in the Sarona Market massacre. Throughout its history, Israel has been confronted by genocidal invasion, international terrorism, and frequent threats of annihilation. Yet, while its neighbours have descended into despotism and situations of bona fide apartheid, Israel alone has maintained its dedication to upholding civil society.
Yes, Ken Loach, Radiohead´s choice is simple: they can choose to support a vile campaign of political anti-Semitism, or they can stand with a people whose daily lives are made almost unbearable by terrorism and foreign aggression.
Artists for Palestine UK. (2017). An Open Letter to Radiohead. [online] Available at: https://artistsforpalestine.org.uk/2017/04/23/an-open-letter-to-radiohead/
Barraclough, L. (2017). Raindance Film Festival Builds Bridges With Chinese Film Industry (EXCLUSIVE). [online] Variety. Available at: http://variety.com/2016/film/global/raindance-film-festival-chinese-film-industry-1201859066/ [Accessed 20 Jun. 2017].
BDS Movement. (2017). Palestinians, Roger Waters and Ken Loach Respond to Thom Yorke’s defence of Radiohead’s Tel Aviv Show. [online] Available at: https://bdsmovement.net/news/palestinians-roger-waters-and-ken-loach-respond-thom-yorkes-defence-radioheads-tel-aviv-show.
Greene, A. (2017). Thom Yorke Breaks Silence on Israel Controversy. [online] Rolling Stone. Available at: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/thom-yorke-breaks-silence-on-israel-controversy-w485142.
Human Rights Watch. (2017). Russia. [online] Available at: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/russia.
Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. (2017). On June 20th tell Radiohead don´t perform for Apartheid Israel. [online] Available at: http://www.ipsc.ie/.
Toameh, K. (2017). Palestinians’ Real Tragedy: Failed Leadership. [online] Gatestone Institute. Available at: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/10526/palestinians-failed-leadership.