Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood speaks out against “silencing Israeli artists for being born Jewish in Israel” while defending current project

Radiohead‘s Jonny Greenwood has defended being part of a musical project with Israeli musician Dudu Tassa and spoken out against “silencing Israeli artists for being born Jewish in Israel”.

READ MORE: The Smile live in London: a jazz-punk adventure in an entirely new world to Radiohead

Greenwood performed with Tassa in Tel Aviv on May 26. The day before, he reportedly participated in protests calling for hostages held in Gaza to be released and new elections to be held.

They played material from their collaborative album of Arabic love songs, ‘Jarak Qaribak’, which was released last year.

Greenwood’s performance was criticised by pro-Palestine activists who accused him of “artwashing genocide”.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement called for “peaceful, creative pressure on his band Radiohead to convincingly distance itself from this blatant complicity in the crime of crimes, or face grassroots measures.”

PACBI also pointed out that at the same time that Greenwood’s concert was taking place, Israeli forces were bombing displaced Palestinians sheltering in tents in Rafah, Gaza, which had prompted a large outcry on social media in the last week. In the last two decades, activists have called for musicians “to refuse to work with Israeli cultural institutions that are complicit in Israel’s apartheid regime”.

Now, Greenwood has responded to the criticism. In a lengthy statement posted to his social media accounts, he began: “I’m playing festivals in Europe this summer with Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis. Some people are asking me why.

“I’ve been collaborating with Dudu and releasing music with him since 2008 – and working privately long before that. I think an artistic project that combines Arab and Jewish musicians is worthwhile. And one that reminds everyone that the Jewish cultural roots in countries like Iraq and Yemen go back for thousands of years, is also important.

“For all that, whenever you call an artistic endeavour ‘important’ it ascribes an earnestness to the whole thing. Really, it’s just musicians from all over the Middle East having mutual respect for each other, working together across borders, and sharing our love for the long catalogue of Arabic songs – whether they were written by Muslim, Jewish or Christian composers.”

Greenwood pointed out that Tassa is the grandson of one of the most famous Iraqi composers, one of the legendary Al Kuwaity brothers. Their music is still regularly played on Arab-wide radio stations, but he stressed that “sadly their heritage as Jews is never mentioned any longer”.

— Jonny Greenwood (@JnnyG) June 4, 2024

He continued: “Others choose to believe this kind of project is unjustifiable, and are urging the silencing of this or any artistic effort made by Israeli Jews. But I can’t join that call: the silencing of Israeli film makers / musicians / dancers when their work tours abroad – especially when it’s at the urging of their fellow western film makers/musicians/artists feels unprogressive to me. Not least because it’s these people that are invariably the most progressive members of any society.

“I’m grateful to be working the remarkable musicians I’ve met during this project, all of whom strike me as much braver – and taking far more of a principled risk than those who are trying to shut us down, or who are now attempting to ascribe a sinister ulterior motivation to the band’s existence. There isn’t one: we are musicians honouring a shared culture, and I’ve been involved in this for nearly 20 years now.

“Anyway, no art is as ‘important’ as stopping all the death and suffering around us. How can it be? But doing nothing seems a worse option. And silencing Israeli artists for being born Jewish in Israel doesn’t seem like any way to reach an understanding between the two sides of this apparently endless conflict.

Greenwood concluded: “So: that’s why I’m making music with this band. You’re welcome to disagree with, or ignore, what we do but I hope you now understand what the true motivation is, and can react to the music without suspicion or hate.”

Greenwood’s wife, the artist Sharona Katan, is Israeli. Their family had a nephew who was serving in the Israeli defense Force and was killed in the ongoing war against Hamas.

Radiohead has performed in Israel numerous times throughout their career and their show there in 2017 proved especially controversial.

The band faced calls to cancel the gig, with an open letter recently issued by Artists For Palestine UK – and signed by musicians including Roger Waters, Thurston Moore and Young Fathers, as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu – asking the group to “think again” about their decision amid an ongoing and widespread cultural boycott of the country.

Radiohead Fans for Palestine also wrote, in an open letter to Thom Yorke, “it is the Palestinian people who have asked you to boycott and if you’re going to justify your show in Tel Aviv it is them you should be addressing.”

PACBI added: “Regardless of excuses, crossing the Palestinian picket line and performing in apartheid Israel during its genocide against 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza is to consciously whitewash – or artwash – Israel’s genocide and underlying 76-year-old regime of settler-colonial apartheid.”

Yorke also engaged in a Twitter altercation with director Ken Loach over the Israel gig, with the latter asking the band whether they would “stand with the oppressed or the oppressor?”

Drummer Philip Selway said in response that playing the show “felt like the right decision”. Asked by NME whether he felt like the band had burned bridges by playing the show, Selway replied: “I honestly don’t know. That wouldn’t have been the basis to make our decision to play there. You know, I think we stand by what we have said and that feels like the right decision.”

Campaigners also organised a protest at Glastonbury 2017, aiming to wave 100 Palestinian flags in front of the Pyramid Stage during the set.

Meanwhile, Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien called for a ceasefire in Gaza back in January. “Like so many of you I have found the events of October 7 and what has followed too awful for words.. anything that I have tried to write feels so utterly inadequate. Ceasefire now. Return the hostages,” he wrote on Instagram.

The post Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood speaks out against “silencing Israeli artists for being born Jewish in Israel” while defending current project appeared first on NME.

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