Legendary English rocker Roger Waters, born in 1943, cofounded the iconic group Pink Floyd in 1965 and stayed in it until 1985. Since then, while sometimes reuniting with other Pink Floyd members, he’s mainly pursued a solo career.
Waters is a pop star on a gigantic scale. Pink Floyd, for which he was the main songwriter, has sold over 250 million albums across the globe. Waters’s worldwide tour The Wall Live, which he began in 2010, sold over 1.4 million tickets in the first half of 2012, making it the international leader for all categories of concerts.
Like many pop stars, Waters has taken up causes. In 2009 he called the Israeli security fence in the West Bank an “obscenity” that “should be torn down.” He never got around to criticizing the waves of Palestinian suicide bombings and other terror attacks, which killed 1500 Israelis and wounded many thousands more, that prompted the building of the fence in the first place.
In 2011 Waters announced he had joined the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Consisting of Palestinian NGOs and leftist supporters, BDS favors a “one-state solution” whereby Israel would cease to exist.
Waters has been quite active in BDS. In a November 2012 speech to the UN he accused Israel—a member of the exclusively democrat OECD and rated a “Free” country by Freedom House—of “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid,” and “international crimes.” Last August he published an open letter calling on other musicians to “declare a cultural boycott on Israel,” citing Stevie Wonder’s cancellation of a concert in Israel as a success story.
Waters, it goes without saying, does not call for a boycott of any other country on the globe. He has recently played concerts in human rights beacons like Russia, China, and Turkey without raising a peep of protest. Does all this—not least the scurrilous claim of “apartheid”—qualify him as an antisemite? In general, the Jewish world gave him the benefit of the doubt and refrained from making that charge.
That is, until an incident last July.
On the night of last July 20, an Israeli living in Belgium named Alon Onfus Asif went to a Waters concert there. “I came to the concert because I really like his music,” Asif said,
without any connection to his political stance toward Israel. And I had a lot of fun, until…Waters crossed the line and gave expression to an anti-Semitic message.
As the Jerusalem Post described it:
Waters…used a giant, pig-shaped balloon emblazoned with a Star of David and symbols of dictatorial regimes….
Waters…was singing on stage…under the balloon while toting a machine gun replica and wearing a long black leather jacket with a red-and-white arm band, reminiscent of a Nazi uniform.
The former Pink Floyd member was singing “get him up against the wall, that one looks Jewish and that one’s a coon, who let all of this riff-raff into the room”—the lyrics of the song “In the Flesh.”
Thousands of fans shouted his name and applauded as he stood on stage pretending to fire the replica.
An unnamed “spokesman” of the Anti-Defamation League responded: “While we wish that Mr. Waters would have avoided using the Star of David, we believe there is no anti-Semitic intent here.” That view, it turned out, contrasted sharply with that of the ADL’s national director Abraham Foxman (see below).
It also contrasted with that of Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, for whom the spectacle blew Waters’s thin “critic of Israel” cover:
With this disgusting display Roger Waters has made it crystal clear. Forget Israel, never mind “limited boycotts promoting Middle East Peace.” Waters is an open hater of Jews.
The video is beyond shocking. The only books this bigot should be getting should be with the Mullahs in Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.
In an open letter to Rabbi Cooper he posted on his Facebook page, Waters wrote that, apart from the Star of David, his show had also used other symbols including “the Crucifix, the Crescent and Star, the Hammer and Sickle, the Shell Oil Logo and The McDonald’s Sign, a Dollar Sign and a Mercedes sign.”
He also protested that he has
“many very close Jewish friends,” including “Simon Wiesenthal’s nephew,” and his two grandsons whose “mother, my daughter in law, is Jewish and so, in consequence, I’m told, are they.”
Still, even in this post, Waters could not restrain himself for long and went into a tirade against Israel:
In a functioning theocracy it is almost inevitable that the symbol of the religion becomes confused with the symbol of the state, in this case the State of Israel, a state that operates Apartheid both within its own borders and also in the territories it has occupied and colonized since 1967.
It’s a familiar refrain—I love Jews, but their state is the most evil in the world, the only one out of the 196 meriting a boycott.
Rabbi Cooper, replying to the letter, said:
The reality of 2013 means he needs a reality check and to rate that over his cultural and political viewpoint.
Every Jewish institution in Europe has armed guards in front of it. And this guy has the chutzpah to float a pig that has the Star of David on it. It’s an update of the classic Jewish stereotype that goes back to the middle ages. You can’t get a more fundamentally anti-Semitic symbol than that.
The Vatican, in an op-ed about the July 20 concert, blasted it for “unrestrained anti-Semitism.”
A 2005 study by Edward H. Kaplan and Charles A. Small of Yale found that in Europe, “anti-Israel sentiment consistently predicts the probability that an individual is anti-Semitic, with the likelihood of measured anti-Semitism increasing with the extent of anti-Israel sentiment observed.” A 2012 survey in Europe by the German-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation came up with the same result, finding that “anti-Semitism often appear[s] in the guise of criticism against Israel” and that “perceptions of Israel are colored by anti-Semitism.”
In other words, it was never likely that Waters, all his sights trained on Israel as a hub of evil while blithely playing concerts in actual, major human-rights-abusing countries, had fond feelings toward Jews. As ADL national director Abraham Foxman wrote in an open letter to Waters:
Your single-minded obsession with trying to convince others to boycott the Jewish state, while ignoring the world’s true human rights violators, must be driven by something other than a guilty conscience…. [O]ne must conclude that your views on Israel are in fact colored by offensive and dangerous undercurrents of anti-Jewish sentiment.
Waters has, of course, continued taking his show all over Europe in recent months, including Scandinavia, Rome, Istanbul, Athens, London, and elsewhere. One of the last stops was Düsseldorf in western Germany. The city’s Jewish community called for a boycott of the concert, and a leader of the community called Waters
“a spiritual arsonist who should not be given a forum in our city.” He said the stage set was reminiscent of Nazi party rallies and propaganda.
It would be “scary if tens of thousands attend this event and celebrate, dance and applaud to Roger Waters’ music despite the anti-Semitic and Nazi symbolism….”
But that, apparently, is exactly what happened.
Let’s hypothesize for a moment that Israel is a uniquely evil country, the only one in the world that deserves to have its national symbol float on the back of a pig over ecstatic throngs in Europe and elsewhere. Even if that were so, Roger Waters well knows that the Star of David is not just a symbol of Israel but of the Jewish people as a whole. It goes back at least to the seventeenth century, or three centuries before Israel was established. It is found in every synagogue or Jewish community center throughout the world, wherever Jews live.
Roger Waters, major purveyor of antisemitism, knows this and goes on with the show.