Brian Eno and Roger Waters scorn Nick Cave’s ‘principled stand’ to play in Israel

Australian labelled ‘naive’ and ‘arrogant’ after he accused pro-boycott campaigners of trying to bully and censor musicians

High-profile artists including Brian Eno, Roger Waters and Ken Loach have hit back at Nick Cave after the musician defended his tour of Israel as a “principled stand” against people trying to “bully” and “censor” musicians.

Eno, Waters and Loach are among a group of artists who have joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global campaign that aims to increase pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories, and lobbies artists, academics and businesses to refrain from engaging with or touring in Israel. Elvis Costello and Lauryn Hill are among the high-profile artists who have cancelled shows following pressure from the movement.

At a media conference in Jerusalem on Sunday, Cave said his decision to play two concerts in Israel was in part a “principled stand” he was taking against the BDS lobbyists, who on 30 October signed an open letter urging him not to perform there “while apartheid remains”. His other reason to play, he said, was: “I love Israel and I love Israeli people.”

Eno, a musician and producer, also asked Cave to sign Artists for Palestine UK’s boycott pledge in 2014 in the aftermath of Israel’s attack on Gaza, but Cave refrained. As of 22 November, 1,280 artists have signed the pledge.

“There was something that stunk to me about that list,” Cave said, explaining his decision not to sign. “And then it kind of occurred to me that I’m not signing the list but I’m also not playing Israel and that just felt to me cowardly, really.”

Cave described their lobbying of him as a “kind of public humiliation” to which he succumbed for “maybe 20 years”. But “after a lot of thought, a lot of consideration about the whole thing, I rang up my people and said, ‘We’re doing a European tour – add Israel.’”

He continued: “It suddenly became very important to make a stand against those people that are trying to shut down musicians, to bully musicians, to censor musicians, and to silence musicians … so really you could say in a way that the BDS made me play Israel.”

In response, supporters of the BDS movement have released individual statements as a public letter, calling Cave’s response “naive”, “arrogant” and “morally perilous”.

Eno praised Cave’s previous support of Palestinian humanitarian causes, but said that, given his statements at the media conference, he felt the need to publicly restate his case for the boycott. “This has nothing to do with ‘silencing’ artists – a charge I find rather grating when used in a context where a few million people are permanently and grotesquely silenced,” Eno said.

“The BDS argument is simple enough: Israel has consistently – and lavishly – used cultural exchange as a form of ‘hasbara’ [propaganda] to improve the image of the country abroad, and to ‘show Israel’s prettier face’, in the words of a foreign ministry official. The BDS campaign is simply asking artists not to be part of that propaganda campaign.”

Waters, the former Pink Floyd bassist, was more scathing, saying he had read Cave’s statements “with a mixture of sorrow, rage and disbelief”.

“Nick thinks this is about censorship of his music? What? Nick, with all due respect, your music is irrelevant to this issue, so is mine, so is Brian Eno’s, so is Beethoven’s, this isn’t about music, it’s about human rights,” he wrote. “The moment came and went brother, you missed it.”

Loach, the film director, added: “Nick Cave has a choice, either to stand with the oppressed Palestinians or the Israeli state which denies them their human rights. He chooses to stand with the oppressor.”

The artists’ statements were published by Artists For Palestine UK, a lobby group that published its own statement.

“What are we to make of a privileged artist who somehow contrives to turn the notion of a collective protest against the destruction of an entire people into a complaint that it is he that is being silenced?” it read. “What are we to make of the fact that Cave makes such a statement, but does not care to mention the word ‘Palestinian’?”

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which was involved in the foundation of the BDS movement, also released a statement.

“Nick Cave’s performances in Tel Aviv and recent statement are a propaganda gift to Israeli apartheid. We thank Nick Cave for making one thing abundantly clear—playing Tel Aviv is never simply about music. It is a political and moral decision to stand with the oppressor against the oppressed.”

Cave joins a group of other high-profile artists who have refused to boycott Israel, including Metallica, Elton John, Madonna and, most recently, Radiohead, who drew criticism for performing in Tel Aviv in July.

Radiohead’s lead singer, Thom Yorke, defended the decision at the time, saying: “Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing its government.” He called the protests against the concert “an extraordinary waste of energy”.

The Israeli government sees the boycott movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of antisemitism – a claim BDS denies.