The Human Spirit: Waters by the waters

"The bold music decisions you made 30 years ago in Pink Floyd don’t give you the authority to lecture us on courage. We’ve got plenty."

August 13, 2015 12:47
Roger Waters

Former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters speaks to the media in 2012. Some of his best friends are Jewish.. (photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)

Here’s a fantasy. I’m walking on the beach in the Hamptons, and I run into Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd superstar.

It’s not so far-fetched, because Waters lives in Southampton and my sister-inlaw has long lived in East Hampton. No, I’m not a Pink Floyd groupie. But Waters – who uses his position as a music legend to urge other musicians and artists to refrain from performing in Israel – has become a leader in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. Recently, in Haaretz, he received extensive, near-worshipful coverage.

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Leaving aside Haaretz giving Waters so much exposure, I imagine I’m sitting on one of those Hampton staircases that leads down the bluffs to the waters, and get a chance to answer his complaints. Of course, I’m trying to get BDS-Waters to modify his position. Remember, this is fantasy.

Background Thirty years ago, Roger Waters, now 72, was the lead singer, lyricist and creative force in the wildly popular and extremely influential rock band Pink Floyd. (“We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control.”) He’s British but left England because of a law banning the hunting of foxes, deer and mink with dogs. He reportedly no longer wanted to live in a country where human rights were violated. We don’t want no thought control. His epiphany regarding BDS came when, in 2006, “to his eternal shame,” he was criticized for accepting a lucrative gig in Israel.

Haaretz reporter Gideon Levy spent two days in Southampton with Waters. He reports that Ambassador Ron Dermer had failed to engage Waters in dialogue.

Waters said it “was like talking to a pit bull.” I don’t want to make that mistake. So I’m going to summon my least pugnacious personality.

Barbara Sofer: Hello there Mr. Waters. I hope you don’t mind speaking to me. I’m a Jew and a Zionist.

Roger Waters: Some of my best friends are Jews. A relative of Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and Israeli journalist Gideon Levy came to dinner the other night. I even have Jewish grandchildren from my daughter-in-law.

I know that you are devoted to what you see is justice, and that you keep saying you actually want to help us befuddled Israelis by supporting the Palestinians.

The inspiration for your rectitude is the example of your late father, who recanted his passivism and died in the fight against the Nazis. But are you aware that the original BDS against Jews was created by the Ku Klux Klan and later the Nazis? Those perpetrators also justified their actions with supposed lofty goals.

As I said in Haaretz, and will say again: If you’re determined to stand on the side of truth, justice, liberty, human rights, individual freedoms, political equality and freedom to worship whatever you want, all of that – from time to time, situations crop up that demand your attention more than other situations, because they’re blatant and they’ve been going on for a long time. People also complain about anybody making comparisons between apartheid South Africa and Israel.

But particularly in the occupied territories – but also in Israel, in my view – the comparisons are valid.

Doesn’t it feel strange that you’ve named the single democracy in the Middle East as the source of oppression and violation of human rights? A land with free elections and courts and free press. My Palestinian friends prefer to bring their cases to Israeli courts.

Because I work at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, where Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians strive together to save the lives of Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, even terrorist victims and terrorists, I am puzzled by the apartheid comparison.

I also swim in a pool that’s mixed Jews and Arabs, shop in a supermarket that caters to Orthodox Jews and Arabs with large families, and eat at lunch counters with other Jews and Arabs.

Your BDS co-leader Prof. As’ad Abu Khalil from California State University has been quoted repeatedly that the real goal of BDS should be stated unambiguously: to take down the Jewish state.

I appreciate your own frankness that BDS isn’t about settlements, as some claim, or whether seltzer machines are made over the Green Line, but about the essence of the State of Israel. After all, it was Tel Aviv, not Shiloh, that in the end you refused to perform in. We all know it’s not really the mosques of Jerusalem that our enemies yearn for but the hi-tech achievements of Tel Aviv.

That’s why you switched your concert 50 km. away to the mixed ethnic village of Neveh Shalom.

I can imagine your disappointment when mostly Jews from Tel Aviv attended. By the way, that wasn’t because of imagined roadblocks, just traffic jams. If you’d wanted to be sure you had Arabs in the audience, you could have performed at one of our Israeli hospitals.

I’ve been back to Israel since that concert, touring with UNRWA. When I see the rubble and the filth in Gaza, I think I have to keep working on BDS.

The billions that have been invested in Gaza have been diverted from playgrounds and job training to attack-tunnels and rockets aimed at my children and grandchildren.

Everyone knows the rockets are completely useless.

They’re simply a legal and justifiable means of expressing rage at the occupation.

I’ll send you a photo of a kindergarten where one of those useless rockets fell. And speaking of children, the most offensive part of what you said in your recent interview was your message to us Israelis: “I would like to say that in 1945, or 1947- 8, you had the goodwill, the sympathy and good wishes of the rest of the world. You were a bit like the United States after 9/11. But you’ve sadly frittered away that goodwill and you need to look at what happened in 1947-48, and what has happened since.” With all due respect, the death of six million persons, among them a 1.5 million children – starved, beaten and incinerated – was not much of a trade-off for transient goodwill.

Somehow I missed the part about goodwill that was extended to Holocaust survivors who went back to their homes in Poland only to be murdered by the people who had stolen their property, or the attitude of your British countrymen toward homeless survivors who wanted to come ashore in Haifa.

You Israelis are to blame for the prolonged statelessness of the Palestinians and the starvation of the young of their diaspora in Syria.

Don’t you think it’s a stretch to blame us Jews for the problems of Arabs in Syria? There are problems we’re not to blame for.

If you mean my remarks 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.

But even you have to concede that oppression breeds oppression.

Actually, I don’t concede that at all. Holocaust survivors didn’t become oppressors. They went into helping professions more than those who didn’t go through the Holocaust.

Like it or not, BDS is here to stay. The more visible BDS becomes, the more likely it is to have a good effect on the eventual outcome of the situation that exists between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.

Not one shred of proof substantiates that BDS does anything to promote peace. Just the opposite.

As I said in Haaretz, you Israelis need to find the courage to live with your neighbors. You need courage. It takes courage to look at the reality rather than trying to maintain the image of a false reality.

The bold music decisions you made 30 years ago in Pink Floyd don’t give you the authority to lecture us on courage. We’ve got plenty.

Our Left and Right disagree on only one issue.

Those on the Left think those on the Right are belligerent, and those on the Right think those on the Left are dreamers but pray that they’re correct and that the manifold risks we’re willing to make for peace will pay off after all.

Next time you come to Israel, I promise to give you my own version of the peace tour.

The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.

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