Nick Cave Calls Boycotts Of Israel “Cowardly And Shameful” In Open-Letter
"What we actually have here is a fundamental difference of opinion as to what the purpose of music is."
Last year, Nick Cave rejected requests to join fellow musicians and artists boycotting performing in Israel — now, he has shared a letter further outlining why he doesn’t believe doing so is practical, saying “the cultural boycott of Israel is cowardly and shameful.”
In the past year, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has grown with the global artistic community as a form of protest against the ongoing bloodshed in the Israel/Palestine conflict, making a concert or event in Israel a subject of debate.
Artists such as Lana Del Rey and Lorde have cancelled concerts in Israel after fans and fellow artists implored them to — in fact, the fans who first wrote to Lorde about the issue were successfully sued by an Israeli organisation.
Additionally, in September, more than 1,000 artists co-signed an open letter asking the Eurovision Song Contest to not hold next year’s competition in Israel, citing an incident in May where the Israeli army killed 62 Palestinian protesters and injured hundreds more in Gaza.
One of the biggest artistic figures in the BDS movement is producer Brian Eno, who led the charge against Cave’s shows last year. As Pitchfork notes, Cave defended the shows at the time by saying artists shouldn’t be silenced — and now, as part of his regular Q&A series with fans, he’s shared a letter (in full below) that he wrote to Eno at the time.
In the letter, Cave stresses that he does 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.”
He also cites charity work he’s done for the Hoping Foundation, raising £150,000 ($263,460) for the children of Palestine, saying “in a sense, I have already played the other side”.
Having said that, he says that he does not support the BDS movement. “In fact, this is partly the reason I am playing Israel,” he writes. “Not as support for any particular political entity but as a principled stand against those who wish to bully, shame and silence musicians.”
“What we actually have here is a fundamental difference of opinion as to what the purpose of music is.”
In a post-script, Cave expands further, explaining that he believes the Eno-led open-letter is ‘ethically unsound’ and ‘coercive’.
He also stresses that it was not a decision made lightly, and that it hurt to disagree with Eno, someone he calls his “hero”.
“Occasionally, I wonder if The Bad Seeds did the right thing in playing Israel. I cannot answer that question…. After much consideration the decision was made: I simply could not treat my Israeli fans with the necessary contempt to do Brian Eno’s bidding.”
Read the full letter below.
Nick Cave’s Letter To Brian Eno On Israel
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,
Photo: Gosha Rubchinsky/Supplied