Brian Eno refuses to let Israeli dance company use his music

The composer and producer Brian Eno has denied permission for one of Israel’s most critically acclaimed dance companies to continue using his music for a series of performances in Italy after he discovered that the Israeli embassy was sponsoring the event.

Eno, 68, who started his career with Roxy Music but has latterly become known for his ambient music compositions, said he had not been aware his music was being used in a piece by the Batsheva dance company.

Eno, a prominent supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, wrote to the dance company last month to deny them permission to use his music.

Eno is also one of 1,200 artists who have signed the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine, refusing funding from or cultural contacts with Israel’s government.

According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the dance piece using Eno’s music – entitled Humus – was due to be performed on Tuesday at the TorinoDanza festival at the Teatro Regio in Turin, but was withdrawn after Eno was made aware of the Israeli embassy sponsorship. His name has been removed from the festival’s website.

The dance piece, which uses Eno’s composition Neroli, has long been a staple of Batsheva, a Tel Aviv-based company.

In a 2008 review of a performance of it at Sadler’s Wells in London, the Guardian described “an eerie vestigial piece of ambient sound that gently binds” the dancers “into a collective”.

As recently as 2013 the Israeli consulate general in Marseille drew attention to the use of Eno’s music in the company’s performances.

In his letter to the dance company and its well-known choreographer Ohad Naharin, which emerged this week, Eno expressed his understanding for Israeli artists but said it was “unacceptable” for his music to be used in a performance sponsored by part of the Israeli government.

“It has recently come to my attention that you have been using a piece of my music in a work called Humus,” wrote Eno.

“I was not aware of this use until last week, and, though in one way I’m flattered that you chose my music for your work, I’m afraid it creates a serious conflict for me.

“To my understanding, the Israeli embassy (and therefore the Israeli government) will be sponsoring the upcoming performances, and, given that I’ve been supporting the BDS campaign for several years now, this is an unacceptable prospect for me.

“It’s often said by opponents of BDS that art shouldn’t be used as a political weapon. However, since the Israeli government has made it quite clear that it uses art in exactly that way – to promote ‘Brand Israel’ and to draw attention away from the occupation of Palestinian land – I consider that my decision to deny permission is a way of taking this particular weapon out of their hands.

“I am trying to understand the difficulties that must face any Israeli artist now – and in particular ones like yourselves who have shown some sympathy to the Palestinian cause.

“I feel that your government exploits artists like you, playing on your natural desire to keep working – even if it does mean becoming part of a propaganda strategy. Your dance company might not be able to formally distance itself from the Israeli government but I can and will: I don’t want my music to be licensed for any event sponsored by the Israeli embassy.”

In a statement Batsheva said: “We have fully respected Mr Eno’s wish and replaced the music in Ohad Naharin’s piece Humus from “Three” – and with great sadness – as we believe that this kind of action is useless and has no contribution towards solving the conflict, ending the occupation or bringing peace to our region.

“Ohad Naharin has been a political activist for years within Israel, and never hesitated to be very vocal about the situation in the West Bank and the consequences of the occupation. His deep commitment to the freedom of the human spirit is reflected in his actions as well as artistic creations.”