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Radiohead hits back at Israel boycott calls as 'divisive'

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke performs in Austin, Texas, in October 2016
SUZANNE CORDEIRO (AFP/File)
Yorke called it 'patronizing in the extreme' to presume the band is unfamiliar with the conflict

Radiohead hit back Friday at a campaign urging the band to scrap a show in Israel, calling the boycott campaign divisive, patronizing and "an extraordinary waste of energy."

The experimental rock icons are scheduled to close a tour on July 19 in Tel Aviv but artists including Roger Waters have urged Radiohead to heed Palestinian activists' calls to shun Israel.

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke responded that the campaign sowed divisions that fueled right-wing leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

"All of this creates divisive energy. You're not bringing people together. You're not encouraging dialogue or a sense of understanding," Yorke told Rolling Stone magazine.

"Now if you're talking about trying to make things progress in any society, if you create division, what do you get? You get f-cking Theresa May. You get [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you get f-cking Trump. That's divisive."

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

The petitioners -- who also include Nobel Prize-winning anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu, novelist Alice Walker and Thurston Moore of alternative rock pioneers Sonic Youth -- in an open letter pointed to Radiohead's past activism.

The British band has played concerts to support Tibetan rights, Amnesty International and the battle against climate change.

Yorke called it "patronizing in the extreme" to presume Radiohead is unfamiliar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pointing out that guitarist Jonny Greenwood's wife is an Israeli Arab.

"It's really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years," he said.

"It's deeply disrespectful to assume that we're either being misinformed or that we're so retarded we can't make these decisions ourselves."

"They talk down to us and I just find it mind-boggling that they think they have the right to do that," he said.

The campaign took on a personal dimension as Nigel Godrich, the longtime Radiohead producer often considered the band's sixth member, produced the latest album by Waters, the most vocal artist in pressing the Israel boycott.

Godrich, also speaking to Rolling Stone, said he disagreed with cultural boycotts but considered Waters and Yorke "two peas in a pod" in other respects.

Radiohead had initially stayed silent on the boycott calls, even as a banner urging them to cancel the Tel Aviv show was hung at a recent concert in Berkeley, California.

Yorke was speaking as part of an interview for the 20th anniversary of "OK Computer," the group's milestone foray into digital experimentation that is being reissued with a remastered sound and previously unreleased tracks.

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