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Dan Savery Raz

Jonny Greenwood should be supported not silenced

The BDS movement is unfairly targeting Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead about playing in Tel Aviv.

It’s not everyday that one of the greatest guitarists of his generation plays in Tel Aviv in the middle of madness with Israeli and Arabic musicians. But that’s exactly what happened almost two weeks ago and I was in the crowd to witness this unique gig in Jaffa. Yet, now this peaceful, multicultural show is now being used by the pro-Palestine BDS movement to bully Jonny Greenwood and his band as they embark on some European festival shows.

The atmosphere at the Barby venue on May 26 in Jaffa was one of peace. The music was a healing set of Arabic love songs from last year’s collaborative album, Jarak Qaribak, meaning ‘Your neighbour is your friend’.

Middle Eastern Mashup
Jonny Greenwood humbly took to the stage, standing to the side, giving the spotlight to his long-time collaborator Dudu Tassa and their guest Arabic singers. The band’s big sound came from a mixture of strings, guitars, flutes, and darbuka drums, with Jonny mostly on bass. The crowd cheered when Dudu Tassa said in Hebrew, ‘We’re not politicians, just musicians”, and “may we know better days.”

Yet aside from that, it was simply a night of music, reworked Arabic songs that could have been heard in Egypt or Iraq fifty years ago or more. After the show Jonny signed a few autographs and I even got the chance to thank him personally. As a fellow British guy who fell in love, married an Israeli girl and embraced her culture, I feel an affinity to Jonny and have always admired his work since the early days of Radiohead through to his film scores.

So, I find it shocking that once again – as in 2017 when Radiohead last played in Tel Aviv – that the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is accusing Greenwood of “artwashing genocide”. It’s exactly the opposite. This Arabic and Israeli collaboration is actually shining a light showing how peace could be possible in the future. Music has no boundaries and playing a gig in a country is not the same as endorsing its government. In fact, it was reported that Jonny and his wife attended a protest the night before in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu’s right-wing government, calling for an end to the war and release of the hostages.

Then, why is the BDS openly criticising a clear peace activist? The answer is because the BDS’s motivation is not one of peace, reconciliation or unity, but rather to oppose any artist – no matter what their stance – who plays in Israel. Jonny called this backlash ‘unprogressive’ and ‘silencing’ in his well-written statement. Projects like Jarak Qaribak should win awards and be supported, not vilified.

The album includes artists from Cairo, Ramallah, Beirut and Tel Aviv – it’s a kind of Middle Eastern mashup recorded and released before the events of October 7th. Playing a peace gig in a time of war actually demonstrates bravery, unlike the BDS movement, which cowardly tries to ban artists without understanding who or what they stand for.

Outraged and Outnumbered
Just look at the huge wave of protests in Tel Aviv every week for the past almost two years  – there are thousands upon thousands of Israelis who are opposed to Netanyahu’s government. Though we were all horrified by the day of unprecedented genocide, rape and murder on October 7th, we still stand up against this very undemocratic government. Why punish the very people who are fighting to stop the war and change this madness?

Unfortunately, peaceful voices from Israel are often silenced and outnumbered, especially online. The recent ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ campaign showed how an AI-generated image and slogan can get millions of shares on social media, while an Israeli response asking ‘Where were your eyes on October 7?’ got far less exposure.

Around the world, people only see the news of war and only hear Israeli politicians. And so anyone who even steps foot in Israel, including Jonny Greenwood, who has in-laws here, is deemed ‘complicit in this crime of crimes’.

This is the BDS’s low-level of ‘brainwashing’ or one-sided propaganda. If we use the BDS ‘logic’ – why are activists not boycotting Turkey or Qatar who funded billions of dollars and provided safe houses for the Hamas leaders who plotted the massacre of October 7th? I guess, as David Baddiel – another fellow Brit says in his recent book – ‘Jews Don’t Count’.

Why did I get an email from Avaaz calling for Israel to be banned from the Olympics, yet I never got an email asking for Russia, which invaded Ukraine two years ago, to be banned? Why do LGBT communities and students protest so angrily against Israel, the only gay-friendly country in the Middle East that’s holding the biggest Pride in the region this weekend, yet not against countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran, where gays can be imprisoned or worse, beheaded? Now, I don’t think we should boycott Turkey, Iran, or Russia, but the hypocrisy is clear to see.

And we definitely should applaud, not cancel, acts like Jonny and Dudu, who are creating cross-cultural music in a climate of hate. May we indeed know better days and may peaceful projects like theirs continue to flourish and create a new Middle East based on shared values, mutual respect, and love of the arts.

Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead at the Barby, Tel Aviv, 2024.
About the Author
Dan Savery Raz is a Lonely Planet author, and has written for BBC.com, Time Out & various websites. Born in England, he lives in Tel Aviv with his wife & children.
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