On March 5, 2017, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) published an open letter addressed to the British rock band Radiohead, urging its members not to “lend [their] voice and art to oppression” and to cancel their upcoming concert in Israel.
“We, as Palestinian artists and cultural institutions, appeal to you to cancel your upcoming concert in Tel Aviv in July, as such a performance, irrespective of intentions, will help Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid cover up its massive violations of Palestinian human rights,” read the letter.
Because Radiohead is known for its politically conscientious lyrics and performances on behalf of the oppressed, many fans were surprised and disappointed by the band’s decision to perform in Israel this summer.
Radiohead’s sixth studio album, Hail to the Thief, is widely considered to be one of the group’s most powerful “statement records”—a critique of President George W. Bush’s War on Terror, and an indictment of “global capitalism.” Among its more explicit political statements, the band displayed the Tibetan flag on stage during a 2012 performance in Brisbane, Australia.
It is no wonder, then, that many of Radiohead’s fans, as well as Palestine activists, became indignant when they heard the band would be performing in Tel-Aviv’s Hayarkon Park—the site of a Palestinian village that was pulverized by Zionist militias in 1948.
In a heartfelt video message directed at Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, Al Jazeera journalist Ali Al-Arian addressed this ethical inconsistency, stating:
I watched you perform…with a Tibetan flag over your Piano. As a descendent of a stateless people, this act of solidarity spoke volumes to me. But almost instantly, another thought appeared to me: to support Tibet is to add your name to a cause that’s already fashionable—but would I ever see you do the same with a Palestinian flag? Would you ever support a people so oppressed that even mentioning their oppression could lead to being falsely labeled an anti-semite, to being outcast? I remember thinking what privilege you have in being able to choose which cause you wish to champion…as a Palestinian myself, I don’t get to choose.
Unfortunately, neither Yorke nor any of Radiohead’s other members have responded to Al-Arian’s message—or to PACBI’s and JVP’s open letters—and it appears unlikely that they ever will.
For a band that understands the inherently political, consequential nature of art, Radiohead’s silence—and refusal to cancel the Tel-Aviv show—will likely be a stain on an otherwise principled legacy.