Commentary Magazine


Topic: Roger Waters

Roger Waters’s Anti-Jewish Paranoia

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.

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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.

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A Brick in the Wall of Anti-Semitism

Three years ago I wrote about the way rock icon Roger Waters had incorporated his anti-Israel beliefs into his act by using a Jewish symbol—the Star of David—interchangeably with those of oil companies and dollar signs in the course of a video display about oppression. At the time, I thought the Anti-Defamation League’s evaluation of the content of Waters’s act was correct. His rants seeking to delegitimize Israel’s security fence and the “Israel lobby” were discriminatory in nature and manifested a clear prejudice against the Jewish state and Jews. But I wondered whether the ADL had actually done Waters and his Israel-hating fans a service by calling him out about his beliefs since I doubted that anyone who didn’t already know his position could have really made much sense of the display, let alone connect Israel with his criticisms in what appeared to me a confusing video show. But judging by Waters’s behavior since then, perhaps the ADL was smarter about this than I thought.

Since then, Waters has become an even more outspoken supporter of the BDS movement, which seeks to impose a boycott of the State of Israel and which, because it singles out the Jewish state for treatment not accorded to other groups, is inherently prejudicial. He has also made the use of Jewish symbols in his act even more explicitly insulting. As Fox News reports, rather than simply rely on a video that, as I noted, was difficult to interpret correctly as an attack on Israel, he’s taken to using more old-school methods along with an even more primitive message:

Some concert goers were left feeling uncomfortably numb at a Roger Waters performance in Belgium last week when a black balloon in the shape of a wild pig – bearing a Jewish Star of David as well as symbols of dictatorial regimes from around the world – floated above the audience.

“I came to the concert because I really like his music, without any connection to his political stance toward Israel,” Alon Onfus Asif, an Israeli living in Belgium, told YNetNews.com. “And I had a lot of fun, until I noticed the Star of David, on the inflatable pig. That was the only religious-national symbol which appeared among other symbols for fascism, dictatorships and oppression of people. Waters crossed the line and gave expression to an anti-Semitic message, beyond all his messages of anti-militancy.”

The video, which can be seen here at the Elder of Ziyon website, shows that you don’t have to be looking for proof of anti-Semitism to find it at Waters’s show.

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Three years ago I wrote about the way rock icon Roger Waters had incorporated his anti-Israel beliefs into his act by using a Jewish symbol—the Star of David—interchangeably with those of oil companies and dollar signs in the course of a video display about oppression. At the time, I thought the Anti-Defamation League’s evaluation of the content of Waters’s act was correct. His rants seeking to delegitimize Israel’s security fence and the “Israel lobby” were discriminatory in nature and manifested a clear prejudice against the Jewish state and Jews. But I wondered whether the ADL had actually done Waters and his Israel-hating fans a service by calling him out about his beliefs since I doubted that anyone who didn’t already know his position could have really made much sense of the display, let alone connect Israel with his criticisms in what appeared to me a confusing video show. But judging by Waters’s behavior since then, perhaps the ADL was smarter about this than I thought.

Since then, Waters has become an even more outspoken supporter of the BDS movement, which seeks to impose a boycott of the State of Israel and which, because it singles out the Jewish state for treatment not accorded to other groups, is inherently prejudicial. He has also made the use of Jewish symbols in his act even more explicitly insulting. As Fox News reports, rather than simply rely on a video that, as I noted, was difficult to interpret correctly as an attack on Israel, he’s taken to using more old-school methods along with an even more primitive message:

Some concert goers were left feeling uncomfortably numb at a Roger Waters performance in Belgium last week when a black balloon in the shape of a wild pig – bearing a Jewish Star of David as well as symbols of dictatorial regimes from around the world – floated above the audience.

“I came to the concert because I really like his music, without any connection to his political stance toward Israel,” Alon Onfus Asif, an Israeli living in Belgium, told YNetNews.com. “And I had a lot of fun, until I noticed the Star of David, on the inflatable pig. That was the only religious-national symbol which appeared among other symbols for fascism, dictatorships and oppression of people. Waters crossed the line and gave expression to an anti-Semitic message, beyond all his messages of anti-militancy.”

The video, which can be seen here at the Elder of Ziyon website, shows that you don’t have to be looking for proof of anti-Semitism to find it at Waters’s show.

In the past, Waters has insisted that his displays as well as his opinions are not anti-Jewish but just a criticism of Israeli policies. But the use of a Star of David interchangeably with recognizable symbols of tyrannies can’t be reasonably interpreted as anything but an attempt to portray Israel as the moral equivalent of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. To associate it with symbols of greed is to play on traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes that were freely used by the Soviets and the Nazis and undermines any idea that what Waters is doing is in support of human rights. To display a Jewish symbol on the side of a large pig balloon adds insult to injury.

Even if we were to leave aside the obvious evidence of anti-Semitism in Waters’s use of these symbols, his basic argument that Israel’s security fence is a violation of human rights is itself not merely wrong but a demonstration of his lack of interest in the survival of Jews. The fence was built, after all, not to fence in the Palestinians but to keep terrorist suicide bombers who were sent into Israel to indiscriminately slaughter men, women, and children out. To demand the fence be torn down is an implicit call for Jewish blood to begin to flow again.

This latest evidence of Waters’s anti-Semitic behavior ought to disillusion those of his fans who still cling to the notion that his art is a cry for liberty. But it also ought to chasten those liberals and Jewish institutions that have continued to make common cause with him. In the last year, Waters was scheduled to appear at New York City’s venerable 92ndStreet Y but canceled at the last minute due, he said, to a schedule conflict. Fortunately, the Y never re-scheduled Waters, but subsequently did host the equally anti-Semitic Alice Walker. Let’s hope this latest incident ensures that Waters never again is welcomed into any Jewish community or any place where people of good will have any say.

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