The New York Times is letting a little light shine on the boycott Israel campaign with an op-ed it published by Roger Waters two days ago, titled, “Congress Shouldn’t Silence Human Rights Advocates,” just ahead of his concerts in Brooklyn.
The piece is an open endorsement of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) aimed at Israel. Waters makes the argument we have frequently sought to make here, that progressives routinely use the boycott tool, including against North Carolina over the so-called bathroom bill.
Criminalizing boycotts is un-American and anti-democratic. Boycotts have always been accepted as a legitimate form of nonviolent protest in the United States. In 1955 and 1956, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., incited by the protest of Rosa Parks and others, became one of the foremost civil rights struggles against segregation in the South.
More recently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association refused to hold championship events in North Carolina after state legislators there passed a law that curbed legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and set discriminatory rules regarding transgender bathroom use in public buildings. Numerous artists, including Bruce Springsteen, refused to perform in the state; major corporations canceled investments in North Carolina. The voice of boycott in support of civil rights was heard and the bill was repealed, albeit as part of a problematic compromise.
In these cases, progressives lauded these boycotters as champions of equality.
Waters says that the pro-Israel forces are mustering against his 64-city tour.
Audiences of tens of thousands are coming together at our “Us + Them” shows, which embrace love, compassion, cooperation and coexistence and encourage resistance to authoritarianism and proto-fascism. These appearances have been greeted by a few sporadic protests by right-wing supporters of Israel.
These protests would be of no consequence, if they did not occasionally have truly negative consequences. For instance, the city of Miami Beach prevented a group of school children from appearing onstage with me after pressure from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. I understand that city officials have a democratic right to disagree with my opinions, but I was shocked that they were willing to take it out on kids.
Some local legislators are trying to shut down two shows Waters is having on Long Island later this week.
Officials in Nassau County in Long Island are threatening to take legal action to shut down two shows I have scheduled there next week, using a local anti-B.D.S. law passed in 2016. If the Nassau County attorney proceeds against the operators of the Nassau Coliseum, we will have our day in court and argue on behalf of all those who believe in universal human rights and the First Amendment.
Artist-led boycott, he reminds us, was crucial in the South Africa struggle.
Those who are attempting to silence me understand the power of art and culture. They know the role artists played in the civil rights struggle in the United States and against apartheid in South Africa.
Here’s a report on Waters’s show in Newark last Thursday night, stressing how much of his show is aimed at Donald Trump. (“When they performed the Pink Floyd hit ‘Another Brick in the Wall’… Roger Waters and his band were joined by 10 children in prison jumpsuits. The children stood still at first, then sang and danced joyfully as the song’s message turned rebellious. At one point, they took off their jumpsuits to reveal T-shirts saying ‘Resist.’ That was just one of several swipes at the current U.S. president…”)
And by the way, his Times op-ed doesn’t even go into much detail about Palestinian conditions, though Waters has testified about the persecution at the Russell Tribunal. In the Times, he describes BDS as “nonviolent pressure to end [Israel’s] 50-year-old occupation of Palestinian territory and other abuses of Palestinian rights.”
Waters plays Brooklyn tomorrow night and Tuesday, then Nassau Coliseum on Friday and Saturday.