Nick Cave is wrong to perform in Israel

Just as many artists chose to boycott South African apartheid, so should they do today with Israeli apartheid.

Nick Cave
Nick Cave is scheduled to perform in Israel on November 19 and 20 at the Menorah Arena in Tel Aviv [Reuters/Thomas Peter]

As a Palestinian musician living under Israeli military rule, the news that Nick Cave plans to perform in Israel on November 19 and 20 has hit me hard.

Nick Cave is a musician who is known for his progressive politics and who has expressed support for Palestinian rights. He has raised money for Palestinian refugee children, called for a military embargo to be imposed on Israel and written in support of activists who shut down an Israeli arms factory in the UK.

This makes it all the harder to accept that he is scheduled to violate the boycott call made by Palestinian civil society and that he is not responding to renowned figures from around the world, including Roger Waters, Mike Leigh, Thurston Moore and Angela Davis, who have urged him to refrain from performing in Tel Aviv.

Regardless of his politics and his best intentions, his performance there would help Israel present itself as an open and vibrant society and cover up its decades-old oppression that us Palestinians have been suffering under. His performance would also allow Israel to think that the world will continue with business as usual while it subjugates millions of us and denies our basic human rights.

It’s no secret that Israel systematically uses performances by artists to normalise its racist, discriminatory system that oppresses me, my loved ones and every Palestinian. While musicians may assert that “art transcends politics” and that their performances will help people “heal” and come together, one need only look back at Radiohead’s recent performance in Tel Aviv to see how it was gleefully celebrated by Israel’s extreme, right-wing government as a propaganda coup.

Nick Cave’s concert in Tel Aviv is scheduled to take place just miles away from where the Israeli military rules over me and 2.5 million other Palestinians living under military occupation for half a century now. It would take place a few more miles away from a devastating, 10-year Israeli siege of nearly two million Palestinians trapped in Gaza, and on land from which the majority of Palestinians were driven out and turned into refugees during Israel’s establishment, denied their right to return to their homes simply because they are not Jewish.


Whether international artists choose to respect the Palestinian picket line or cross it and perform in Tel Aviv, they are making a political decision. Similarly, artists from around the world a generation ago were presented with the choice to heed the South African call to boycott apartheid South Africa and refuse complicity in that brutal system of institutionalised segregation and discrimination.

Inspired by South Africa, where international cultural and political boycotts eventually helped bring down apartheid, Palestinian civil society in 2005 launched the grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian human and political rights, after we had exhausted all other peaceful means to end Israeli military occupation and the ongoing dispossession of our people.

BDS was launched to put an end to the ongoing forcible eviction of Palestinians from their homes to make room for ever-expanding, illegal Jewish-only settlements on stolen Palestinian land. To bring down an illegal wall now over four times as long as the Berlin Wall, and in some places twice as high. To end the dozens of racist laws that render even Palestinian citizens of Israel into second-class citizens at best. To end the exceptional impunity that Israel continues to enjoy despite violating scores of UN resolutions and conventions calling for the restoration of Palestinian rights and lands.

Today, performing in Tel Aviv is the equivalent of performing in Sun City during the height of South African apartheid there.


My sincere hope is that the commitments that Nick Cave and I share, as musicians and as human beings who care very much about human dignity, will convince him to refrain from crossing the Palestinian picket line and performing in Tel Aviv. Palestinians deeply appreciate the commitment he has shown to justice in Palestine and beyond, as only justice can bring lasting peace and harmony to our broken and beleaguered world.

If Nick Cave respects our peaceful BDS picket line, he will be in the excellent company of fellow celebrated musicians like Elvis Costello, Lauryn Hill, the late Gil Scott-Heron, Tunde Adebimpe from the band “TV on the Radio,” Massive Attack, and leading South African anti-apartheid figures like Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils and Breyten Breytenbach.

I am confident that we Palestinians, together with our growing allies around the world, will make the arc of history bend towards justice. I hope that Nick Cave continues to bend it with us, rather than allow his art to be used in the service of apartheid.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.