Roger Waters is the ‘odd man out’

Hundreds of artists do the same every year, creating spaces for Arabs and Jews, religious and secular, Left and Right to come together, sing together, dance together.

October 19, 2016 21:39
Roger Waters

Roger Waters performs at Desert Trip music festival at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California U.S., October 9, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Roger Waters’s support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement shows just how much of an anomaly he is at this week’s Desert Trip festival – not to mention in the wider artistic community.

Waters expends a great deal of energy attempting to convince artists to embrace the cultural boycott of Israel and refrain from performing there. He is one of the most vocal supporters of the movement, and by far the most celebrated musician to have embraced it. Four out of the other five acts at Desert Trip, however – The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Neil Young – have been victimized by and explicitly rejected BDS pressure, including personal appeals from Waters himself.

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Any artist who schedules a performance in Israel is subjected to a constant flow of false and inflammatory pressure by supporters of the cultural boycott, who attempt to manipulate them into canceling their show.

They accuse Israel of apartheid and genocide – accusations which can be proven false with even a modicum of research – using and abusing the struggles of others, and the emotional responses they trigger, in their battle against the Jewish state.

Though it often presents itself as a movement working to achieve Palestinian rights, to the founders and leaders of the BDS movement it is merely a tool to end the existence of the State of Israel. This violent aim is sometimes reflected in the tactics of boycott supporters.

Paul McCartney last performed in Israel in 2008. Though he received intense pressure to cancel his show – including death threats – he went ahead and performed. He is not alone in receiving violent threats from BDS supporters.

English rocker Eric Burdon and Malian musician Salif Keita reported the same. Though Burdon performed despite the threats, Keita’s management decided to cancel the show in order “to protect the artist from being harmed personally and professionally” by “a group named BDS, who also threatened to keep increasing an anti-Salif Keita campaign... and to work diligently at ruining the reputation and career that Mr. Keita has worked 40 years to achieve not only professionally, but for human rights and albinism,” according to a statement he released.

In 2014, the Rolling Stones performed for more than 50,000 Israelis – after they stood up to boycott pressure, including a personal appeal from Roger Waters. What is less known is that the seed that led the Stones to perform in Israel was planted by Bob Dylan shortly before his own show in Tel Aviv in 2011.

“Bob Dylan was coming off stage,” Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood said, “and I asked him – ‘where you going?’ And he said, ‘Israel – we’re going to Tel Aviv!’ He had a big smile on his face, because he loves it. And I said to him, ‘Well, we’ve never done it.’ That planted a seed that I’d like to play it one day. So, here we go....”

Recent Nobel Prize winner Dylan even wrote a song in 1983 about Israel and its struggle to survive in a tough neighborhood, criticizing the fact that some characterize the country as the neighborhood bully. “The neighborhood bully just lives to survive / He’s criticized and condemned for being alive / He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin / He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in / He’s the neighborhood bully.”

Neil Young was scheduled to perform only a month after the Stones, in July 2014. For months he was subjected to an intense barrage of pressure from BDS supporters – perhaps more intense than the other three combined – which also including direct outreach from Waters. To get to Young, BDS activists manipulated the cause of the First Nations in Canada (a cause close to Neil’s heart), falsely comparing their history to that of the Palestinians and completely ignoring any Jewish connection to the land. The use of emotional triggers to the detriment of fact is a common BDS tactic.

In the end, the choice was not his. Shortly before his scheduled performance, it was canceled by the Israeli security services “in order not to put people in Gaza rocket range at unnecessary risk,” as thousands and thousands of rockets were fired toward Israeli population centers by Hamas.

“It is with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we must cancel our one and only Israeli concert due to tensions which have rendered the event unsafe at this time,” a spokesman for Neil Young said. “We’ll miss the opportunity to play for our fans, and look forward to playing in Israel and Palestine in peace.”

We at Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), an organization comprised of prominent members of the entertainment industry devoted to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel, applaud The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Neil Young for their willingness to stand up to boycott pressure and perform for their fans in Israel.

Hundreds of artists do the same every year, creating spaces for Arabs and Jews, religious and secular, Left and Right to come together, sing together, dance together, and perhaps just lay down one more brick on the path to peace.

Roger Waters, on the other hand, continues to lend his voice to a movement dedicated to keeping Jews and Arabs apart, and ultimately to dismantling the State of Israel. He compares Israel to Nazis and Nazi collaborators, an ugly and libelous attack; describes the country as a “systematic racist apartheid regime”; and talks about classic antisemitic tropes such as the “Jewish Lobby.”

We hope that Waters will be positively influenced by his colleagues, cease spreading untruths and misinformation that only fan the flames of conflict, and rather use his considerable voice to unite.

David Renzer is co-founder of Creative Community for Peace (Chairman Spirit Music Group). Steve Schnur is co-founder of CCFP and worldwide head of music at Electronic Arts. Craig Balsam is a board member and co-head of Razor and Tie Music Group, New York. Creative Community for Peace is an entertainment industry organization that represents a cross-section of the creative world dedicated to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel.

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