Nick Cave to Brian Eno: Boycotting Israel Is 'Cowardly and Shameful'

Australian rock star defended his decision to play in Israel 'as a principled stand against those who wish to bully, shame and silence musicians'

Nick Cave at a press conference in Mexico City, October 1, 2018.
Eduardo Verdugo,AP

Nick Cave, the Australian rock musician, released an email he sent to fellow musician Brian Eno regarding the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, calling the boycott "cowardly and shameful."

Cave, who played two concerts in Tel Aviv in November 2017, wrote that the BDS movement is part of the reason he chose to play in Israel, "not as support for any particular political entity but as a principled stand against those who wish to bully, shame and silence musicians.”  He added that the boycott, “risks further entrenching positions in Israel in opposition to those you support.”

Cave wrote that engaging with the Israeli population could have a much greater effect than a boycott. He wrote that he realized it would make a more powerful statement "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."

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Following Cave's decision to play in Israel last year, Eno wrote, as part of a group statement released by Artists for Palestine, "Israel has consistently used cultural exchange as a form of ‘hasbara’ (propaganda) to improve the image of the country abroad. The BDS campaign is simply asking artists not to be part of that propaganda campaign."

“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,” Cave said, adding that he supported the Palestinian cause and that Palestinian suffering “is ended via a comprehensive and just solution, one that involves enormous political will on both sides”. 

Cave cited his own charity work, raising over £150,000 for Palestinian children through the Hoping Foundation, which stands for hope and optimism for Palestinians in the next generation.

Cave added a note that accompanied the publishing of his letter, praising Eno's music and influence, "If there seems to be a thread of anguish that runs through this letter, this is indeed the case. I am writing to my hero."

However, Cave went on to explain that this does not justify the "weaponizing" of music or using music to "punish ordinary Israeli citizens for the actions of their government." He added: "I simply could not treat my Israeli fans with the necessary contempt to do Brian Eno’s bidding.”

Cave explained that, several years ago, he understood that he wouldn't sign an "Artists for Palestine" petition, calling for artists to refrain from coming to Israel. "I didn't want to sign the petition. I didn't connect to it. I don't like lists," he said.

Cave said he realized that though he wouldn't sign the petition, he also hadn't performed in Israel for 20 years. Cave first visited Israel to play a concert in 1993, and has returned three times since.

Other musicians who share Cave's stance include Radiohead's Thom Yorke. Yorke defended his own decision to play in Israel, writing, "Playing in a country is not the same as endorsing its government."

A growing list of musicians have cancelled their concerts in Israel in recent years. Lana Del Rey cancelled her planned performance at the Meteor Festival in September, citing an inability to set up a corresponding show for Palestinian fans on such short notice. Pop singer Lorde also cancelled a show slated for June 2018, citing the BDS movement.