Calling Out Roger Waters, Radiohead Front Man Thom Yorke Says Calls to Boycott Israel 'Offensive'

Radiohead's Thom Yorke breaks silence on calls to boycott Israel: 'Just to assume that we know nothing about this [and] throw the word 'apartheid' around... It's such an extraordinary waste of energy'

(FILES) This file photo taken on October 7, 2016 shows singer Thom Yorke of Radiohead performing during the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas.
SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP

Radiohead has faced harsh criticism for its upcoming show in Tel Aviv, but on Thursday front man Thom Yorke finally opened up about the band's decision to ignore calls to boycott Israel.

The show, as part of the tour for the British group's latest album, "A Moon Shaped Pool," is set to finish up at Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park on July 19. In April, nearly 50 performers and artists, including Pink Floyd's Roger Waters and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, signed an open letter calling on Radiohead to cancel its concert in Israel as part of the wider boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that supports an intellectual, economic and cultural boycott of the country.

Though the band has played in Israel eight times, it hasn’t played here in 17 years. Talking to Rolling Stone on Thursday, Yorke blasted boycott calls as “offensive” and described his feelings on the criticism from fellow artists.

“I’ll be totally honest with you: this has been extremely upsetting,” the singer-songwriter said. “There are an awful lot of people who don’t agree with the BDS movement, including us,” he said, citing Noam Chomsky and J.K. Rowling, two other prominent figures who oppose a blanket cultural ban.

Yorke said that he couldn’t imagine telling other artists he admires where to work, what to do or what to think, and that he found the statements, both of flag-waving activists and artists supporting a boycott, patronizing and offensive.

Radiohead
Alex Lake

“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,” Yorke said, pointing to Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s experiences in the country; Greenwood’s wife, Israeli born Sharona Katan, considers herself an Arab Jew.

“Just to assume that we know nothing about this. Just to throw the word ‘apartheid’ around and think that’s enough. It’s fucking weird. It’s such an extraordinary waste of energy. Energy that could be used in a more positive way.”

Though he named director Ken Loach, who supports the boycott, as someone he admires, he criticized former Pink Floyd singer, bassist and songwriter Roger Waters as a staunch supporter of the BDS movement, saying the letter pitted Yorke against their shared producer, Nigel Godrich.

"Imagine how this has affected me and Nigel’s relationship. Thanks, Roger. I mean, we're best mates for life, but it’s like, fuck me, really?"

>> Roger Waters sets the record straight, telling Haaretz: I hate apartheid, not Israel <<

Yorke, who also plans to present a lecture at an Israeli university while he's in Israel, said he found the opposition to the university talk even more bewildering.

"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?" he asked.

"You're not bringing people together," he said of the boycott movement, "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 fucking Theresa May. You get Netanyahu, you get fucking Trump. That's divisive."