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December 16, 2013 10:16 am

Boteach: I Challenge Roger Waters to a Debate on Israel

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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Roger Waters on The Daily Show. Photo: Screenshot.

Last week I responded to former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters’ abhorrent statements comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. My dispute with Waters was picked up by several media outlets, especially my accusation that any man who can compare victims to their murderers is bereft of decency, heart, and soul.

Waters responded to me, via an interview with The Guardian: “If Rabbi Boteach can make a case for the Israel government’s policies, I look forward to hearing it.” As soon as I read that I challenged Waters to a public debate. And since he claims that Israel’s evil is “so crushingly obvious,” surely he should avail himself of the opportunity to win an easy debate. I await his response.

I anticipated my response to Waters to be but one of many condemning his remarks, particularly among Rabbis and Jewish leaders.  And while representatives of The Simon Wiesenthal Center, The Holocaust Educational Trust, and the Community Security Trust in Britain did issue robust statements of condemnation, the fact is that vitriolic, hate-filled statements such as Waters’ require a far more united and unflinching retort from the Jewish community as a whole.

The fight for Israel is the great Jewish battle of our time. The Jewish state is now the focal point for the fight for Jewish survival. It is the locus for all the irrational hatred felt for Jewry and in defending Israel we defend the future of our people and Jewish life itself. To fail to stand up for Israel is to suffer a privation of Jewish pride. It is the priori demonstration of Jewish spinelessness and embarrassment.

I have heard many Rabbis tell me that they don’t wish to dirty their hands by getting involved in political matters. Let lay leaders defend Israel. To them I offer the message of this week’s Torah reading, Shemot, where we discover the quintessential quality of Moses’ leadership. Moses might have been just another uppity Egyptian Aristocrat until the day he chanced upon an Israelite slave being beaten. The Bible relates, “And he looked this way and that way and saw there was no man. Then he smote the Egyptian.” When Moses saw there was none but him to address this moral outrage, he sacrificed his cushy position in Egyptian society and acted to fight injustice. At that moment he became instantly unpopular in Egyptian society but he also become an audacious leader. It should be noted that the great liberator and lawgiver could not give a public speech. He was a stutterer whose mouthpiece was his brother Aaron. But then, real leadership does not involve having the best mouth but rather the most courageous heart. Real leadership is not found in our immortal soul but in our moral courage.

Does a Rabbi have any higher responsibility than defending Jewish life? Is there any greater concentration of Jewish life today than in Israel? Does a Rabbi have any more important duty that rebutting the God-awful slander that Jews in the Middle East are murderers who live with corrupt values?

Emma Thompson is currently starring in the film Saving Mr. Banks about Walt Disney’s attempts to secure the rights to Mary Poppins from author P.L. Travers. In 2012 Thomson and three dozen other artists joined the BDS movement by publishing a letter protesting an Israeli theater group’s participation in last year’s Shakespeare festival in England: “We notice with dismay and regret that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London has invited Israel’s National Theatre, Habima, to perform The Merchant of Venice in its Globe to Globe festival this coming May.”

Yet, the six-week long festival also hosted China’s National Theater, but their participation was met without protest from Thompson and the other artists, even though China regularly jails innocent political dissidents like Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Laureate, and his wife, Liu Xia, who has been under house arrest for three years and has been held incommunicado even though she has never even been charged.

Are Rabbis then to quote Shakespeare in their Synagogues but never fight against Israelis being banned at the bard’s festivals?

Those who believe that Rabbis should be non-controversial and promote peace and harmony and never fight anti-Semitic bigots are guilty of cowardice. Indeed, this sentiment is more Christian than Jewish. Judaism lives not in the celestial spheres but on terra firma. A rabbi’s objective is not to get his congregants into heaven but to assist them in creating a more righteous earth. How can we ask University students to stand up for Israel during Apartheid week if Rabbis wont’ stand up even in their own congregations?

Saying that Rabbis should not be at the vanguard of fighting anti-Semitism is an invitation for spiritual irrelevance, moral timidity, and ethical retreat.

This past weekend I attended the memorial service in Atlanta for Cary Booker, father of my friend of 22 years, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of the finest friends of the American Jewish community and my study partner in Torah. I try never to visit Atlanta without visiting the gravesite of Martin Luther King, Jr. the greatest American of the 20th century and the man who restored this nation to its founding ideals of all men being created equal. What made King a great spiritual leader was not the fact that he was a mesmerizing speaker. Less so was it the fact that he was a talented writer. Rather, what made King the most influential pastor in America was his fight for his people, his fearlessness in standing up to tyranny, his bravery in confronting the evil of segregation and racial hatred and ultimately bringing it to its knees. King’s dream of racial equality was not realized through his soaring rhetoric but through his daring marches, leading children in the face of fire hoses and attack dogs, being bludgeoned by racist cops and corrupt officials. And though he paid with his life, of him it is today written what was said in ancient times of Joseph. On a slab of marble in front of Lorraine Hotel room 306, where he was murdered, the monument so beautifully reads, “Behold here cometh the dreamer. Come let us slay him. And let us see what shall become of his dreams.”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom Newsweek and The Washington Post call “the most famous rabbi in America,” was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium. He will shortly publish Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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  • Aωesome article.

    • M.L.

      Debating Roger Waters? Of Pink Floyd fame? This is one of the dumbest PR stunts I’ve ever seen.

      Let’s face it, Boteach is a publicity whore who attaches himself to celebrities to get attention.

      Waters is a typical celebrity knee-jerk leftist. He doesn’t attack Israel because he’s anti-Jewish, he does so because in Europe these days you establish your ‘progressive’ bonafides by making public statements defending Muslims against alleged ‘oppression’. They don’t just attack Israel, they will also denounce legitimate concerns over terrorism, illegal immigration from the Islamic world, or the unwillingness of Muslim immigrants to assimilate as “racist”.

      It’s worth pointing out that this hypersensitivity towards Muslims in Europe and its attendant hostility to Israel is in large measure a consequence of the radical influx of Muslim immigrants to Europe (legal and illegal) which has long been championed by Jews who seem to think that a “multicultural Europe” (i.e. a racially and ethnically divided Europe) flooded with third world immigrants (many of whom being Muslim) is “good for the Jews” (while simultaneously aggressively promoting the virtues of a monocultural Israel).

      In reality what it has done is brought about a path towards a resurgence of socially acceptable popular anti-Semitism. In the future Jews would be wise to consider the possible unintended consequences of the policies they support. I can foresee a similar situation in the US where the soon to be ‘minority majority” so many Jews seem to look forward to as a sort of will in all likelihood be an America that is much less sympathetic towards Jews and Israel. Blacks and Hispanics are in general far more inclined towards antisemitism than white non-Hispanics.

      Jewish support for “multiculturalism”, cynically presented as an expression of “tolerance” and “inclusion”, was never really anything more than support for policies geared towards the elimination of racial and or ethnic majorities in the Western democracies motivated by the notion that nations composed of numerous unassimilated racial and ethnic groups would be safe places for Jews. It seems increasingly clear as we approach the time of “minority majorities” in the Western democracies that the end result will in fact not be “good for the Jews” but in fact very very bad for the Jews and Israel.

  • Seth

    I always loved listening to Pink Floyd, my favorite band (and I’m sure I’m not alone), but what Roger has been doing in the past few years has really hurt me (Rabbi Polirer, although I agree with you that being a rockstar doesn’t give you qualifications to be believed on issues like Israel, you have to understand that people are entitled to have and express their opinions. Also, Pink Floyd’s music has done a lot for me when the Torah could not, so I will admit I took a bit of offense to that, but I get why you would say that). Pink Floyd got me through tough times, but I want Roger to get out of this time in his life that started after the Final Cut album – the abandonment period. Where he realizes if he doesn’t stay with current events he will turn into someone that only people from his generation will care about him. It’s why he has adopted this popular, yet very evil cause known as BDS, which, like Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, and many other “peaceful” groups, have the ultimate goal: The destruction of the Jews and Israel

    Now, I actually have a feeling Roger will take this debate, since he’s been getting more and more involved in the anti-Israel protests, but – and this is important – if it does happen, try your BEST to not sling any mud. If he starts calling Israel the new Nazi Germany, bring up facts and historical proof. If he says the wall along the West Bank is a wall for separation, show him the figures of how many terrorists have attacked in the past decade and how the numbers have declined. Don’t listen to Yale, that’s the best way to lose a debate. If people see Waters failing and not backing up his claims, or countering any of yours, then who will truly win the debate??

    As a Young American Jew, someone who loves Israel and will visit soon before college, and someone who still loves Pink Floyd and wishes Roger to get better from what is clearly the fear of being forgotten, I wish you, Rabbi Boteach, good luck, on changing his mind, and maybe the world.

    Thank you, Am Yisrael Chai

    PS – When you bring up “why don’t you protest China” or some equally horrible human rights violator, the responses will be one of three things:

    1) You have to start somewhere

    2) So because one country is evil that allows another to be

    3) China has nothing to do with this, you are digressing

    I suggest you prepare for those 3 responses and more, but those are the ones I see used so commonly by anti-Israel people when questioned as to why only Israel

  • Sandy Brown

    I do not think it will make much difference. Waters is very stubborn. He needs to go and have a history lesson on this subject, and then he might change his mind. Does he know about Purim and history like that. Probably not. I suppose that he knows about the Camps! He is just an ignoramus.

  • The Evil genie is out of the Bottle. It all began in 1967 when the Israeli Forces reclaimed all of Jerusalem but in a moment of weakness and misguided secular-Jewish largesse decided to allow the Muslim’s Al Aksa Mosque to remain undisturbed on Temple Mount. Temple Mount is a Spiritual Vortex, given to the Jewish Nation to safeguard by the Holy ONE, the Omnipotent Force of all Forces in the Universe, with strict instructions as to what is allowed and forbidden on this most Awesome and powerful Spiritual Powerplant on planet earth. The Jewish People have no Spiritual claim to the Holy Land when they do not fulfill their ‘part of the bargain’, that is, their G-d given responsibility under the Covenant to serve as

    Custodians of the Mount. In effect, fulfilling that responsibility, more than any historical claims or ‘legal’ titles of ownership is what gives legitimacy to the Jewish possession of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

    On a deep and subconscious spiritual level this truth is felt if not understood not only by the European Union and United Nations but particularly by our half brothers in the Muslim world who have rightfully concluded the weakness and spiritual faithlessness of the Jewish Nation in spurning G-d’s Will. Their fraudulent possession of Temple Mount and the Israeli Government’s complicity in reinforcing of this fraud by officially forbidding any Jewish prayer or even for Jews to set foot there has caused a world-shattering metaphysical imbalance, a short-circuit so to speak.
    Since 1967 the cancer of Radical Islam has metastasized world-wide, threatening every civilization with physical and spiritual destruction. The 9-11 attacks, Islamic unrest and Sharia in Europe, everywhere Islam has a presence, the dread and unspeakable menace of two nuclear armed Islamic States, Pakistan and soon Iran just to name a very few nightmares. Is this a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that all three major religions hold Jerusalem as sacred ground to be fought and died for? A coincidence that Jerusalem is never mentioned in Islam’s holiest book, Koran, yet thousands of times in Jewish Scripture!
    The truth is that nothing can stop this Cancer from spreading. Not Armed forces, Drone assassinations, Civil laws or security checkpoints. Not even the false panacea of a ‘successful’ political settlement with Arab Palestinians in Judea/Samaria for ‘Palestinian’ Statehood there will turn the tide and return the ‘Genie’ to the ‘box’. Those are nothing but band-aids on soon-to-be terminal cancer. And more and more as the nations of the world, including formerly friendly ones in European Capitols and Washington D.C. Quietly have begun to openly question the merits, even the ‘legitimacy’ of the Jewish State, the situation facing Israel has become dire. Far worse than Iranian nukes is this other threat. Sadly, more and more American Jews have come to question Israeli status in that region. The BDS movement grows on American University campuses, most troubling as it now includes growing numbers of young liberal Jewish students, men and women.

    Militarily, politically, philosophically, morally …Israel is becoming weakened on many fronts. It is not certain the Jewish State can survive much longer under the expanded front.

    Unless…The Jewish Nation will do what should have been done in 1967. Remove the Al Aksa from Temple Mount. Restore the balance to the Spiritual Vortex as was intended by the Holy ONE. There Is No Other Way. Yes, it will be painful. The region and world will bleed with Muslim fury and world-violence. For a while. And then, the cancer will die as the Genie of Spiritual imbalance is returned to the Bottle. There Is No Other Way. And Time Is Running Out.

  • howard brown

    ok Rabbi, how does the average Jewish joe help you out?

  • Yale

    I doubt what’s his name will ever respond to your challenge, but in the event that he does, here are some things to consider:

    The “debate” will not revolve around facts. I would start by calling him ignorant to his face, ignorant of what happened in Nazi Germany and ignorant of what’s going on in the war against Israel. A person who isn’t familiar with both cannot logically make the comparison Waters does. When confronted with this matter of logic, the whole anti-Israel paradigm breaks down.

    Leftists are enraged by being called out about their ignorance since they pride themselves on “knowing” what’s right, not just for themselves but for others as well. Being shown that they have their facts wrong undermines their sense of self; it produces cognitive dissonance.

    People who share Waters’ notions will see themselves being challenged by any such debate, so keep in mind that you are addressing them as well.

    For guidance, read Owen Harries’ “A Primer for Polemicists” from the September, 1984, issue of Commentary.

    Finally, if what’s his name doesn’t take up your challenge, consider holding a debate with an empty chair; its arguments will be about as thoughtful as Waters’.

  • Steven Kalka

    I’m all for the debate. Let Roger answer some hard questions.
    This may be just a wild hunch, could Roger be subconsciously blaming the Jews for the death of his father? As a child, he lost his father in WWII. Does he think that without the Jews, there would have been no war? That’s a view of the likes of Pat Buchanan.

  • Irmala

    Rabbi Boteach – my kind of Rabbi !! He captured the moral emptiness of the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist Jews – the needed courage of our leadership – and the lack of bravery from our Rabbis. He exemplifies why Israel still exists – because of its fighting spirit !! Come on, American Jews and Jews around the world. Show us your courage !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Rabbi Botox is a much of a rabbi as I am. Secondly you don’t dialogue with Jew haters you fight them. Waters doesn’t give a rat’s ass for the Palestinians – he just using them as front for Jew hatred. Mosley Jr.

  • At least 20% of the Israelis agree totally w Walters albeit not HOW he says it. Just look at the Kenesset….ALL of them are in favor of at least some sort of concessions for Palestine.
    Is Walters essentially saying anything the Shimon Peres has not been saying for the last 40 plus years

    • TG

      tuvia bolton:
      Those 20% of Israelis who you claim agree with Peres are those who never learn from their mistakes and who time and time again fall for the so-called Israel-‘palestinian’ “peace” process, which is nothing more than a crafty, fake process by which the Arabs (and other Moslems, and even all sorts of still anti-semitic Europeans, etc.)hope to – in their own words since 1945 – ‘finish off what Hitler started.’
      The Iranians also have no problem with planning and training for another genocide of 6-7 million Jews, this time in their ancient homeland Israel-Judea. And after that they will turn on Diaspora Jews and Christian pig, dog, apes worldwide, until they succeed in conquering all the world to set up their devilish Caliphate Reich.
      Will we never learn to learn from our naivity and what it leads to…Suicide/Homicide bombings, chemical/
      bacteria/nuclear war-headed missiles, non-stop bloodthirsty slaughter (including decapitation) of Jewish babies, children, teens, pregnant women, men old and young….? Those who do not learn from their mistakes will continue to make those mistakes until they are no more and their enemies are sitting happily on their skeletons…!

  • Steve Marks

    More Rabbis should be talking about Jewish pride. It’s not only about teffilin etc. The meek will not inherit the earth. Stand up and defend Israel. There is no better cause for a Jew. Jewish complacency led to the holocaust. Never again עם ישראל ×—×™

  • June Grant

    It was distressing to read so many comments congratulating Roger Waters in the Mail on his vile outbursts. They were so hate-filled and disgusting that it is abysmally clear he is not alone in his antisemitism. In the unlikely event that he does accept your challenge, Rabbi, he will be revealed as the evil, but useful, idiot he really is.

  • BH in Iowa

    Nice offer, but it is pointless to argue facts with a barking dog.

  • Rabbi, You have challanged and inspired all of us. May we all be so boldly articulate in our stand against ignorance.

  • Mjw

    Roger waters is my hero! brave man that roger to stand up against Jewish propaganda!

  • Avrumeleh

    Roger Waters is, without mincing words, a vile pig of a person. He wallows so comfortably in his closed-minded Israel-bashing which has morphed into nothing less than a very pure anti-Semitism, if it weren’t born of that in the first place. All of his protests to the contrary and all of his references to having “Jewish friends” (yes, he really has recently use that old ploy in his own defense…how trite, how pathetic!) really do nothing to deflect that truth. Darn’it, though, if the music that Pink Floyd made isn’t really quite great…well, at least to some. I admire Rabbi Shmuely for his high profile critiques and challenge to Waters. I hope he never lets up. On the other hand, boycotting Pink Floyd’s music would really do absolutely nothing to punish, even symbolically, Waters for his genuinely anti-Semitic obsession. Nor would it dissuade him in the future, because it is just that…an obsession that he can not come to grips with. I’d say this is sad…if…it weren’t so ugly. But, I don’t see why we Jews should attempt to punish or stigmatize the guitar brilliance of David Gilmour and the others in Pink Floyd who are not infected by the twisted anti-Semitic virus that Waters suffers from.

  • Carol

    Rabbi, you should definitely insist on a debate and if Waters continues to refuse we have an obvious conclusion, which should be published in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for millions to see.

  • Beatrix

    Waters is an aging has-been who has lost the world’s interest and is trying to regain it with his hatred of the Jews. He thinks the left, the Palestinians, and the far right will love him, and fortunately, they don’t require an iota of talent.

    Think of how many Jewish people must have helped him during the years when he mattered. Think of how his self centered, pathetic attempt at attention must be a betrayal of so many kind and caring people who now view him with shame.

    This period isn’t an attempt to renew the time of renown and adoration by the fans. It’s a complete repudiation of everything he’s tried to accomplish and tried to be in his life. He’s sacrificed his soul for a few extra minutes in the sun.

  • Rabbi Richard Polirer

    Rabbi Shmuely, you are at least 100% right. And, btw, WHO is Roger Waters? Some entertainer. the modern version of a medieval court-jester sans the hat with bells on it. And he is an expert on politics BECAUSE he is an entertainer? Is THAT a qualification? I don’t think so!

    Smite him mightily, Reb Shmuely, and expose his evil to the dumb little kids and dumber adults who remember this man from when THEY were dumb little kids. Pop culture is an oxymoron, and only morons hang on every word and deed by these court jesters.

    Roger has certainly muddied his Waters this time!

    • Steve Marks

      Great post Rav! Bravo!

  • Gregg Solomon

    Beautifully written and said. Thank you.

  • Shannon ODay

    Wow! You people are dillusional and have no clue what your talking about. You only see and hear what you want to see and hear. Open your ears and eyes. Roger Waters is no pig and certainly not a racist and if you knew anything about the man and what he stands for you would understand what he’s saying. but oh yeah… Tunnel vision. Sad very,very sad.

  • B”H
    “To fail to stand up for Israel is to suffer a privation of Jewish pride. It is the priori demonstration of Jewish spinelessness and embarrassment.”
    AMEN !
    Rabbi Boteach, I thank you for saying what finally needed to be said. It Is Time for Jewish Leaders, particularly our religious leaders to get their complacent and holy butts out of the safe and lofty confines of the Yeshivot and Shul and to stand up against those who seek our destruction, goyim as well as the misguided secular liberal Jews who have joined forces with Edom and Yishmael. These days are fraught with the same angels of death that have visited the Jewish Nation for thousands of years in exile. Failing to confront these dark forces is to empower them and to allow Jewish blood to be spilt, a violation of Torah Law. One is not allowed to sit idly by as Brother and Sister are slandered, condemned, and murdered in classrooms, media outlets, and streets of the world. Failing to stand up in the physical world for of fear of leaving the comfort and warmth of their spiritual ‘fur coat’ is committing the worst form of Chillul Hashem, standing by the blood of your fellow Jew. Fellow Jews- the time is Now- Out of your armchairs and into the streets. CHAZAK !

  • Lee

    Why does PBS continue to get away with profiting from showing Pink Floyd concerts on their pledge drives and no Jewish orginizations say anything? Jews coninue to let themselves be scapegoats and punching bags by the Anti Semitics.

  • Emanuel

    Rabbi, I could not agree with you more. There are remarkably few within the Jewish community who have the will and courage to take a vocal position but it is the right thing to do and I hope the few can lead by example and show others that a good defense can be the best offense. I applaud you on your message and wish you luck exposing Waters as the pig he has become. Show him the same amount of mercy he shows the Jewish people, none, but do it with class and do not stop until he does. Thank you.