Those who celebrate the psychedelic sounds of classic rock band Pink Floyd may not associate it with turmoil in the Middle East. But Roger Waters, a founder of the band and writer of hits such as “Another Brick in the Wall,” is being criticized for anti-Israel rhetoric ahead of two shows at Verizon Center in Washington this weekend.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington produced a video criticizing Waters’s support of “BDS” — the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that compares the country’s treatment of Palestinians to apartheid.
“He’s using music to divide people,” the video’s narrator says. “By pressuring musicians to boycott Israel, Waters makes things worse.”
Waters wasn’t immediately available for comment Friday, but the 73-year-old musician has been outspoken about Israel for many years, and activists have targeted his recent upcoming shows in, among other places, Philadelphia and Nashville.
“Today is the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine by Israel,” he wrote in an open letter to Thom Yorke of Radiohead in June after criticizing that band’s decision to perform in Israel. “50 years living under military occupation, 50 years for a people with no civil rights, 50 years of no recourse to the law, 50 years of apartheid.” (Radiohead played in Israel anyway.)
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, noted that the musician’s concerts sometimes featured an inflatable pig emblazoned with a Jewish star — a nod to the cover art of Pink Floyd’s 1977 record “Animals” — and said Waters had “crossed the line into anti-Semitism.”
“This is a sort of welcoming party for Waters,” Halber said of the video. “We want him to know when he arrives in D.C. that the sort of hateful language that he’s peddling and the myths he engages in are going to be met with fierce resistance.”
In 2013, Waters said the star “represents Israel and its policies and is legitimately subject to any and all forms of nonviolent protest.”
Last year, President Barack Obama signed anti-boycott provisions into law, saying the economy of Israel, but not its settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights, should be protected. But the debate over BDS remains bitter on U.S. college campuses and in the political realm. Proponents contend a boycott is a necessary tool for any political movement. Critics say it is wrong for groups to target Israel, a close U.S. ally and the strongest democracy in the Middle East, without speaking out about politically repressive regimes around the globe.
“Arguing that boycotting Israel is intrinsically anti-Semitic is not only false and dishonest; it also presumes that Israel and ‘the Jews’ are one and the same,” Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, said in an email.
Halber called BDS a “delegitimization movement” that unfairly places Israel on a “dubious moral plane.”
“He’s an embarrassment,” Halber said of Waters. “I advise him to stick to music and stop talking about things he knows nothing about.”