Michael Stipe Voices Support for Radiohead Amidst Israel Concert Controversy

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Michael Stipe Voices Support for Radiohead Amidst Israel Concert Controversy

R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe voiced his support for Radiohead’s upcoming show in Tel Aviv in an Instagram post yesterday, joining the ongoing debate surrounding the event. Thom Yorke has defended the band’s playing in Israel despite its current occupation of Palestine.

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The post is accumulating a number of impassioned user comments taking sides on the issue. One user writes, “FYI it’s the actual people living under occupation in Palestine who have called for the international boycott, so nice one ya washed-up loser.” Though their wording is harsh, they have a point. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement seeks to end Israeli oppression of Palestinians by refusing to normalize it, and holding a massive concert in Israel undermines these efforts by contributing to Israel’s economy and entertainment industry, regardless of how pure the intentions are.

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel commented on Stipe’s message of support, saying:

The continued dialogue Michael Stipe hopes for has literally been going on for decades, and it has done nothing to bring us any closer to securing our freedom, justice or equal human rights. On the contrary, it has served Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid superbly, by providing it with a perfect fig leaf to cover its intensifying siege of 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, its ethnic cleansing in and around occupied Jerusalem, and its construction of illegal settlements and walls. For dialogue to be ethical and effective, it must recognize that all humans deserve equal rights and that all injustice must end in accordance with international law. Otherwise it becomes a deceptive, unethical dialogue that privileges the oppressor and entrenches the notion of co-existence under colonial oppression rather than co-resistance to oppression, a key condition to ethical coexistence. Reconciliation and dialogue in South Africa came only after the end of apartheid, not before, as Desmond Tutu never tires from repeating.

A staunch supporter of BDS, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters has been the most vocal celebrity against the concert. Waters sent Yorke an email hoping to dissuade Radiohead from performing, but was met with hostility from the frontman, who called it “deeply disrespectful to assume that we’re either being misinformed or that we’re so retarded we can’t make these decisions ourselves.” In Waters’ latest statement on the issue, which he offered in a Facebook live talk with the BDS movement, he says Yorke is “whining about how he feels insulted” and that ”[he] shouldn’t feel insulted because if [he] did know what’s going on, [he] would have a conversation.”

“I look forward to, when you finish your trip to Israel, because you probably still will go—write me a letter and tell me how much good you did and how much change you managed to affect by chatting with musicians,” says Waters. As Waters suggests, it seems that the July 19 gig will go on as scheduled despite the controversy.