Strange Brew: Eric Clapton’s Anti-Israeli Turn

Photo by John Davisson/Invision/AP

When Eric Clapton first announced that he was having a fundraising concert in London for Gaza after Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack, I assumed that it was simply to try to come full circle, at age 79, from his Enoch Powell-related, Courvoisier-fueled debacle in August of 1976, which was dug up by every journalist attempting to cancel Clapton over anti-lockdown and anti-COVID vaccine statements in late 2020 and 2021. 

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It wasn’t until an interview last month that Clapton fully dropped the mask, though Clapton playing onstage with a Fender Stratocaster painted in the Palestinian flag was, in retrospect, a huge clue. (Clapton doesn’t seem to care that Hamas killed and kidnapped over 400 attendees of a rock concert, which seems like an odd omission on his part, considering concerts are a large portion of how he’s always made his money.)  

But first, for those who somehow missed the sordid details of Clapton’s 1976 meltdown, British rock journalist Ray Coleman devoted almost a page and a half to the 1976 incident in Clapton’s eponymous authorized 1985 biography. As Coleman wrote:   

To many people, particularly musicians and fans, he plummeted to the depths of bad taste and indiscretion when he made a few unrehearsed remarks from the concert stage in Birmingham, England in 197[6]. 

At that time, the immigration of blacks into Britain was an explosive topic. Enoch Powell, MP had warned against unrestricted immigration and Birmingham was a particularly sensitive city for Eric to touch on the subject. 

Eric called out to his audience: “Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so please put up your hand. think we should vote for Enoch Powell?” 

It was a highly inflammatory, off-the-cuff remark, particularly as it came from a musician whose inspirational sours were black. The music community was aghast. Partly as a result, a movement called Rock Against Racism was formed in Britain. At the time, Clapton was unrepentant. 

“I think Enoch is a prophet. His diplomacy is wrong and he’s got no idea how to present things. His ideas are right.

You go to Heathrow airport any day and you’ll see thousands of Indian people sitting there waiting to know whether or not they can come into the country. And you go to Jamaica and there are adverts on TV saying ‘Come to lovely England’. 

“I don’t think Enoch Powell is a racist. I don’t think he cares about colour of any kind. His whole idea is for us to stop being unfair to immigrants because it’s getting out of order. A husband comes over, lives off the dole to try to save enough to bring his wife and kids over. It’s splitting up families. The government is being incredibly unfair to people abroad to lure them to the promised land where there is actually no work. Racist aggravation starts when white guys see immigrants getting jobs and they’re not. Yeah, I’m getting a lot of stick for what I said, but so did Enoch. He was the only bloke telling the truth for the good of the country. I believe he is a very religious man and you can’t be religious and racist at the same time. The two things are incompatible.” 

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As Coleman added in his 1985 book – again in an authorized biography – “Today, Eric has few regrets about his remark, for he regards Enoch Powell as having predicted a mounting problem”: 

Recalling the events leading up to it, he says: “We had travelled up from London, where I think an Arab had made some kind of remark to Pattie in the lobby of the Churchill Hotel. And I was incensed when I looked round and saw all these Arabs and all the signs in Arabic. I began thinking: what the hell is happening to this country? And I was drunk at the time, but though it’s a horrible thing to have to admit, I think he’s been honest. Every now and then you’ll hear a voice that isn’t pandering to what people want to hear, uncomfortable for the masses. Then I think you’ve got to take notice of it. Enoch Powell had a lot to risk by saying these things. He can’t have done it for pure gain. But I never believed that I, as a rock musician, had any particular right to make speeches. 

“I think rock stars and musicians have got a very good angle on some parts of the sociological ethic, in terms of what is harmonious. But all too often their ideas prove to be based on fantasy.”

Standing at the Crossroads  

It would take him decades later, in 2017, in another authorized biography, albeit in video form, Lili Fini Zanuck’s documentary, "Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars," to apologize for the Powell remarks, and the enormous backlash they generated for many years for the guitarist, at least in England. (In the U.S., they had little repercussion for Clapton, prior to their being dusted off by the MSM in 2020.) In a voiceover in "Life in 12 Bars," Clapton said: 

“When I realized what I said, I just was so disgusted with myself. I was so f***ing angry. And I thought, I needed to apologize to the people that I said that to, because it was shocking, and unforgivable, and I was so ashamed of who I was. I was becoming, not only chauvinistic, but fascistic, too. I was kind of a semi-racist – which didn’t make sense. I mean, half of my friends were black. I dated black women. And listened to black music – and championed black music. But it didn’t matter at all. They could all have gone to the wall, as long as I had the bottle. I hated everything – everything.”

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Clapton would enter Hazelden, the famous Minnesota-based drug and alcohol rehab clinic twice in the 1980s to clean up his rampaging addictions to booze and cocaine. He has professed to remaining on the wagon since, and in 1998, created the Crossroads Centre, a rehab clinic of his own, in the Caribbean. So, I don’t think he can blame his current obsessions on artificial intoxicants.  

After the booze-fueled Enoch Powell freakout, Clapton had been near-scrupulously apolitical, and for decades, while the Powell reference would invariably resurface among British critics writing about Clapton, it went largely under the radar in America. That is until his anti-lockdown and COVID vaccine statements and his singing on a Van Morrison-penned song, “Stand and Deliver.”  

These gestures infuriated many on the left, and in 2021, flamewars raged in guitar forums over Clapton’s statement, and of course, the Enoch Powell rant resurfaced from those who were pro-lockdown, given its being reprinted in numerous American newspaper columns about Clapton, and from those wishing to cancel him on social media. 

 Behind the sun 

Perhaps in an effort to alienate everyone, in May of 2024, Clapton gave an interview in which he decided to go full Roger Waters, to the point of praising the former Pink Floyd bassist’s anti-Zionism, David Lange of the Israellycool blog writes:  

But now Clapton has outdone himself when it comes to displaying his own antisemitism, moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy. In an interview with The Real Music Observer YouTube channel, he criticizes the Senate hearings into antisemitism on US college campuses, while stating that Israel is running the world (a clear antisemitic trope). At the same time, he fawns over Putin, Russia, and China – who he claims are all unfairly demonized – while expressing the desire to play there with his “brother” Roger Waters:


There is little doubt in my mind that Clapton is a raging antisemite, much like “brother” Roger. Besides the clear antisemitic trope, his love of human rights violators Russia and China and his characterization of them as “‘unfairly attacked” reveals a great deal about the double standards by which he judges the world’s only Jewish state. Heck, he even shows tacit support for Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, which is not nearly as justified as Israel’s actions in Gaza now. 

If only Clapton took his own advice when it comes to Russia and China and actually visited Israel in order to get an accurate picture of the situation – not that I think it would make a difference to someone with this much prejudice against Jews.  

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Ray Coleman wrote that Clapton visited Israel during a 1979 tour, but seemed a bit nonplussed during his then-latest stop:  

He is a man of God without practicing any religion. In Jerusalem, during his 1979 concert tour, he hardly left his hotel room, despite the enthusiasm of the band to look around the Holy City. ‘I’m very aware of where I am,’ Eric told them. ‘You go. I don’t need to be told, shown, or reminded, where I am.’ But that night, he had a sharp physical, as well as spiritual, reminder: at the concert, a fan good-naturedly threw a rose on stage and a thorn struck and cut Eric’s head. As the man thousands called God, the symbolism of the incident, in Jerusalem, worried him. 

Flashforward to the beginning of June, where here at PJ Media, Robert Spencer wrote: “Eric Clapton Discovers the Secret: Israel is Running the World.”

Like many of his contemporaries, Clapton appears not to have noticed that the anti-establishment rebels of the 1960s have become the establishment. The outsiders of the hippie days are now the dominant mainstream. Israel doesn’t run the world; Clapton’s fellow socialist internationalists run the world, and they’re busy running it into the ground. The UN, the EU, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the government of Israel’s erstwhile foremost ally, the United States of America, have all come out against Israel. 

Far from running the world, Israel is now nearly isolated in it, and stymied in its efforts to eradicate Hamas and definitively erase the jihad threat against its citizens. If Eric Clapton really cared for justice, he would be speaking out strongly for Israel today. Instead, he is retailing tired old antisemitic conspiracy theories that look more absurd today than they ever did. Like so many of his senescent contemporaries, another Sixties idol has proven to have clay feet.

Perhaps Clapton could mitigate some of the charges of antisemitism by raising funds for Israeli-run hospitals and relief efforts in Gaza. But in any case, Clapton’s newfound loathing of Israel caused some friction with a fellow anti-vaxxer:  

Clapton, 78, has several upcoming shows in the US, including a fundraiser in Los Angeles on Sept. 18 for RFK Jr., an attorney who is the nephew of former US President John F. Kennedy and the son of former US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. 

During his guest appearance Monday on the YouTube channel “The Real Music Observer,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee — who also attempted but failed to make a large donation to Kennedy’s presidential campaign — said he almost pulled back from supporting the candidate and restated his defense of Waters. 

“I found it difficult at one point when he retracted that tweet about Roger [Waters] because of Roger’s stance on the Middle East, on Israel-Palestine politics,” the “Wonderful Tonight” singer explained. “I was nearly going to pull out — I  didn’t know if I really, honestly, support this when Robert said, ‘I’m pro-Israel and the family has always been pro-Israel.'”

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Gosh, I can’t imagine why RFK Jr. would be hesitant to give 100% backing to the Palestinians.  

Prior to his 1980s stints at Hazelden, Clapton’s first effort to detox was to quit a raging heroin addiction in 1974 with Scottish surgeon and therapist Meg Patterson, who would go on to help Keith Richards and Pete Townshend kick their addictions. 

In Coleman’s biography, Patterson’s husband talked about hours spent with Clapton discussing philosophy while he was in recovery:  

Patterson’s persuasion process advanced this theory: Eric’s music had nothing to do with his technical ability to play guitar, or compose, or with taking heroin. It was what Eric did with his suffering that would be transmuted into his work. ‘I told him the biggest composers in the world had always been the people who had the least in the world. The Jews painted and sang. Why? Because they’re always under persecution. They, and others, develop the capacity to survive under it. Mozart produced the greatest stuff under persecution. Beethoven too, and he was deaf. It’s the spiritual quality of how you cope with suffering that does it.’ Eric pondered that one long and hard.

But apparently, that was not a sentiment the guitarist ultimately took to heart.  

Dramatic changes in 21st-century England may also be driving Clapton’s goal of hoping his onstage turn in 1976 is forgotten:  

A world-historical societal transformation is taking place before our very eyes, and yet few have taken notice. Britain, the erstwhile leader of the Western world and the foundation and source of English-speaking civilization, is in its last days as a free society, and will soon become an Islamic state. Yet despite the mountains of evidence that this transformation is taking place, many will still deny that it is happening at all. They may not even admit it when it overtakes them personally. 

The English actor-turned-political-activist Lawrence Fox recently noted what was happening: "The Mayor of London is a Muslim. The mayor of Birmingham is a Muslim. The Mayor of Leeds is Muslim. Mayor of Blackburn - Muslim. The mayor of Sheffield is a Muslim. The mayor of Oxford is a Muslim. The mayor of Luton is a Muslim. The mayor of Oldham is Muslim. The mayor of Rochdale is Muslim. All this was achieved by only 4 million Muslims out of 66 million people in England.” 

* * * * * * * * * 

Until now. Lawrence Fox continued: “Today there are over 3,000 mosques in England. There are over 130 sharia courts. There are more than 50 Sharia Councils. 78 percent of Muslim women do not work, receive state support + free accommodation. 63 percent of Muslims do not work, receive state support + free housing. State-supported Muslim families with an average of 6 to 8 children receive free accommodation. Now every school in the UK is required to teach lessons about Islam. Has anyone ever been given an opportunity to vote for this?” 

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Unlike Waters’ songs, which are often leftist polemics, Clapton’s lyrics, whether written by him or others, are usually the standard bluesman’s themes of the woman who had done him wrong, or the unobtainable woman. The latter of course being the theme of his most popular song, 1970’s epic “Layla,” written about his quest to woo George Harrison’s then-wife, the former Patti Boyd. 

While Waters’ solo efforts largely pale with the absence of his former bandmates, I can still listen to Waters’ work with Pink Floyd; similarly, I can’t image reflexively switching off a Clapton song when it comes on the radio. But at age 79, and with hopefully many years of touring and recording ahead of him, his descent into conspiracy theories is a deeply troubling turn in the later years of one of rock’s most influential guitarists. 

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