If you want to get supporters of boycotts against Israel into high dudgeon just try observing, as Larry Summers has, that such boycotts are “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.” Summers has called the most recent boycott effort at the American Studies Association “abhorrent” because at the same time that it singles out Israel for condemnation “among all the countries in the world that might be thought to have human rights abuses,” it ignores the “existential threat” Israel faces.
Nowadays, if you make such a charge you are likely to be greeted with the protest that the boycott movement’s “core principles include the opposition to every form of racism, including both state-sponsored racism and anti-Semitism” along with cries that you are trying to distract people from the main issue. Why then, is former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters a hero of that movement?
Supporters of the proposed American Studies Association academic boycott (about which more here) have hoisted up Waters’s letter of support for their cause like a trophy. But it is not only the American Studies Association but also the movement altogether that has hugged Waters hard.
Waters, who has played Turkey (post-Gezi) and Russia, has recently made news for writing a letter to fellow musicians asking them not to play Israel until it stops violating “international law and universal principles of human rights.” His description of Israel as an apartheid state won’t embarrass BDSers, who employ the same description, but what he had to say in recent interview should give them pause.
I don’t mean the mandatory comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany. While Waters may have shocked some people when he said that the “parallels [between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians] with what went on in the 30’s in Germany are so crushingly obvious,” this kind of vileness is par for the course in pro-boycott circles. I have this statement in mind:
The Jewish lobby is extraordinarily powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say. I promise you, naming no names, I’ve spoken to people who are terrified…. They have said to me “aren’t you worried for your life?”
Waters has not been adequately coached. In the BDS movement, you are supposed to refer to your targets as “Zionists” (because it is all right to view people who support Israel’s national project as proto-Nazis) or as “pro-Israel.” With that one “Jewish lobby,” the mask slipped. One does not have to think that Roger Waters dislikes Jews to think that his general way of thinking, along with the way of thinking of many of his comrades in arms, is infected with anti-Semitic mythology. To repeat: Roger Waters thinks that there is a powerful Jewish lobby in the music industry that may just be out to kill him.
Waters has not apologized for these remarks, and his fans in the pro-boycott community remain “comfortably numb” about Waters’s record. They continue to regard his support as a great blessing.