Did Radiohead’s Thom Yorke swear at fans waving Palestinian flags?

Palestinian flags on display during a Radiohead performance in Scotland. (Glasgow Palestine Action) 


Radiohead front man Thom Yorke has apparently stuck up his middle finger up at fans waving Palestinian flags in protest at the band’s decision to play in Israel later this month.

The singer’s gesture was captured on video during a performance in Glasgow, Scotland at the weekend.

Prior to the song “Myxomatosis,” the musician repeatedly said “some fucking people” in an apparent swipe at the protesters.

“Arrogant attitude” 

Struan Mearns from Glasgow Palestine Action, who took part in the demo said:

“As a lifelong fan of Radiohead and supporter of the Palestinian struggle for justice, it broke my heart when the band decided to play in Israel. When Thom Yorke swore at us I was shocked but given that they’re willing to break the cultural boycott and help the state of Israel whitewash its crimes, that kind of arrogant attitude is actually not that surprising.”

Other disappointed fans responded to Yorke’s comments at Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival, where Radiohead topped the bill, with memes. One read: “Some fucking people had their homes razed to the ground and you’re going to play on the rubble.”

Hayarkon Park, the 40,000-capacity Tel Aviv stadium which Radiohead are due to play on 19 July, is built on the ruins of Jarisha, a Palestinian village. 

Since announcing the planned Israel gig, the band have ignored many direct appeals from Palestinian fans to reconsider, including those which drew attention to their prior reputation as politically conscious.

Lead singer Thom Yorke has been outspoken on climate change and a range of other issues, most recently mocking UK Prime Minister Theresa May on stage at Glastonbury, a major English festival. Previously he has displayed a Tibetan flag onstage.

But when it comes to Palestinian rights, the band have rebuffed a call to boycott made by 14,000 who signed a petition handed in to the band’s record label in London.

Similarly, they have rejected attempts to reach out by artists like Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and filmmaker Ken Loach, who has previously said: “Thom’s is a simple choice: will he stand with the oppressor or the oppressed?”

Yorke’s reaction suggests he has sided with apartheid Israel.

Disrespectful? 

Prior to the apparent insult to fans in Glasgow, he had already chastised his critics in an interview with music magazine Rolling Stone, calling  the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement “a waste of energy” and “divisive.”

In June, Yorke complained: “It’s deeply distressing that they choose to, rather than engage with us personally, throw shit at us in public. 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.”

Artists for Palestine UK responded with a statement pointing out that Radiohead’s decision to play in Israel – and the government’s apartheid policies - are “divisive.” 

The band’s recent gigs — from Manchester to Glastonbury — have attracted protests. Last week Ken Loach suggested that if the band go ahead with their Tel Aviv concert “they may never live it down.”

Fans in Glasgow spoofed the band’s song “Let Down” — from the album OK Computer — to express their dismay at Radiohead’s plan to break the international picket line and Thom Yorke’s aggressive response to criticism.

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Comments

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I have to ask at this point, why are we focusing on this particular artist? I realize the band has sold millions of recordings and drawn enormous crowds for many years. But the man himself- Yorke, that is- seems like someone nobody ought to be pinning their hopes on. His behavior in Glasgow merely reinforces that impression. Why is he important to the travails of Palestinian people? I'm not even sure that his support for BDS would bring credit to the movement. Frankly, it looks as though he'll do more good for the cause by continuing his churlish ways, sneering at people around the world who stand up for Palestinian rights. In doing so, he's become a suitably repellent avatar for what used to be called (vis-à-vis apartheid South Africa) "constructive engagement".

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Can't stand the man, can't stand his mewling little band. But reaching out to try to convince them means that, when they prove to be intransigent greedheads, they pay a price afterwards. Not a huge price, but one that will register with him and with the next rocker, poet, or novelist who is pondering a legitimizing trip to the Occupation State.

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I agree with the previous commenter. It's way past time to move on. I hate to break the bad news but practically all these "celebrities" that our so-called Western culture holds up as "role models" could care less about the suffering of innocents for which our governments are responsible. That's the problem with hero-worship. You'll always be in for a big let down because these people are just humans like everyone else. Sure they have a platform to reach more people than most and I'm happy when someone like Roger Waters use that platform to speak out for justice but it's not something for which I'd hold my breath. Half the people in Hollywood including so-called "liberals" like Robert DeNiro attend "Friends of IOF" fundraisers so that they can more easily kill defenseless men, women and children in Palestine. So-called "progressive" musicians like Santana won't even meet with fans who support Palestine and then this loser flips the bird at his fans. There is really no humanity left to which to appeal.

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Very disappointing indeed. I'm not a fan of Radiohead and anything other than a single being played on the radio grates on my nerves tbh. If it's true that this is the bands actual stance then I think they're making a big mistake.

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Again Radiohead shows that they know nothing about Palestine. Dear Radiohead, If you want to play in Tel aviv, go ahead but please have the respect for Palestinians. Visit Hebron, please go to Ramallah via Qalandya check point, I urge you not to stay in the car while crossing, please walk through the check point, walk with the pregnant woman with 2 other children in the insane heat wave, walk with the Birzeit university student who waste 4 hours of their day on the road, walk with the sick who's crossing to go to the hospital. Please don't be surprised when you see teenage soldiers humiliating elder men and women. Go to Bethlehem, and look at the huge wall separating people and taking more Palestinian land.
Go take a walk in the old city of Jerusalem, and go visit a settlement next to Nablus and while you're there play a game and count the differences between Palestinian cities and settlements, where can you find more water and infrastructure? who’s uprooting the hundred year old olive trees? While in Tel aviv, sit on the beach and drink your coffee in one of the many nice artistic coffee shops, look at people walking their lovely dogs and go enjoy the nightlife, sing for Tel aviv but just know that underneath all of this is an ugly occupation that destroyed and is still destroying the lives of million of Palestinians everyday.

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The most overrated band in the history of music. Why should it surprise anyone that they care more about money than morality, more about moolah than substance, and more about cashish than art. 0/10.

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Hilary Aked

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Hilary Aked (@hilary_aked) is a London-based freelance writer and researcher, an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a PhD student at the University of Bath researching the pro-Israel lobby in the UK. They also write for Spinwatch, Ceasefire, OpenDemocracy and Huffington Post.