‘I wish I could shut up but I can’t and I won’t’

Among the thousands of fans reveling in the musical stylings of rock band Radiohead in Glasgow last Friday was an unusual sight, one that is not typically seen in open stadium concerts.

A sea of Palestinian flags were raised and remained fluttering in full view of the band for the duration of their set.

The action was part of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that targeted Radiohead for their decision to play a gig in Tel Aviv on July 19.

Radiohead’s frontman, Thom Yorke, was unmoved and at one point even seemed to swear at the protesting fans. In the space of a few weeks, 14 000 fans had signed petitions urging the band to cancel their upcoming Tel Aviv gig, and handed it to the band’s record label in London. It was a disappointing reaction, given that he is politically outspoken on a number of other issues.

Yet the sheer magnitude of the campaign’s momentum is testament to just how quickly and effectively the BDS movement has grown to become.

12 years ago, 170 Palestinian civil society organisations put out a call for the international community to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel. The aim was threefold: one, for Israel to end its almost 70-year occupation of the Palestinian people and dismantle the apartheid wall; two, for Israel to grant full rights to its Palestinian citizens living within Israel, or the 1948 occupied territories; and three, to recognise and promote the right of return for millions of refugees.

Since then, the BDS movement has grown exponentially, bringing to the forefront important debates that were heatedly discussed in academic settings, business meetings, and at government levels. Universities, places of worship and community centres worldwide hosted speakers, panels, and symposiums to raise awareness of the importance of BDS as a tool to be wielded in international settings to bring Israel to accountability.

Modelled after the South African anti-apartheid movement, BDS has sought to force companies, institutions and governments to change their policies and isolate Israel for as long as it continues to oppress Palestinians. The victories over the past 12 years have been insurmountable: the French corporation Veolia was forced to cancel its contracts in Israel after it lost billions of dollars worth of tenders from around the world. The European Union has adopted a policy that prevents it from dealing economically with the illegal settlements in the West Bank. And a number of countries, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, and the Netherlands – have ended their cooperation agreement with Israeli water company Mekorot.

Tel Aviv can have Thom Yorke and his band. On the right side of history stand a whole plethora of famous people who consciously chose to boycott Israel. US hip hop artist Talib Kweli comes to mind, as do the married Spanish actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned physicist and cosmologist openly endorsed an academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2013. And in terms of rock bands, Roger Waters from Pink Floyd has been a tireless advocate for BDS.

Featured image by Saffiyah Patel