Jonny Greenwood Issues Statement on Tel Aviv Performance, Dudu Tassa Collaboration

“I’m grateful to be working [with] the remarkable musicians I’ve met during this project, all of whom strike me as much braver — and taking far more of a principled risk — than those who are trying to shut us down”

Photo: Raph_PH

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Jun 4, 2024

When he's not dicking around in the studio or working on another eight-hour organ piece, Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead and the Smile fame) has been playing some shows internationally with Dudu Tassa, the Israeli rock musician with whom he released an album called Jarak Qaribak almost a year ago now. 

One of said shows was at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv on Sunday (June 2), and the Jerusalem Post reports that he was photographed at the Kaplan Street protests calling for the release of the Israeli hostages in Gaza and new elections in Israel — which has been characterized as being against the Israeli government, but not a pro-Palestinian demonstration.

Greenwood has now issued a statement on his decision to perform in Israel following some backlash, including a post on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement's website accusing the musician of "artwashing genocide."

"I'm playing festivals in Europe this summer with Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis. Some people are asking me why," he wrote on Twitter. "I've been collaborating with Dudu and releasing music with him since 2008 — and working privately long before that. I think an artistic project that combines Arab and Jewish musicians is worthwhile. And one that reminds everyone that the Jewish cultural roots in countries like Iraq and Yemen go back for thousands of years, is also important."

He continued:

For all that, whenever you call an artistic endeavour "important" it ascribes an earnestness to the whole thing. Really, it's just musicians from all over the Middle East having mutual respect for each other, working together across borders, and sharing our love for the long catalogue of Arabic songs whether they were written by Muslim, Jewish or Christian composers. (Perhaps the most famous Iraqi composer was Dudu's grandfather, who was one of the legendary Al Kuwaity brothers, and who's songs are still staples of Arab-wide radio stations though sadly their heritage as Jews is never mentioned any longer.)

Others choose to believe this kind of project is unjustifiable, and are urging the silencing of this or any artistic effort made by Israeli Jews. But I can't join that call: the silencing of Israeli filmmakers/musicians/dancers when their work tours abroad — especially when it's at the urging of their fellow Western film makers/musicians/artists — feels unprogressive to me. Not least because it's these people that are invariably the most progressive members of any society.

I'm grateful to be working the remarkable musicians I've met during this project, all of whom strike me as much braver — and taking far more of a principled risk — than those who are trying to shut us down, or who are now attempting to ascribe a sinister ulterior motivation to the band's existence. There isn't one: we are musicians honouring a shared culture, and I've been involved in this for nearly 20 years now.

"Anyway, no art is as 'important' as stopping all the death and suffering around us. How can it be?" Greenwood added in conclusion. "But doing nothing seems a worse option. And silencing Israeli artists for being born Jewish in Israel doesn't seem like any way to reach an understanding between the two sides of this apparently endless conflict. So: that's why I'm making music with this band. You're welcome to disagree with, or ignore, what we do — but I hope you now understand what the true motivation is, and can react to the music without suspicion or hate."

See the musician's statement below.

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