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Radiohead set for Tel Aviv concert amid calls for boycott

Posted July 18
Updated July 19

Radiohead is set to play Wednesday in front of tens of thousands of fans in Israel after rejecting calls from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions organization to cancel the concert.

The British rock band is scheduled to play Tel Aviv's HaYarkon Park despite attracting criticism from a number of figures in the film and music business.

The row has spread to social media, as well as to Radiohead's own concerts, with fans waving Palestinian flags and urging the band to call off the gig.

But Thom Yorke, the band's lead singer, has said the concert will go ahead, saying music is about "crossing borders, not building them."

What's been happening?

So what's the problem? The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) organization has urged Radiohead to boycott Israel over its conduct in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which most of the international community regards as illegally occupied Palestinian territory, though Israel disputes this.

Former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters and British film director Ken Loach have been leading the campaign, urging Yorke to reconsider.

Omar Barghouti, the leader of BDS, told CNN that Radiohead is "ignoring Palestinian voices that are asking them to refrain from entertaining Israeli apartheid."

Read: Can Trump solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Barghouti is just one of the voices calling for Radiohead to boycott the concert.

A number of the band's fans waved Palestinian flags at a recent concert in Glasgow, Scotland, while voicing their opposition to the gig in Tel Aviv, leading to Yorke flicking his middle finger in their direction.

Longtime campaigner Waters also revealed during a Facebook live Q&A sponsored by BDS that he emailed Yorke personally to ask him to cancel the concert.

And Loach, who himself has received criticism after it was discovered his film, "I, Daniel Blake" was playing in Tel Aviv, has also attempted to persuade Yorke on Twitter.

Loach's producer told The Guardian the distribution of the film in Israel was made "accidentally."

What does Israel say?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously said the "BDS movement is not about legitimate criticism."

Speaking at an AIPAC conference in 2014, he said: "It's about making Israel illegitimate. It presents a distorted and twisted picture of Israel to the naive and to the ignorant. BDS is nothing but a farce."

Read: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict: What you need to know

In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, Israel's minister of strategic affairs Gilad Erdan said: "We believe that music and culture should be tools for building bridges between people, not driving them apart."

"We salute Radiohead for clearly rejecting the hypocrisy and discrimination of those calling to boycott Israel," Erdan added.

While there has been plenty of criticism of Radiohead's decision to play in Israel, there has been support, too.

Former REM front man Michael Stipe posted his view on Instagram, where he said: "I stand with Radiohead and their decision to perform."

He added: "Let's hope a dialogue continues, helping to bring the occupation to an end and lead to a peaceful solution."

Read: Israel approves construction of first new settlement in more than 20 years

What's Radiohead's view?

So what is Radiohead saying? The band has already performed in Israel eight times -- but this is its first since BDS was formed 12 years ago.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Yorke took aim at those who have said he lacks knowledge of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as well as the accusations of apartheid.

"Just to throw the word 'apartheid' around and think that's enough. It's f***** weird," he said.

"It's such an extraordinary waste of energy. Energy that could be used in a more positive way."

Yorke also has made his views public on Twitter, in an exchange with Loach.

"Playing in a country isn't the same as endorsing its government," he wrote.

"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. I hope that makes it clear, Ken."

Yorke also has cited the case of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, whose wife is both Jewish and of Arab descent, adding that accusations that the band was ill-informed on the situation were "offensive" to his bandmate.

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