Dear Ed, Colin, Jonny, Phil and Thom,
One of the great things about being Radiohead is that you can get away with upsetting your fans. I know people who haven’t listened to anything post-Kid A because it’s not ‘proper rock’ any more. But you have made a career out of making daring creative choices that were a genuine risk to your career. I’ve always admired the braveness.
And I’ve always admired your awareness of the political contradictions in being a touring band. A hidden gem of your early catalogue is Maquiladora – the lyrics betray a band with an awareness of their own privilege and a compassion for those not lucky enough to make it to the party. The line always sticks out for me: “Good times had by all… just swallow your guilt and your conscience.”
I just can’t see how that same band is willing to break the cultural boycott and play to a segregated audience in Israel. Palestinian civil society called the boycott to combat the state of apartheid that is imposed on them by Israeli authorities. Palestinians routinely have their homes destroyed and their land taken away. They are imprisoned, brutalised and killed. The venue you will perform in, Hayarkon Park, is one the site of a Palestinian village called Jarisha which was wiped off the map in 1948.
Perhaps you think that playing for an Israeli crowd doesn’t mean you agree with everything their government does. But you are certainly responsible for what goes on at a concert you’ve organised. And the truth is you will be playing to a segregated audience. You’ve chosen to hold your concert in Tel Aviv. The reality of apartheid is that Israeli forces deny freedom of movement to the people of Gaza and the West Bank. They will not be allowed to attend your concert. You will be playing to a segregated audience… the thought that you are okay with this sickens me.
We’ve all heard the argument that music and politics should be kept separate, but I think you’re the last band in the world to agree with that sentiment. So why don’t you come out and explain your decision? If you don’t, people will fill in the blanks and even I – who have for years defended your virtue far more than is reasonable – am starting to think it’s simply that the money was too good to turn down.
If money is the key question, then here’s where I stand. If you go ahead and break the boycott I will never give you another penny of my money. In the last year alone I’ve bought: three copies of A Moon Shaped Pool (electronic, CD and special edition), tickets to three of your shows and assorted other merchandise – I suspect my Radiohead-related outlay in just the last 12 months is about £400. If you go ahead and play Israel, you’ll lose my custom for life.
Maybe you’ll do a calculation and realise that the gig will pay more than you’d lose from the fans you’ve upset. Or maybe it’s not about the money at all. But the truth is, once you break play apartheid Israel, there is no going back. This will be your Sun City, on your reputation forever. You’ve always been daring creatively, but why risk your reputation for this?
It’s not too late to change your mind, but if you go ahead with this gig you will be siding with the oppressor and against the Palestinian people. Go ahead, have a good time… “just swallow your guilt and your conscience.”