Nick Cave says he will not treat his fans with “contempt” by refusing to play Israel, calling the high-profile push for artists to boycott the country over its politics “cowardly and shameful”.
- Cave says “engaging” with Israelis by playing in the country will be better for peace efforts
- He says the “weaponising” of music is “shameful and cowardly”
- Many artists have refused to play out of support for Palestinians
In an email to fellow musician and producer Brian Eno, Cave reaffirmed his stance that he did not support the current Israeli Government, but that he also did not see his performing in the country as “any kind of tacit support for that government’s policies”.
Eno has been a longtime critic of Israel, labelling the state a “ragingly racist theocracy” in a 2014 letter to fellow musician David Byrne and praising artists who have declined to play there.
“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,” Cave said in his email, which he published on his Red Hand Files website in response to a question from a fan.
“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.”
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has advocated for a cultural boycott of Israel to pressure its government to end its occupation of the territory Palestinians seek for a state.
“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.
Last year, after Cave announced he would perform in Israel as part of the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree world tour, artists including Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore signed an open letter urging the Australian to reconsider.
“Don’t go — not while apartheid remains,” they wrote.
“Stand true to your support for those who opposed Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Stand for freedom.”
Cave refused the request, telling local media that he no longer wanted to succumb to “a kind of public humiliation”.
This issue has flared up for other artists
Cave’s message comes a few months after Kiwi singer Lorde was criticised for booking, and then cancelling, a date in Tel Aviv as part of her Melodrama world tour.
“Playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli Government, even if you make no comment on the political situation,” New Zealand publication The Spinoff wrote in an open letter.
“Such an effect cannot be undone by even the best intention and the best music.”
Days later, a pro-Israel organisation took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post calling the singer-songwriter a “bigot” and accusing New Zealand of “growing prejudice” against the Jewish people.
“While Lorde claims to be concerned with human rights, she hypocritically chose to proceed with her two concerts in Putin’s Russia, despite his support for Assad’s genocidal regime which has already claimed the lives of over 500,000 innocents,” the ad said.
Elvis Costello and Lauryn Hill have both cancelled concerts in Israel, the latter in 2015 after an online campaign that quoted Killing Me Softly, the song her band The Fugees famously recorded.
Cave says his critics are ‘weaponising’ music
In his email on Wednesday, Cave said a better way to combat the “atrocities” committed by the Israeli Government would be to play in the country and appeal to its media and citizens “on the understanding that the purpose of your music was to speak to the Israeli people’s better angels”.
“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.”
In publishing the email to his website, where he has recently written candidly about many topics including the death of his son, the Australian spoke of the difficulty of sparring with an artist as influential as Eno, who is a renowned experimental composer and producer of work by David Bowie and U2.
“The records he made remain some of the most important and essential recordings I have ever heard,” Cave wrote.
“Even so, certain questions need to be asked. How far must we have strayed from the transformative nature of music to feel justified in weaponising music and using it to punish ordinary Israeli citizens for the actions of their government?”