The Anti-Defamation League may have unwittingly done pop-rock icon Roger Waters a favor when it came down on him recently like a ton of bricks and accused the Pink Floyd star of anti-Semitism. Unlike filmmaker Oliver Stone, who folded like a cheap suit when the group called out the conspiracy-monger for regurgitating the Walt-Mearsheimer party line about American Jews manipulating foreign policy, Waters is standing his ground and using the brouhaha to promote his leftist view of Israel and the world.
The ADL called Waters to account for the way the song “Goodbye Blue Sky” is performed on his current concert tour. As you can see on this version on YouTube, the playing of the song is accompanied by a video showing an animated B-52 bombing an unidentified landscape with the symbols of major religions. But right after Stars of David are released, they are followed by dollar signs and then the logos for Shell Oil and Mercedes. The ADL said they felt that by juxtaposing these symbols in that sequence, Waters was “dredging up the worst age-old anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews and their supposed obsession with making money.” Foxman also stated that the whole thing was really about Waters’s dislike of Israel and its security fence, which protects its people against Palestinian suicide bombers.
Waters has now responded to the ADL’s remonstrance with a virulent attack on the organization and its leader, denying the charge of anti-Semitism and proclaiming himself a victim of the Israel lobby’s attempts to silence critics of Israel and American foreign policy. Waters says he is motivated to combat the “lies” of Republicans and says that “accusations of anti-Semitism are ‘a screen’ that the ADL hides behind. ‘I don’t think they should be taken seriously on that. You can attack Israeli policy without being anti-Jewish,’ Waters said. ‘It’s like saying if you criticize the US policy you are being anti-Christian. I’m critical of the Israeli policy of occupying Palestinian land and their policy of building settlements, which is entirely illegal under international law, and also of ghettoising the people whose land they are building on.’”
All of which makes it sound as if the ADL was pretty much on target. If the goal of the song and the video is to demonize Israel using Jewish religious symbols mixed in with dollar signs and to promote Palestinian propaganda about stolen land while ignoring the real context of the conflict and the purpose of the security fence, then there is little question of Waters’s ill intent.
But having watched the video of the performance myself, I have to confess that I doubt that too many viewers would have understood any of this — either the anti-Semitic inferences alleged by the ADL or the anti-Israel and anti-Republican intent that Waters says motivates the performance. Without already knowing that Waters is an Israel-basher, as Foxman (who is clearly better informed about the politics of aging rock stars than I would have thought) does, I think it is unlikely that anyone would conclude from the video alone that Israel or American foreign policy, let alone Republicans, was the point of the piece. Since a cross and a Muslim crescent precede the Star of David imagery, most viewers probably see it as an across-the-board slam of organized religion as well as the usual incoherent pop-art shot at capitalism.
So while Waters’s response certainly lent credence to the ADL’s original critique, one wonders if very many people would have ever understood that he viewed his tour as an attack on Israel without the organization publicizing it. By slamming Waters, the ADL may have unintentionally done him and those who applaud his misperceptions of Israel a favor.