Fragrant Camouflage: In Honorable Opposition to State-Sponsored Fascism
With the often politically aware Radiohead set to play a July performance in Tel Aviv, Israel, they are facing a fierce campaign to cancel what some critics have deemed "a benefit show on behalf of Apartheid, ethnic cleansing and brutal occupation." The campaign stems from 2015's call from over 700 artists for a cultural boycott of Israel until that country's “colonial oppression of Palestinians” ended; the boycott's basic argument is that artistic and cultural events inevitably help polish a regime's public image, thus serving as propaganda or what Robert Wyatt calls "fragrant camouflage" for what in this case is Israel's "relentlessly accelerating ethnic cleansing campaign."
After their upcoming show was announced, a petition by Palestinian fans was begun and a newly created Facebook page urged them to "Stand Up To Apartheid." The group Artists For Palestine UK already called on fans to boycott the show: "Tel Aviv's hipster vibe is a bubble on the surface of a very deep security state that drove out half the indigenous Palestinian population in 1948 and has no intention of letting their descendants back in...Your presence will be used by the Israeli authorities to reassure their citizens that all's right with the world." Other fans have written articles arguing, "We need to be breaking down walls, not propping them up."
Now about 50 high-profile artists and activists, including Roger Waters and Desmond Tutu, have sent an open letter exhorting the band, "Please do what artists did in South Africa’s era of oppression: Stay away, until apartheid is over." While several members have ties to Israel - guitarist Jonny Greenwood is married to an Israeli artist - the letter references the band's past advocacy for Amnesty International and Tibetan independence. "We’re wondering why you’d turn down a request to stand up for another people under foreign occupation," it reads, noting that Radiohead fronted a gig for the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "We're wondering why you’d ignore a call to stand against the denial of those rights when it comes to the Palestinians... who can’t live where they want (or) travel as they please, who get detained (and often tortured) without charge or trial."
The letter quotes an earlier statement in support of action from the band that, "Without the work of organisations like Amnesty International, the Universal Declaration would be mere rhetoric.’" It goes on, "Surely if making a stand against the politics of division, of discrimination and of hate means anything at all, it means standing against it everywhere - and that has to include what happens to Palestinians every day. Otherwise the rest is, to use your words, ‘mere rhetoric.’"