R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe Supports Radiohead's Decision to Perform in Israel

BDS activists have been putting pressure on Radiohead to cancel the concert, which is supposed to take place on Wednesday

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R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe takes part in a conversation at the Carolina Theatre Fletcher Hall, during Moogfest, Friday, May 19, 2017, in Durham.
R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe takes part in a conversation at the Carolina Theatre Fletcher Hall, during Moogfest, Friday, May 19, 2017, in Durham. Credit: Bernard Thomas/AP

Michael Stipe, the front man of rock band R.E.M., has come out in support of Radiohead's decision to defy calls by activists to cancel the band's concert in Israel on Wednesday.

In a post on Instagram, which doesn't actually mention Israel by name, Stipe wrote: "I stand with Radiohead and their decision to perform. Let's hope a dialogue continues, helping to bring the occupation to an end and lead to a peaceful solution. Sincerely, Michael Stipe."

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Radiohead's front man, Thom Yorke, made headlines after he apparently flashed his middle finger at pro-Palestinian protesters during a performance, and again when he rejected British director Ken Loach’s call on him not to appear in Israel. 

Writing in the British daily the Independent, Loach wrote: “When an oppressed community asks renowned international artists not to lend their names to their oppressors’ attempts to whitewash their human rights violations, it is our moral obligation to heed their appeals. It should be about them and their human rights, not about us and our sense of pride."

In response, Yorke tweeted: “Playing in a country is not the same as endorsing its government. We’ve played in Israel for over 20 years through a succession of governments, some more liberal than others. As we have in America. We don’t endorse Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America. Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, in a biting opinion piece in the Guardian about Radiohead’s decision to perform in Israel, Dave Randall, former guitarist for the band Faithless, wrote that "this Tel Aviv gig will help the Israeli government’s ‘business as usual’ propaganda effort and alienate thousands of fans worldwide by ignoring the pleas of Palestinians.”

Randall argued Radiohead’s appearance whitewashes what he said are the crimes of the occupation, which he compared to apartheid in South Africa, writing that “the cultural boycott is a refusal to be complicit in this crime. It is a nonviolent and effective way to highlight the reality of what’s going on and to apply pressure for change.” 

Radiohead’s performance is set for Tuesday in Hayarkon Park. The band has appeared in Israel a number of times in the past but has never faced such a stubborn front by the BDS movement. 

This is not the first time Yorke has responded angrily to BDS protest against the planned appearance of Radiohead in Israel. Last month, Yorke told Rolling Stone magazine that criticism by cultural figures like Ken Loach or Roger Waters is patronizing. “This has been extremely upsetting. 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.” 

Yorke said there are people he admires who have been critical of the concert, like 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 shit 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."

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