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Nick Cave Defends Israel Concert in Open Letter to Brian Eno

Australian musician calls Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement “cowardly and shameful”

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in concert in Budapest, Hungary, 2018

Nick Cave doubled down on his decision to perform in Israel in an open letter to Brian Eno, who was one of many artists to oppose the gig.

Zoltan Balogh/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Nick Cave again defended his decision to play two shows in Tel Aviv, Israel last year in an open letter to Brian Eno, who was one of several musicians to criticize the move. Cave shared the letter on his ongoing Q&A series Red Hand Files in response to a fan’s question.

Eno was among several notable artists, including Roger Waters, to sign an “Artists for Palestine” letter last November that urged Cave to avoid performing in Israel “while apartheid remains.” Cave rebutted the letter at the time and doubled-down on his decision to perform in Israel again, calling the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement “cowardly and shameful.”

“In fact, this is partly the reason I am playing Israel – not as support for any particular political entity but as a principled stand against those who wish to bully, shame and silence musicians,” Cave said. “I don’t intend to engage in a detailed discussion as to how the boycott of Israel can be seen to be anti-Semitic at heart and, furthermore, does not work (rather, it risks further entrenching positions in Israel in opposition to those you support), but even the estimable Noam Chomsky considers the BDS as lacking legitimacy and inherently hypocritical. What we actually have here is a fundamental difference of opinion as to what the purpose of music is.”

Cave did condemn the actions of the Israeli government towards Palestinians and argued that his decision to perform a concert in the country was not “any kind of tacit support for that government’s policies.” He also pointed out that he has raised approximately £150,000 through the Hoping Foundation to benefit the Children of Palestine, suggesting, “in a sense, I have already played the other side.”

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Cave ultimately argued that performing in Israel, speaking with the press and the Israeli people was a more productive way of addressing the injustices Palestinians face than a boycott. “Ultimately, whatever the rights and wrongs of official Israeli action in the disputed territories, Israel is a real, vibrant, functioning democracy – yes, with Arab members of parliament – and so engaging with Israelis, who vote, may be more helpful than scaring off artists or shutting down means of engagement,” he said.

Nick Cave’s Open Letter to Brian Eno

Dear Brian,

Clearly the decision for The Bad Seeds to play in Israel is contentious for some people. But to be clear on this: I do not support the current government in Israel, yet do not accept that my decision to play in the country is any kind of tacit support for that government’s policies. Nor do I condone the atrocities that you have described; nor am I ignorant of them. I am aware of the injustices suffered by the Palestinian population, and wish, with all people of good conscience, that their suffering is ended via a comprehensive and just solution, one that involves enormous political will on both sides of the equation. As you know, I have done a considerable amount of work for Palestine through the Hoping Foundation, raising personally around £150,000 for the children of Palestine, so in a sense, I have already played the other side.

But I also do not support the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement, as you know. I think the cultural boycott of Israel is cowardly and shameful. In fact, this is partly the reason I am playing Israel – not as support for any particular political entity but as a principled stand against those who wish to bully, shame and silence musicians. I don’t intend to engage in a detailed discussion as to how the boycott of Israel can be seen to be anti-Semitic at heart and, furthermore, does not work (rather, it risks further entrenching positions in Israel in opposition to those you support), but even the estimable Noam Chomsky considers the BDS as lacking legitimacy and inherently hypocritical. What we actually have here is a fundamental difference of opinion as to what the purpose of music is.

It struck me while writing this how much more powerful a statement you could make if you were to go to Israel and tell the press and the Israeli people how you feel about their current regime, then do a concert on the understanding that the purpose of your music was to speak to the Israeli people’s better angels. That would have a much greater effect than a boycott. Now imagine if the 1,200 UK artists who signed your list did the same thing. Perhaps the Israelis would respond in a wholly different way than they would to just yet more age-old rejectionism. Ultimately, whatever the rights and wrongs of official Israeli action in the disputed territories, Israel is a real, vibrant, functioning democracy – yes, with Arab members of parliament – and so engaging with Israelis, who vote, may be more helpful than scaring off artists or shutting down means of engagement.

All the best to you,

Nick

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