Radiohead defied calls to boycott Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territory and played for tens of thousands in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, with singer Thom Yorke having dismissed critics as patronising.
The band made no reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the pioneering rock group made its way through a more than two-hour set at the Park Hayarkon outdoor venue with some 47,000 in attendance.
Yorke commented only once on the controversy, saying before launching into the band’s final song, “Karma Police”: “A lot of stuff has been said about this, but in the end we played some music.”
The crowd roared with appreciation, as it had throughout other points in the show. Some in the audience spoke of their gratitude that the band had decided to play Israel after all, as it has done in the past.
“Everyone here in this crowd didn’t vote for Benjamin Netanyahu,” said Sarai Givaty, a 35-year-old musician among the crowd, speaking of Israel’s right-wing prime minister.
“They’re playing for the people, not the government.”
In a Twitter post last week, Yorke said “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 (US President Donald) Trump, but we still play in America.”
But those advocating a boycott accused Radiohead of having a double-standard.
A boycott campaign over Israel’s five-decade occupation of Palestinian territory has been under way for years, but Radiohead’s concert received particular attention due to the British band’s reputation for political activism.
Prominent artists including Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and director Ken Loach called on Radiohead to cancel its show, as did Palestinian activists.
“Radiohead need to decide if they stand with the oppressed or with the oppressor,” Loach wrote in an opinion piece in Britain’s Independent. “The choice is simple.”
The movement that was behind calls for Radiohead to cancel is known as BDS — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — and says it is inspired by the campaign that targeted South Africa’s apartheid regime.
It is seeking an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and activists say bands such as Radiohead essentially cross a picket line when they play in Israel.
Israel sees BDS as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism — a claim activists firmly deny, calling it an attempt to discredit them.
A number of politically active musicians have called off shows in Israel, including Lauryn Hill and Elvis Costello.
But a range of others have performed.
On Saturday night, Guns N’ Roses played to an estimated crowd of around 60,000 in Tel Aviv, while others including Britney Spears and Elton John have also performed recently.
Yorke recently told Rolling Stone magazine it was “patronising in the extreme” to presume Radiohead is unfamiliar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He pointed out that guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s wife was born in Israel.
“It’s really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years,” Yorke told the magazine.
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