Musicians urge Radiohead to join boycott and scrap Israel show

A number of musicians, activists and artists are encouraging Radiohead to scrap a planned July show in Israel as part of a cultural boycott.

Open letter penned by members of Pink Floyd, Sonic Youth want band to cancel Tel Aviv gig

Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, performs during the Optimus Alive music festival in Lisbon in 2012. An open letter has been written to the band by a group of musicians, urging members to cancel a scheduled Tel Aviv show set for July. (Armando Franca/Associated Press)

A number of musicians, activists and artists are encouraging Radiohead to scrap a planned July show in Israel as part of a cultural boycott.

Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, Desmond Tutu and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore are among the more than 40 people who have co-signed an open letter to the influential British band, under the Artists for Palestine UK network. They are encouraging Radiohead to reconsider playing where they say "a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinian people."

Radiohead is scheduled to play Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park on July 19.

The letter points to Radiohead's past humanitarian efforts — particularly its support for Tibetan freedom and Amnesty International — and suggests the band's decision to play Tel Aviv is contradictory.

"Since Radiohead campaigns for freedom for the Tibetans, we're wondering why you'd turn down a request to stand up for another people under foreign occupation," the letter reads. "In asking you not to perform in Israel, Palestinians have appealed to you to take one small step to help pressure Israel to end its violation of basic rights and international law."

The letter draws parallels to the cultural boycotts once used in South Africa. "Please do what artists did in South Africa's era of oppression: stay away, until apartheid is over."

The group has recently penned letters to British electronic groups Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers, ahead of their performances in Israel which both went ahead.

The open letter, released Monday, follows calls from Palestinian activists to cancel the show, including Radiohead fans themselves. A petition calling for the cancellation now has more than 17,000 signatures.

Previous Israel shows

Radiohead played several shows in Israel through the '90s and early 2000s, but not since some Palestinians and supporters called for a cultural boycott.

The band has some ties to Israel — its guitarist/keyboardist Jonny Greenwood's wife was born in Israel and he collaborated on an album with Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur in 2015. The composer is slated to perform before Radiohead at the Tel Aviv show.

CBC News has reached out to the band for comment but has yet to receive a response.

Eran Arielli of Naranjah, the concert's promoter, says he's avoided talking about the subject. "We wish Roger and Thurston great success with their upcoming albums," he told CBC News in an email.

Fellow Israeli promoter Hillel Wachs of 2b Vibes says there's a very small chance the band will cancel. Wachs has recently put on shows in Israel by Macklemore, Pixies and Jason Derulo. He says he'll always bring up the political situation when corresponding with a musician.

"We tell them there will be online chatter when they announce but that it has no real impact on anything," he said, pointing out its "the same" list of musicians calling for the boycott.

"There's an expression in Hebrew that says, 'The dogs are barking and the caravan passes.' [It] means the dogs see a caravan on the horizon and start barking. The caravan then disappears and the dogs take credit. The caravan, on the other hand, didn't even hear the dogs ... just continued on its way."

Fans of pop star Justin Bieber wait for his arrival on stage before a concert in Tel Aviv in 2011. Bieber is returning to play Tel Aviv next week. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

Wachs says it's a good thing that high-end bands like Radiohead are coming to play in Israel as it shows it is "a competitive market."

A few major artists have boycotted playing shows in Israel — notably Roger Waters, Brian Eno and Elvis Costello.

​Other musicians, including Paul McCartney, Joss Stone and Justin Bieber have ignored calls to cancel and went on with their planned performances. Other shows slated for Yarkon Park this summer include Aerosmith, Guns N' Roses and a return performance by Bieber next week.