The group has performed in the country multiple times, but not since 2000, and not since the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which calls for a cultural boycott of the country until Palestinians are granted greater equality under Israeli law. Late in April a group of artists and activists ranging from Roger Waters to Desmond Tutu signed a petition asking the group to cancel the show, and for Yorke to cancel a lecture he’s scheduled to give at an Israeli university.
“I’ll be totally honest with you: this has been extremely upsetting,” Yorke said. “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. 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 sh– 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 goes on to note that Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s wife is Arab-Jewish. “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. And imagine how upsetting that it’s been to have this out there. Just to assume that we know nothing about this.”
He even pointed out the awkwardness the petition has caused between the group and longtime producer Nigel Godrich, who produced Waters’ just-released album “Is This the Life We Really Want?” (while Waters has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, there is no direct mention of the issue on the album).
“Imagine how this has affected me and Nigel’s relationship. Thanks, Roger. I mean, we’re best mates for life, but it’s like, f— me, really?,” Yorke said.
But he reserved his strongest words for the calls for him to cancel his lecture. “The university thing is more of a headf— for me,” he said. “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?
“This is the first time I’ve said anything about it,” he continued. “Part of me wants to say nothing because anything I say cooks up a fire from embers. But at the same time, 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.
“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 f***ing Theresa May. You get [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you get f—ing Trump. That’s divisive.”