Watch I Signed the Petition, a Philosophical Meditation on the Decision to Sign a Petition Asking Radiohead to Boycott Tel Aviv

From the point of view of polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, both lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives should see boy­cotts as a clear-cut issue. While in prac­tice mil­lions have had to fight for their eco­nom­ic rights, in the­o­ry indi­vid­ual cit­i­zens should be able to spend, or with­hold, their mon­ey where they see fit. The pol­i­tics of boy­cotts are far more heat­ed on the sup­ply side, how­ev­er, per­haps sig­nal­ing that indi­vid­u­als feel increas­ing­ly depen­dent on the wealthy to resolve con­flicts.

We may want cor­po­ra­tions, for exam­ple, to prac­tice good cit­i­zen­ship and with­hold busi­ness and endorse­ments from bad actors, while, at the same time, hold­ing seri­ous doubts about legal­ly call­ing cor­po­ra­tions cit­i­zens. When it comes to high-pro­file artists like J.K. Rowl­ing, the Chem­i­cal Broth­ers, or Radio­head, things can get even more heat­ed as the pro­pri­etary feel­ings of fan­dom col­lide with polit­i­cal tac­tics. Add to this the noto­ri­ous BDS (Boy­cott, Divest­ment, Sanc­tions) move­ment and you have instant inflam­ma­to­ry con­tro­ver­sy.

In their own words, BDS “works to end inter­na­tion­al sup­port for Israel’s oppres­sion of Pales­tini­ans and pres­sure Israel to com­ply with inter­na­tion­al law.” One of the means at its dis­pos­al is cul­tur­al boy­cott, pres­sur­ing artists not to per­form in Israel. Hun­dreds have com­plied, protest­ing ille­gal set­tle­ments, human rights abus­es, state repres­sion, and treat­ment of artists like Dareen Tatour, a poet who was jailed for sev­er­al days and giv­en three years house arrest for social media posts.

The three big artists named above all refused to boy­cott Israel, even when peti­tions appeared with thou­sands of sig­na­tures. In response to crit­i­cism and a Change. Org peti­tion, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke issued an angry response that hard­ly calmed things down. “The kind of dia­logue that they want to engage in is one that’s black or white,” he said in 2017. “I have a prob­lem with that. It’s deeply dis­tress­ing that they choose to, rather than engage with us per­son­al­ly, throw shit at us in pub­lic.”

What­ev­er your thoughts on the band’s stance, Yorke points to some­thing that is nec­es­sary to keep in mind: pol­i­tics are always per­son­al. They are per­son­al when we expect artists to stay out of polit­i­cal debates, as though they can’t be full human beings in pub­lic. They are per­son­al when the expec­ta­tions levied on artists don’t accord with their sense of the issue, even if they might agree in prin­ci­ple with those pres­sur­ing them.

The entan­gle­ment of the per­son­al and polit­i­cal both­ered Pales­tin­ian film­mak­er Mah­di Fleifel, who signed the peti­tion to Radio­head then regret­ted it. For him, how­ev­er, the issue was not Thom Yorke’s feel­ings, but his own, as a Pales­tin­ian raised in refugee camps in Lebanon, for whom the issues addressed by BDS are not abstrac­tions affect­ing oth­er peo­ple. Fleifel, who now lives in Den­mark, called his friend Faris to talk over his mis­giv­ings. Then he turned their con­ver­sa­tion into the short, abstract doc­u­men­tary above, I Signed the Peti­tion.

The film pro­vides, as Aeon writes, a brief but “com­plex account of how indi­vid­u­als make their own pol­i­tics,” and the role pow­er plays in that mak­ing. Fleifel con­fess­es that he’s afraid his name will appear on a “black­list” after he signed the peti­tion for Radio­head to boy­cott Tel Aviv. He express­es the per­fect­ly legit­i­mate fear that “they’re not gonna let me in next time I go to Pales­tine.” Faris val­i­dates his “con­cerns and fears,” then paints a decid­ed­ly bleak pic­ture of what Fleifel would find on his return to occu­pied Pales­tine, and an image of Pales­tini­ans as pow­er­less, resent­ment-fueled “losers” in the glob­al sys­tem.

The film­mak­er responds with a metaphor: “So why are all these dogs bark­ing in the desert?”—referring to the Pales­tin­ian artists who cir­cu­lat­ed and signed the peti­tion. If a boy­cott does­n’t make sense in this sit­u­a­tion, what does? As Nao­mi Shi­hab Nye writes of her expe­ri­ence as a dias­poric Pales­tin­ian artist, “this tragedy with a ter­ri­ble root / is too big for us. What flag can we wave?”

Fleifel keeps call­ing our atten­tion to the ways that pol­i­tics and art and our indi­vid­ual lives are all bound up togeth­er. Yorke may have want­ed a per­son­al approach, and who can blame him? Who can blame the Pales­tin­ian artists under threat of impris­on­ment or per­ma­nent exile for fear­ing to risk more than a sig­na­ture, if even that, in exer­cis­ing the only polit­i­cal pow­er they may have? Fleisel and Faris’s per­spec­tives give need­ed depth and weight to events, with­out pro­vid­ing any easy res­o­lu­tion.

I Signed the Peti­tion will be added to our col­lec­tion of Free Doc­u­men­taries, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke Per­forms Songs from His New Sound­track for the Hor­ror Film, Sus­piria

Radio­head-Approved, Fan-Made Film of the Band at Rose­land for 2011’s The King of Limbs Tour

Arab Pho­tog­ra­phy Archive Puts 22,000 His­toric Images Online: Get a Rare Glimpse into Life and Art in the Arab World

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • danny says:

    How is this biased non­sense on here, eth­nic cleans­ing? when the pales­tin­ian pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing day by day, this isn’t a debate, its just two anti israel peo­ple talk­ing about how much they hate israel, this is embar­rass­ing and unfound­ed, why don’t these two peo­ple debate boy­cotting oil because of the arab coun­tries human rights records, as ever its easy to slam israel, but name me an arab coun­try where there is free­dom? where women , gays , chris­tians have equal rights.. its ok i will wait . just slam israel, why because its jew­ish? how about this debate for these two, how come the ear­li­est mosques all faced Petra? and not mec­ca . lets have a real debate.

  • Gerald says:

    Kudos to Mr. Yorke. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, every age has its men­da­cious bases for anti-semi­tism. Today’s comes in the absurd guise of Jew­ish “oppres­sion” of Arabs.

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