Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood calls backlash over Israel show amid Gaza war ‘unprogressive’

Estimated read time 3 min read

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood has defended his ongoing collaboration with the Israeli artist Dudu Tassa amid criticism from pro-Palestine activists, calling the backlash “unprogressive” and “silencing”.

Greenwood, a composer and musician who also plays in the Radiohead spin-off group The Smile, has been playing with Tassa since 2008. Last year, Greenwood and Tassa released a collaborative album titled Jarak Qaribak, a compilation of Arabic love songs featuring artists from across the Middle East.

The pair performed a live show in Tel Aviv on 26 May, a day after Greenwood participated in protests calling for the release of hostages in Gaza and new elections in Israel, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Soon after the show, the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement issued a statement accusing Greenwood of “artwashing genocide”.

“Palestinians unequivocally condemn Jonny Greenwood’s shameful artwashing of Israel’s genocide,” the statement said. “We call 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.”

On Tuesday, Greenwood responded with his own statement released on his social media accounts.

“I think an artistic project that combines Arab and Jewish musicians is worthwhile,” he wrote. “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.”

Greenwood lamented what he saw as “the silencing of this – or any – artistic effort made by Israeli Jews” by “those who are trying to shut us down, or who are now attempting to ascribe a sinister ulterior motivation to the band’s existence”.

“No art is as ‘important’ as stopping all the death and suffering around us,” he said. “How can it be? But doing nothing seems like 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 is married to the Israeli visual artist Sharona Katan, who has shared her support for Israel’s military campaign. The couple’s nephew was killed this year while serving in the Israeli Defence Force.

Radiohead has a long history with Israel. Their megahit Creep first became a success on Israeli radio after initially failing to break through elsewhere, and the band have continued to perform in the country throughout their career, despite protests from fans and activists.

Following widespread criticism of their 2017 show in Israel, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke said that the band does not stand with the BDS movement, though he later clarified that “playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing its government”.


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