Former Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters is facing severe backlash from the German Jewish community for his open support for the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) movement and for anti-Semitic accusations.
Sound familiar? It should. The same events transpired in 2013, when the Dusseldorf Jewish community advocated a boycott of Waters’ concert following anti-Semitic incidents in his Brussels concert. Those included such things as floating a giant pig balloon with a Jewish star on it, accusing Israel of apartheid, and urging other artists to join him in his boycott until Israel complies with the double standards held against it by much of the international order.
Recently, Roger Waters released a recital of Mohammed Darwish’s poem, “The Penultimate Speech of the ‘Red Indian’ to the White Man,” recited to the background of an oud playing traditional Palestinian music. The poem, and the timing of its release – soon after Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – was a deliberate attempt to equate Israel and the United States with white colonialists, and the Palestinians with the helpless Indians who are defenseless against the “erection of the ‘white man’s’ world on their remains.” The poem finishes with the question: “Where, oh white master, are you taking my people… and yours?” Waters’ implication, that in recognizing Jewish history Trump was the white master forcing Palestinians out of Jerusalem, is a distortion. Firstly, it is implying American sovereignty over Jerusalem, which is not the case. Secondly, Trump’s statement did nothing to diminish the rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Furthermore, equating the plight of Palestinians to that of the First Nations people in the Americas is a problematic analogy, particularly in light of the hundreds of years of difference between the cases.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which previously supported Waters’ seemingly innocent criticism of Israel, reexamined his words and actions in 2013. In an open letter to Waters they expressed the conclusion that his views “are in fact colored by offensive and dangerous undercurrents of anti-Jewish sentiment.” The letter ended with the hope that he would use his fame and talent instead to promote peace in a constructive and positive way.
In the four years that have passed, however, not much seems to have changed. Still a vocal supporter of BDS and still accused of public anti-Semitism, Waters is once again facing a boycott of his concert from Germany’s Jewish community. In addition to the boycott, Cologne citizen Malca Goldstein-Wolf wrote a petition – signed by over 1,300 people – requesting public broadcasting services to cancel their plans to air his concerts. As a result of the petition and accusations of anti-Semitism against him, “five state television and radio affiliates of the national ARD network” have complied with the requests of the petition and will not be airing his concert.
In an attempt to distance themselves from the horror of the Holocaust and the anti-Semitism preceding it, the German government implemented strict laws outlawing the spread of anti-Semitic ideologies. Various forms are illegal in Germany, including Holocaust denial, approval of Nazism, the use of Nazi symbols, and the sale of Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf. Anti-Semitism, however, remains relatively high in the region. Twenty-seven percent of adults in Germany harbor anti-Semitic views, according to a variety of indicators related to the perception of Jewish national loyalty, control of the economy and media, etc. This dichotomy highlights the ideological distance between the government and the people with regard to their perception of Jews. The success of this boycott, however, marks an important change in which German society and government are working together to fight against anti-Semitism in the country.
But what is the integrity of responding to a boycott with a boycott? While it is important to stop hate speech before it happens, is it not a bit problematic to use their own tactics against them? Marek Lieberberg is both Waters’ tour director and the son of Holocaust survivors. While he rejects BDS, he also does not want to deny Waters his freedom of opinion. On the other hand, boycotting a BDS supporter sends a direct message to the movement regarding the meaning behind its actions. Organizing a boycott of Waters’ show in Germany serves the dual purpose of rejecting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, while also encouraging BDS supporters to think about what exactly they are boycotting.
In an incident that reflects the flip side of the same coin, Australian rock star Nick Cave made the decision to perform in Israel because of BDS. After being presented with a petition calling for artists to boycott Israel and refusing to sign it, Cave stated, “I like Israel and Israelis, and it’s important for me to do something of substance about it.” He booked a tour in Israel in direct response to the BDS movement gaining traction among artists, thus bringing light to the effects the movement has on many facets of society.
There is a very fine line between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism. However, Waters’ support for BDS, while using anti-Semitic imagery in his concerts and publicly accusing Israel of apartheid, leaves no doubt that his actions are truly anti-Semitic. Staging a boycott of his tour in Germany sends the message to BDS supporters that anti-Semitism has no place in public art. Hopefully, awareness of the cause and the boycott itself will encourage others to question the purpose of the BDS movement and its effects on both Israel and the international order.