Since becoming one of the most prominent faces in favor of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, rock star Roger Waters has come under vicious attack. Now, he’s fighting back.
In an Op-Ed piece published by Salon, Waters, who made his name with Pink Floyd, hits back against supporters of Israel calling him a bigot and anti-Semite. He writes that given his upbringing–raised by a single mom because his father died fighting the Nazis–he had “no choice” but to speak out for Palestinian rights, given that “the vulnerable Palestinian population still lives under occupation, while…more Palestinians are imprisoned, injured or killed struggling for the right to live in dignity and peace.”
Waters made waves in December when he told activist Frank Barat that Israel engaged in “ethnic cleansing and…systematic racist apartheid.” Citing journalist Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath, he also said that the “right-wing rabbinate” believes “that the Indigenous people of the region that they kicked off the land in 1948 and have continued to kick off the land ever since are sub-human. The parallels with what went on in the 30’s in Germany are so crushingly obvious.”
Those comments sparked a furor. Right-wing Israel advocates have since engaged in a concerted campaign of character assassination to smear him as an anti-Semite. In one of the most unhinged attacks, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said Waters engages in “blood libels” because he allegedly compares “the Jews of being the Gestapo, the SS, Hitler himself.” Waters has done no such thing. (And Boteach has been silent when prominent Israelis, like Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin or Yosef Lapid, have compared Israeli policies to that of Nazi Germany. In addition, Boteach sat silently as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson called for nuking Iran.)
The Pink Floyd member specifically addresses the furor in the Salon piece:
I do not claim to speak on behalf of the BDS movement, yet, as a vocal supporter, and because of my visibility in the music industry, I have become a natural target for those who wish to attack BDS, not by addressing the merits of its claims but, instead, by assigning hateful and racist motivations to BDS supporters like me. It has even been said, cruelly and wrongly, that I am a Nazi and an anti-Semite.
When I remarked in a recent interview on historical parallels, stating that I would not have played Vichy France or Berlin in World War II, it was not my intention to compare the Israelis to Nazis or the Holocaust to the decades-long oppression of the Palestinians. There is no comparison to the Holocaust. Nor did I intend or ever wish to compare the suffering of Jews then with the suffering of Palestinians now. Comparing suffering is a painful, grotesque and diminishing exercise that dishonors the specific memory of all our fallen loved ones.
Waters’ Op-Ed comes a week after he issued an open letter in response to Gerald Ronson, a British tycoon who recently mocked Waters in front of an audience filled with dignitaries and implied he was an anti-Semite for featuring an inflatable pig with a Star of David painted on it during concerts.
And in the U.S., another push to tar Waters with the brush of bigotry came last month, when the New York Post published a nasty swipe at him.
The author of that Post article was Craig Balsam, an indie music label co-owner and a board member of the group Creative Community for Peace (CCFP). CCFP is the Israel lobby’s answer to grassroots activists calling on entertainment stars to boycott appearing in Israel. The Post didn’t see fit to disclose that CCFP is, as Phan Nguyen reported for us, “a front for StandWithUs, the notorious right-wing pro-settler organization that works closely with the Israeli Foreign Ministry.”
Balsam’s argument targeting Waters is chock full of holes. He accuses Waters of “trading in classic anti-Semitic stereotypes,” ignoring Waters’ statement that he has “nothing against Jews or Israelis” and that the “the Holocaust was brutal and disgusting beyond our imagination.”
Balsam’s dismissal of Israel’s record of ethnic cleansing, which he called “false,” is the worst aspect of his attack. The 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, is well-documented, and involved the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland–the very definition of ethnic cleansing. And Balsam also claims that Waters was “incorrect” in saying “that some rabbis in Israel believe that Arabs are ‘subhuman’ and exist to serve the Jews.” But in September 2010, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, then the spiritual leader of the Shas party (who recently died), said: “Goyim [non- Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world; only to serve the People of Israel.” There’s plenty more examples of state-funded Israeli rabbis making racist statements.
Balsam ends his Op-Ed with a call for Waters to face “consequences,” a veiled threat that delivers a message to other music industry stars: don’t criticize Israel.
It’s clear that Waters’ marquee name is an asset to the movement for Palestinian rights, and that pro-Israel attack dogs want to silence Waters to make an example out of him. They’re using every trick in the book to discredit and smear the BDS supporting rock star.