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COLUMN: BDS Changes Music in the Holy Land

Sounding OFF

Sounding OFF is Salute Magazine’s new weekly music column, authored by Music Editor Daniel Offner. The column is a weekly analysis of all things music. This week’s column focuses on the BDS movement and the impact it is having on music in Israel. 

Radiohead will be wrapping up their A Moon Shaped Pool Tour in Tel Aviv Israel, this July, and Pink Floyd songwriter/bassist, Roger Waters, as well as fifty others who have signed a petition asking the band to reconsider, couldn’t be more disappointed.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement began in 2005, with the goal of working to end international support for Israel, until the Palestinian “Apartheid is over.”

In April, BDS got more than 50 musicians, playwrights, artists and human rights activists, to sign a petition urging Radiohead cancels its show.

“You may think that sharing the bill with Israeli musicians Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis, who play Jewish-Arabic music, will make everything OK,” the petition states. “It won’t, any more than ‘mixed’ performances in South Africa brought closer the end of the apartheid regime. Please do what artists did in South Africa’s era of oppression: stay away, until apartheid is over.”

Critics argue that the BDS movement is anti-semitic in nature—resembling boycotts exercised under Nazi regime—and that it disincentivizes negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leadership, further promoting the delegitimization of Israel.

The “Israeli occupation,” as Waters and other members of the BDS movement will so one-sidedly put it, is a much more complex issue… one that is rooted, not in politics or racial inequality, but in an individual’s faith. And much like conflicts we experience in our own country, both sides have people who are more open-minded and understanding; and both sides have people who are so set in their beliefs and unwilling to change.

It is a double-edged sword, which is why very few have actually sided with BDS, while others, including Joel and Ethan Coen, J.K. Rowling, Howard Stern, Jon Bon Jovi, Ziggy Marley, and Helen Mirren, have stood in opposition.

But the real question here is not a matter of right or wrong or complacency in the face of discrimination. It is whether or not this is a dialogue that needs to be had between rock stars? Not by diplomats or politicians, but by musicians.

Although music may have played an integral role in ending apartheid in South Africa, we are not talking about artists that are directly impacted by the conflict. Neither are about to usher in change because the people who are affected could care less about what British rock musicians have to say about their way of living.

Prior to gaining independence, the Israel-Palestine territory was under the control of the British, who, after having toppled the Ottoman Empire in WWI, promised the land as both an Arab and Jewish state.

During the war, between 1915-1916, British high command and the Sharif of Mecca communicated through a series of letters, known as the McMahon-Hussein correspondence, promising the recognition of Arab independence. But, just one year later, the U.K. would renege on its promise with the Balfour Declaration, a 67-word statement declaring Palestine as “a national home for the Jewish people.”

Tensions between the Arabic and Jewish faiths escalated in the years that followed, until 1948, when David Ben-Gurion, executive head of the World Zionist Organization, declared the establishment of a Jewish state, which prompted the Israeli War of Independence a day later.

Photo/Getty Images

Photo/Getty Images

The war between Jewish and Arab communities is often regarded as the root of the conflict. By the end of the war, Israel had kept 60 percent of the area that was originally proposed to the Arab state, displacing nearly 700,000 Palestinian-Arab refugees in the process.

In the years following the war, approximately 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, one-third of whom, had been expelled from other Arab nations in the Middle East.

Now, sixty-nine years later, the war is commemorated by Jewish-Israelis as a day of independence, while Palestinian-Arabs, have historically treated it as a solemn occasion, referred to as Al-Nakba, or “the catastrophe.”

In response to the BDS boycott, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke told Rolling Stone that the controversy, “has been extremely upsetting.”

“I thought it was patronizing in the extreme. It’s offensive and I just can’t understand why going to play a rock show or going to lecture at a university [is a problem to them],” Yorke said. “All of this creates divisive energy. You’re not bringing people together. 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 [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you get fucking Trump. That’s divisive.”

Waters responded to Yorke with his own statement to Rolling Stone, in which he claims to have made several attempts to “start a dialogue” with Yorke about plans to perform Israel, prior to the April petition, and that the Radiohead frontman “misinterpreted my attempt to start a conversation as a threat.”

“I have made every effort to engage with you personally, and would still like to have the conversation,” Waters replied. “Not to talk is not an option.”

If the point of all of this feuding was to start a conversation, then kudos to the both of them, because it is not a one-sided issue. Trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a lot like flipping a coin and guessing wrong, regardless which side it lands on.

It’s only when you take a step back from the situation and look objectively, that you see both sides have done their fair share to contribute to this predicament. By banning artists from performing there, you are only letting down the fans. The ones who spend their hard earned money in order to listen to music and have a good time, regardless of what race or religion. I mean, isn’t that what concerts are all about… the fans??


  1. 46nd2

    June 11, 2017 at 9:41 am

    “… one that is rooted, not in politics or racial inequality, but in an individual’s faith.”

    The occupation is an ever expanding colonial land grab. The founding zionists as well as many today are atheists.

    Ben Gurion was a terrorist who prompted Albert Einstein to publish a letter in the NY Times in 1948 warning the world about zionist extremism in Israel and calling it the “latest manifestation of fascism.”

    Israel claims that BDS intends to wipe it out (or some silliness) but BDS intends to end the 70 year long occupation of the Palestinians and the inhumane 10 year blockade of Gaza and to force Israel to start abiding by International law.

    BDS has three main goals:
    1. End the occupation in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza.
    2. End apartheid in Israel for non Jewish citizens (a real democracy).
    3. Right of return for refugees to the 1967 lines drawn by the UN.

    human rights anywhere else in the world. Israel could stop the boycott at any time by following International law. As happened in South Africa the BDS boycott can liberate Palestine.

    • Daniel Offner

      June 12, 2017 at 11:23 am

      I agree that this is a conversation that needs to be had… but I feel you missed the point of my argument. All I am saying, is that this is not a discussion, as much as it is a pissing contest between musicians whose way of lives are not impacted by the conflict.

      • 46nd2

        June 12, 2017 at 11:58 am

        I think Waters has done everything he can to assure Yorke that this was a bout the boycott and oppressed Palestinian people but Yorke was more concerned about how it effected him personally.

        For me as a Radiohead fan this was about a band that I thought represented a strong “social conscience” and a movement that sought to free a people who have lived under oppression for decades. I am shocked to say the least.

        • Daniel Offner

          June 15, 2017 at 1:19 pm

          I respect your commentary, but wholeheartedly disagree. The “boycott” is not specific to Radiohead, but the petition was, and it most certainly came off as a threat. The band could care less if they lose a couple of fans because they were strong-armed into taking sides and opted to take a stand instead of giving into the petty demands of artists who would no sooner chastise them one way or another.

          Again, I feel like you misinterpreted the purpose of this column, which is to identify that with this boycott of musicians in the holy land, the only ones who really end up losing out are the fans.

          • 46nd2

            June 15, 2017 at 1:52 pm

            I believe that they will deservedly hemorrhage fans: and it’s the occupation that is boycotted not the “Holy Land”.

          • Daniel Offner

            June 15, 2017 at 2:21 pm

            The boycott is of performances (musical or otherwise) taking place in Israel… It may be because of “the occupation,” as you say, but it doesn’t only pertain to Radiohead. They are just the only ones to suggest crossing the proverbial “picket line.”

            I highly suggest you re-read the petition, which I have pasted below, and how it’s specifically addressed to the individual members of Radiohead…


            London, April 24th 2017

            Dear Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway,

            You’re listed to play Tel Aviv in July this year.

            We’d like to ask you to think again – because by playing in Israel you’ll be playing in a state where, UN rapporteurs say, ‘a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinian people’.

            We understand you’ve been approached already by Palestinian campaigners. They’ve asked you to respect their call for a cultural boycott of Israel, and you’ve turned them down. 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. And since Radiohead fronted a gig for the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we’re wondering why you’d ignore a call to stand against the denial of those rights when it comes to the Palestinians.

            Radiohead once issued a statement saying: ‘Without the work of organisations like Amnesty International, the Universal Declaration would be mere rhetoric’. You’ve clearly read Amnesty’s reports, so you’ll know that Israel denies freedom to the Palestinians under occupation, who can’t live where they want, can’t travel as they please, who get detained (and often tortured) without charge or trial, and can’t even use Facebook without surveillance, censorship and arrest.

            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. Surely if making a stand against the politics of division, of discrimination and of hate means anything at all, it means standing against it everywhere – and that has to include what happens to Palestinians every day. Otherwise the rest is, to use your words, ‘mere rhetoric’.

            You may think that sharing the bill with Israeli musicians Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis, who play Jewish-Arabic music, will make everything OK. It won’t, any more than ‘mixed’ performances in South Africa brought closer the end of the apartheid regime. Please do what artists did in South Africa’s era of oppression: stay away, until apartheid is over.”

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