The British rocker Roger Waters’s insufferable crusade to con musical acts of the first order to boycott Israel and cancel their scheduled Tel Aviv tour stops has held little interest for me over the years. To my mind, the British Invasion could have left him behind. Musically, his concept albums never resonated with me. And then late in his career he espoused an odious politics even more jarring than his music.
I considered him too insignificant to attach my byline to—even if just to expose his rank anti-Semitism. I know that his now defunct band, Pink Floyd, was a chart-topping phenomenon in “Billboard,” that Waters’s own solo concerts usually played to packed houses, and that Pink Floyd was inducted into Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
All those accolades, however, can become overshadowed when artists take the risk of venturing too far into global politics, when their music takes a backseat to their causes and when they go about it dishonestly. In such times, the treble clef gets replaced by the trouble maker.
And that’s what Waters has become. His vocal range has coarsened and become more limited, and yet he won’t keep his mouth shut—not as a singer, but as a virtue signaller. His act has become an act and his concerts merely an excuse to remain relevant not for the sake of his catalogue of music, but to engage in anti-Zionist agitation.
When he rolls into town, the rampage begins—acoustically and cynically. He requires no roadies, just dimwitted listeners filling in for groupies who believed they were coming to hear a concert. The press junket is a diatribe more often associated with the radical left. Music is an afterthought, although he is desperate for a sing-along.
He compares Israel to the Nazis. He declares Israel the worst human-rights violator in the world. No other nation draws his attention—not even Syria, where half a million have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled. He insists that Israel is an apartheid state. Yes, a nation where Arab Israelis serve in the Knesset, sit on the Supreme Court, ride public transportation and eat in the same restaurants alongside other citizens, and where an Ethiopian was crowned Miss Israel, all call to mind the kind of diversity and equal opportunity that was rampant under South African apartheid.
Pernicious ideas that shouldn’t even be allowed to grow on the dark side of the moon have become a sideshow for Waters, who distorts facts with evil intent. When an artist so out of tune sells tickets mainly to malign, manipulate and demonize one country, and one country only—the one that happens to be the only Jewish state—he or she should forfeit the right to be taken seriously as both artist and advocate.
But there is an even more compelling reason to just ignore him and allow his Jew-hatred to ferment into some internal toxin that never fails to infect the haters among us. His decade-long campaign against Israel has failed miserably. The music industry, most especially its major acts, finds him unpersuasive, if not repugnant. They see much greater complexity in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And perhaps most importantly, they love performing in Israel.
The bands he has lobbied and bullied in his proposed boycott against Israel have flatly ignored him. The Rolling Stones have appeared several times, and with each performance, Mick Jagger delights the audience with some bloke Hebrew. Paul McCartney is virtually Philo-Semitic. He marries and dates Jewish women, although so far none that are Sephardic.
Thom Yorke from Radiohead read Waters the Riot Act, stating that the boycott condescendingly believes that artists aren’t capable of making their own moral decisions. Alan Parsons and Nick Cave stated that they perform in Israel precisely because of Waters’s inane boycott. (Cave openly declared his love for Israel.) So, too, has Lady Gaga, who goes gaga for Israel. And such an all-star list of musical performers, including, Jennifer Lopez, Lionel Richie, Elton John, Bon Jovi, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Tears for Fears and Alicia Keys have all essentially told Waters to go jump in a lake. Madonna—the singer, and not the one buried in Bethlehem—has performed in Israel several times.
None of them are easily duped. They haven’t fallen for Waters’s outright falsehoods, half-truths, double standards and moral hypocrisy—not to mention that the symbolism of his act is self-condemning. What must one conclude of the twisted intentions and aesthetic meaning behind an inflatable pig emblazoned with a Star of David.
Waters has paid a price in the withdrawal of corporate sponsorships such as Citibank, American Express and Major League Baseball.
Pressure is now being mounted with the organizers of the Austin, Texas film and music festival known as SXSW. It kicks off on March 13. Waters is scheduled as a keynote speaker.
Because of Waters’s politics, the music of Pink Floyd will soon come with a Code Red warning label. If the producers of SXSW want a clean show, they should boycott this boycotter because this artless “has been” is the personification of a booby-trapped bridge over troubled water.
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He can be reached via his website.