OPINION: Music Without Borders?

As Radiohead find themselves embroiled in controversy, Dirty Boots asks- should we put an end to cultural boycotts?

You’ve probably heard a bit of fuss on the Internet recently about Radiohead playing a show in Tel Aviv, the second biggest city in Israel, but why all the fuss? Well, like discussing Brexit on Christmas Day, Artists performing at Israel is a bit of a touchy subject.

Banksy art at the West Bank barrier.

So without diving into the last century of controversy surrounding the Gaza Strip, here’s a great explanation of the boycott from Dave Randall, former guitarist for Faithless, on why performing in Israel is seen as a bit of a ‘bad thing’. What’s all the fuss about, Dave?

“Radiohead will step on stage in Tel Aviv in knowing and deliberate contravention of the boycott of Israel called for by Palestinian civil society and adhered to by leading cultural figures.” (Source)

Cheers Dave. So by performing in Tel Aviv,  Radiohead are planting their flags with a move that could be perceived as supporting the Israeli government, a move that isn’t taken lightly by members of the Pro-Palestinian movement such as Massive Attack, Roger Waters, Gorillaz and really most Artists who are politically engaged. The cultural boycott of Israel was called for by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and cultural boycott of Israel, who’s guidelines entail;

  1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
  2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions (Source: Artists for Palestine)


Thom Yorke is no ignoramus, having performed at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1998, been featured as a Key Speaker at a Nuclear Disarmament event in 2003, and even meeting Tony Blair in 2006 for a chat about Climate Change. Thom’s an engaged Artist and a real advocate for progressive politics, so why are Radiohead performing in Israel, a country with a morbid history of controversy?

Thom ‘stubbornly’ (as director Ken Loach puts it) describes the controversy of playing Israel as “an extraordinary waste of energy. Energy that could be used in a more positive way” (source), and states that Radiohead stands against the cultural boycott, a position empathised by J.K Rowling and top dog Noam Chomsky. All this was said in response to a petition signed by the likes of Thurston Moore, Young Fathers and Desmond Tutu, which you can find on the Artists for Palestine website here.


Stubborn Old Man Thom

Now, we’re not experts in Geopolitics here at Dirty Boots. Why, I am but a humble Music Graduate, I’d hardly have been any use in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I am going to throw my two cents down. I believe Artists can play where ever they bloody well please. If Kasabian can headline a show in Dubai, a city in a country drowned in Human Rights violations, with no public qualms, then where do we draw the line?

In 2011, I had the pleasure of seeing Public Image Ltd down in Bristol. Terrific gig, Johnny Rotten wore a great shirt, but what I remember most were the Boycott Israel protesters outside. Johnny addressed the protest during that years tour, saying “I hate all Religion,PiL play for the people of Israel not the government”.


So, in Dave Randall’s article, he goes on to say that “[by Radiohead performing in Israel], they will lose the respect of thousands of music fans across the region and around the world”, but I feel it’s gotta be asked- what about the fans in Israel? But then, what about the people of Palestine?

I’m torn on this one. This really isn’t as simple as black and white, and like most everymen I’ve hardly begun to wrap my head around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is a public responsible for it’s governments actions? I’m not entirely keen on the current regime here in the UK, but hey- I voted for Kodos.

Thom hit back at the controversy with a strong statement on the topic of cultural boycotts, aimed directly at Ken Loach:


Well, hm. Bloody good answer Thom.

I’ll leave you all with the words of Kanye West


What do you think? Should Radiohead cancel their Tel Aviv show? Should we end the cultural boycott of Israel? Share your thoughts below.

Words by Andrew Edwards (@andrewedw12)


One thought on “OPINION: Music Without Borders?

  1. For me it’s just a commercial thing. Radiohead are professional musicians and it’d be stupid not to go where the money is. If my band turned down every gig where we didn’t like the landlord or pub then we’d never play anywhere.


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