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Roger Waters and BDS Movement are an Embarrassment

August 29, 2013 6:54 am 9 comments

Roger Waters. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgBack in 1976, when the burgeoning punk movement began transforming the rock’n’roll landscapes of London and New York, a young man named John Lydon scrawled the words “I Hate…” on his Pink Floyd t-shirt. With this one stroke, Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, the lead singer of The Sex Pistols, demarcated the past from the future: eschewing the lengthy and ponderous compositions of Floyd’s frontman, Roger Waters, Rotten and his mates set about delivering sharp, angry tunes in a compact three-minute format.

Almost 40 years later, popular music has undergone numerous other transformations, but Rotten (who now calls himself Lydon again) and Waters have remained polar opposites.  And as Israelis know better than most, that’s true both inside and outside the recording studio.

Back in 2010, Lydon rounded on critics of his decision to play a gig in Tel Aviv by telling them, “I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they (the Palestinians) are treated.”

By contrast, Waters—outwardly, a much more refined and eloquent fellow—has firmly hitched himself to the movement pressing for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Waters’s support for BDS is thought to be the reason that his scheduled appearance at the 92nd Sreet Y in New York City was canceled back in April, while more recently, he tussled with the Simon Wiesenthal Center over an accusation of anti-Semitism that stemmed from a feature of his live show, in which a Star of David is projected onto a flying inflatable pig.

In his response to the Wiesenthal Center, Waters stridently denied that he was an anti-Semite, coming out with the standard response that hating Zionism and hating Jews are completely distinct. But a subsequent letter written in August to “My Colleagues in Rock’n’Roll” —as you can see, his legendary pomposity remains unaltered—is certain to revive the charge. This time, it’s hard to see how Waters can wriggle around it.

The letter begins by citing another British musician, the violinist Nigel Kennedy, who slammed Israeli “apartheid” during a recent concert that was recorded by the BBC. “Nothing unusual there you might think,” Waters wrote, “then one Baroness Deech, (Nee Fraenkel) disputed the fact that Israel is an apartheid state and prevailed upon the BBC to censor Kennedy’s performance by removing his statement.”

Why did Waters think it necessary to point out the maiden name of Baroness Ruth Deech, a noted academic and lawyer? The answer’s obvious: before she was Deech, a name that resonates with English respectability, she was Fraenkel, a name that sounds positively, well, Jewish. And much as she might try to hide her origins, the intrepid Waters is determined to out her, along with her nefarious Jewish—sorry, I mean, Zionist—agenda.

Sarcasm aside, this is anti-Semitism of the ugliest, most primitive kind. Appropriately, Waters’s letter appeared first on the website of the Electronic Intifada, a resolutely anti-Semitic U.S.-based outfit that has emerged as one of the prime organizing platforms of the BDS movement.

The Waters letter ends as follows: “Please join me and all our brothers and sisters in global civil society in proclaiming our rejection of Apartheid in Israel and occupied Palestine, by pledging not to perform or exhibit in Israel or accept any award or funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.” In case it’s not clear, in the BDS movement, such elaborate formulations are code for “until such time as the State of Israel, which was born in a state of original sin, is finally eliminated.”

Here’s the rub, though: 10 years ago, when the BDS movement was a relatively new phenomenon, statements like these would have set off a minor panic in the Jewish world. These days, we’re far more sanguine, and we’ve learned that the State of Israel can survive and flourish no matter how many graying prog-rockers like Roger Waters dedicate their lives to removing the world’s only Jewish state from the map.

A hashtag on Twitter that’s popular with pro-Israel activists, #BDSFail, neatly encapsulates my point. Responding to Waters, the Israeli model and actress Bar Refaeli, who normally sets pulses racing for other reasons, demanded that the singer remove her picture from the multimedia show that accompanies his live set. “If you’re boycotting,” she teased, “go all the way.”

Times of Israel blog by a writer who uses the name “Brian of London” helpfully listed the artists who have defied the intimidation of the BDS movement by playing in Israel. Among them: Depeche Mode, Julio Iglesias and the inimitable Pet Shop Boys. Not mentioned: Morrissey, the former lead singer of The Smiths, one of my favorite bands, who asked his Tel Aviv audience in 2012, “Mah Nishmah?” (“How Are You?” in Hebrew), and wrapped himself in the Israeli flag.

As unpalatable as this may be for Roger Waters’s digestion, the plain truth is that the BDS movement has failed. Its original aim was to replicate the massive outcry against South African apartheid during the 1980s, when songs like “Free Nelson Mandela” and “(I Ain’t Gonna Play) Sun City” ruled the airwaves. Instead, it has remained a fringe movement, a minor irritant that has had precious little impact on Israel’s economic life and garners media attention only when someone like Waters decides to shoot his mouth off.

We’ve arrived at this happy situation for several reasons, among them the growing realization, as articulated by John Lydon, that there is something absurd about boycotting Israel when the states that surround it engage in egregious human rights violations. Waters won’t play in Israel, but he was quite happy to play in Dubai in 2007—an Arab city almost entirely built by slave labor imported from Muslim countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. If other stars grasp the appalling hypocrisy this represents, then having Roger Waters indulge his hatred of Israel at every opportunity is a price worth paying.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.


  • Why is this moron getting so much press? He’s a no-talent has-been who can’t think of any other way to promote himself.

  • How hypocritical of Roger Waters to point his finger towards Israel with righteous indignation, while he keeps mum about, and doesn´t even question, the British theft of the Islas Malvinas. I mean, if we´re going to talk about imperialism. “/

  • I’ve always loved Pink Floyd, but hearing Roger Waters always coming out against Israel saddens me… I don’t really get why, out of all issues, he basically goes out of his way to make a voice for this one. While it’s true the Palestinians probably don’t live the best life they could be, it’s hardly Apartheid or Human Rights violations (with the exception of the occasional A-hole soldier doing something that somehow always seems to be filmed)
    But as the author of this article says, there’s so many worse Human Rights violations in much greater numbers (and usually more well known) going on in the countries near and around Israel, and he even performed in one of them… There’s no freakin’ way he’s that anti-Israel simply because of what he believes is being done to the Palestinians

  • so, is there no difference between zionists, and Jews? because apparently,(according to the writer) beng anti zionist automatically qualifies someone as anti Jewish.

    personally this seems like the race card is being pulled unfairly.

    also, gilmour certainly never called for the “elimination” of Israel. he did however call for a stop to apartheid. making things up and disrupting people is poor journalism.

    epic fail on behalf of the writer.

    • Epic fail indeed?

      You don’t even know who the writer writes about, you clown.

      It’s Waters who Gilmour hates with a passion.

      And whilst Gilmour can still cut it on a massive stage, Waters is a second rate has been who obviously needs this kind of publicity to generate any interest at all.

    • There is a difference. If you wish to criticize Israel on a policy or action, that is one thing. If you hold it to a standard by which you hold no other nation, that is anti-Semitism. If Israel is the only country you expect to do things, which no other nation would or, in your opinion, should, then you are anti-Semitic. And, gentle bigot, there is no apartheid in Israel. Go there and see for yourself. It is the ONLY open society in the region. What kind of rights to Jews and Christians enjoy in Iran? How about Syria?

      Making things up, inventing lies, and distorting truth IS poor journalism, which you so obviously worship.

      • no apartheid? im sorry i must be misinformed. i read somewhere that palestinians are crammed into refugee camps. is it also untrue that it’s illegal for Jews to marry gentiles. it’s difficult to sort the facts and fictions of world media.

  • I stand by Israel, Israelis, Zionists and Jews, even despite my second Jewish girlfriend’s Zionist mother asking me to button up my shirt so my Celtic cross would not offend her. I wasn’t particularly offended by her asking.

    My best friend from University is Jewish as is my first business partner. Jews generally are terrific people and comprise one of the greatest cultures our sorry Planet has enabled. A culture and people that has contributed positively to the evolution of mankind, in all aspects, in massive proportion to its small numbers. It is an eternal, wonderfully productive culture.

    I like Pink Floyd music and one of my all-time favourite songs is ‘Comfortably Numb’ performed with my fellow Irishman Van Morrison. I will always like it as music has that eternal component to it and I decided to play it just now, as I write this, just to see if I still feel the same despite discovering what a miserable, phony, hypocritical wanker you have become Roger. My cousin is mates with Van Roger. I will see if he will consider boycotting you.

    ‘There is no pain you are receding
    A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
    You are only coming through in waves.
    Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
    When I was a child
    I caught a fleeting glimpse
    Out of the corner of my eye
    I turned to look but it was gone
    I cannot put my finger on it now
    The child is grown,
    The dream is gone.
    I have become comfortably numb.’

    May I remind you Roger of what your country did to mine, for hundreds of years? It is very similar to what mankind has repeatedly done to the Jews. I don’t hear you blasting the airwaves to address the horrific wrongs the British subjected the Irish to. Despite that, I suspect you are still welcome in Dublin Roger and I don’t hate you because you are British. In fact I don’t hate you or the British in the slightest, but I do despise your willful blindness.

    You are on the wrong side of history Roger. The facts do not support your stand. I will take it a step further Roger; not only do I stand by Israel but if Israel ever needs me I will take up arms in her defence.

    • Max, thank you for that thoughtful response. As a Jew who loves and supports Israel, the news around the world and hateful words of people like Waters can be depressing. But when I read comments like yours, I get cheered up. Again, THANK YOU! And I hope you get to visit Israel very soon. It’s a wonderful, beautiful, vibrant and diverse country.

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