Roger Waters, co-founder of legendary British rock supergroup Pink Floyd, has joined a growing list of Western musicians who have decided to boycott performing in Israel. In an open letter to his fellow rock stars that was initially posted on the pro-Palestinian Electronic Infitada website, Waters, 69, called on other musicians to avoid playing in Israel, condemning the Jewish state for what he calls its “crimes” of “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing.”
In the missive, Waters declared: “I write to you now, my brothers and sisters in the family of Rock and Roll, to ask you to join with me, and thousands of other artists around the world, to declare a cultural boycott on Israel. 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.”
Waters also equated a boycott of Israel with musicians refusing to perform in South Africa during the apartheid area of the 1980s. In the letter, Waters also noted how last year he convinced American superstar Stevie Wonder to cancel appearing at a fundraiser on behalf of Israel Defense Forces. Similarly, Waters praised Wonder for boycotting the state of Florida in the US in response to the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Waters has long campaigned against what he perceives as Israel’s unjust treatment of Palestinians and agitated against Britain having normal relations with the country. For the past seven years, Waters has been involved in BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), an organization he described as a “non-violent movement to oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. The aim of BDS is to bring international attention to these Israeli policies, and hopefully, to help bring them to an end.”
Other prominent British musicians, including Elvis Costello, Annie Lennox and violinist Nigel Kennedy have already made similar calls for boycotting Israel. (Waters referred directly to Kennedy in his letter.). Another prominent Briton, physicist Stephen Hawking, also skipped a conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Not surprisingly, Waters' statements have sparked derision in Israel itself. Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, who described himself as a Pink Floyd fan, referred to the lyrics to one of the group’s most famous songs “Wish You Were Here” in his response. “That song is addressed to a friend and chides him for thinking that he can tell right from wrong,” Hirschson said. “He [Waters] has forgotten his own words. The Roger Waters we knew from the 70s and 80s is no longer with us. He’s just an aging rock star now.”
Only last month, Waters found himself in another controversy, when the Jewish community in Belgium accused him of staging an anti-Semitic display in a concert where he had a pig-shaped balloon that featured the Star of David on it. (Pigs have been a frequent symbol in Pink Floyd albums and concert appearances over the decades.) Referring to the Belgian episode, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Algemeiner newspaper of the U.S. that Waters is an “open hater of Jews.”
Waters refuted the rabbi’s allegations in an open letter on his Facebook page. “Like it or not, the Star of David represents Israel and its policies and is legitimately subject to any and all forms of non-violent protest,” Waters wrote. “To peacefully protest against Israel’s racist domestic and foreign policies is NOT ANTI-SEMITIC.”
A perhaps unlikely critic of Waters is the Roman Catholic Church. An opinion piece in L’Osservatore Romano -- the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper – condemned him for his pig-balloon stunt in Belgium, although they did not mention Waters by name. “The spirit and the style of the [Belgian] Werchter Rock festival was visible, with the fans who had every right to listen to music that they enjoy,” the op-ed stated. “But did they also have the right to draw the Star of David on the back of a pig and not be reported? We continue to talk about the respect for every religion and every human being, yet we keep falling into these shameful situations.”
According to Times of Israel, many other well-known Western artists continue to perform in Israel. Eric Burdon of the Animals performed in the Jewish state last month, while Rihanna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have scheduled dates there in the upcoming months.
Waters, who left Pink Floyd in 1985, is believed to be worth some $230 million. He has been touring the world with his “Wall Live Tour” (where he performs Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album in its entirety) since late 2010.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.