A Jewish group is up in arms over the approaching Canadian tour by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, accusing the rock singer of “a malicious and intensive campaign against Israel and the Jewish people.”
Waters is an outspoken critic of Israel and a leader of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign that “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law,” according to its website.
B’nai Brith Canada says Waters has a history of espousing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, mocking Jewish symbols, and comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.
“Whether or not he views himself as an anti-Semite, Roger Waters is using his platform as a musician to promote a completely false and anti-Semitic narrative,” says B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn.
“This narrative ignores history, genealogy, archaeology, and anthropology, and leads to real-world consequences for members of the Jewish community who get targeted by fanatics caught up in its hateful ideology.”
Currently touring south of the border, Waters’s Canadian tour begins on Oct. 2 in Toronto and has stops in Quebec City, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa, and Vancouver.
In a bid to counter the BDS narrative, B’nai Brith will hold screenings of the documentary “Wish You Weren’t Here,” a play on the title of the Pink Floyd 1975 hit “Wish You Were Here.” It will be screened on the same dates and in most of the same cities as Waters’s concerts.
The documentary was directed by filmmaker and New York Times bestselling author Ian Halperin. B’nai Brith is co-presenting the screenings along with Halperin and Professor Charles Small, the founding director and president of the New York-based Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy.
The film explores the role BDS and its supporters play in contemporary anti-Semitism and is “an effort to offer a balanced perspective on the inflammatory rhetoric [Waters] espouses during his shows,” B’nai Brith says in a press release.
The Palestinian-led BDS movement, which seeks to financially impede Israel, began in 2005 and soon became mired in controversy. Supporters compare it to the boycott of South Africa by the Anti-Apartheid Movement—a peaceful way to bring about change. Opponents allege the movement is a form of anti-Semitism and aims to eliminate the State of Israel.
Not anti-Semitic, says Waters
Waters, 73, co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965 and the band went on to be a huge commercial success. Two decades later he split from the group and started touring solo in 1989.
He officially joined the BDS movement in 2011, but it was in 2006 that he first spoke out against Israel. He was in Tel Aviv for a concert but faced pressure from BDS activists. After visiting the Israeli West Bank security barrier, or wall, he cancelled his concert in Tel Aviv and instead played at Neve Shalom, a village between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem founded jointly by Jewish and Palestinian Arab peace campaigners.
In an op-ed titled “Tear Down This Israeli Wall” published in The Guardian in March 2011, he explained his decision to engage in a cultural boycott of Israel.
“Where governments refuse to act people must, with whatever peaceful means are at their disposal. For me this means declaring an intention to stand in solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government’s policies, by joining the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel,” he wrote.
“My conviction is born in the idea that all people deserve basic human rights. This is not an attack on the people of Israel. This is, however, a plea to my colleagues in the music industry, and also to artists in other disciplines, to join this cultural boycott.”
Waters publicly pressures other bands not to perform in Israel and harshly criticizes those who choose to do so.
As for accusations that he is anti-Semitic, he notes in an open letter posted on Facebook that he has “many very close Jewish friends” and that his father died fighting the Nazis in Italy in 1944.
“To peacefully protest against Israel’s racist domestic and foreign policies is not anti-Semitic,” he writes.
‘Misguided and dangerous views’
B’nai Brith says that while it encourages criticism of any government as a legitimate and productive means of ensuring a thriving democratic society, BDS activists seek to conflate legitimate criticism of Israel with the country’s delegitimization in the international arena.
“When you’re only targeting Israel for delegitimization and demonization and with a double standard, that’s anti-Semitism, and that’s what Roger Waters is guilty of,” Mostyn says.
“By promoting ‘Wish You Weren’t Here,’ B’nai Brith hopes to raise awareness of his extremely misguided and dangerous views and highlight the truth surrounding Waters’ activism: that it’s biased, un-factual, and lends credence to the movement that seeks Israel’s destruction.”
In past concert tours, Waters has incorporated a giant inflatable wild boar emblazoned with the Star of David and other symbols such as crosses and a hammer and sickle, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency. The Anti-Defamation League told JTA it doesn’t believe anti-Semitism was behind the act, although an op-ed in the Vatican newspaper criticized it.
In his current tour, titled Us + Them, Waters is putting the focus more on denigrating U.S. President Donald Trump than singling out Israel, according to news reports. Still, activists in several cities are targeting his shows, with some Jewish groups engaging in various activities to raise awareness about Waters’s support of the BDS movement.