Legendary rocker Roger Waters 370.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Fyodor Dostoevsky received a strange letter in the early months of 1877. The
celebrated Russian author was scolded by a Jewish journalist for the
anti-Semitism that permeated Dostoevsky’s novels and short stories.
Jewish journalist – Abraham Uri Kovner – confessed his own past sins to
Dostoevsky in a bizarre fashion. But toward the letter’s end, Kovner arrived at
the reason why he wrote to Dostoevsky: “I would like to know why you are against
the Jews and not against exploiters in general. I hate the deficiencies of my
people no less than you and I have suffered enough under them, yet I would never
concede that unscrupulous exploitation is in their blood.”
appreciated the letter and praised Kovner as a “highly educated Jew.” But his
response could not have pleased the Jewish journalist. The Russian author simply
dismissed the Jews as killers of Christ and exploiters of the Russian peasant.
Not surprisingly, Kovner turned to apostasy toward the end of his
This particular letter to an author I greatly admire has always
interested me. One of the books that influenced me most as an undergraduate
student was Dostoevsky’s early classic Notes from Underground
. This is one of
the Russian master’s shorter works – but it is simply brilliant, especially the
first half of the book in which Dostoevsky produces a damning criticism of
modernity through the lens of a loser on the margins of St. Petersburg
Yet, like Kovner, I am troubled by Dostoevsky’s embrace of the
hatred of Jews. How can it be possible that I admire a man who has so influenced
me but who, had he met me, would have despised me? How can genius – literary or
artistic – be permeated with anti-Semitism? How can such “creativity” be
defended or simply dismissed as “free artistic expression”?
These questions are
not simply academic or intellectual – they go to the heart of our attempt to
understand the role of Jews as the subjects of hatred in the intellectual and
social history of the civilization of the West. These questions also lead us to
the anti-Zionist attempts to delegitimize Israel that permeate our popular
The cultural icon who I both admire and detest is Roger Waters,
a founding member and driving force behind the creation of one of rock’s
legendary bands, Pink Floyd. In a recent letter to other popular rock musicians,
Waters – one of the most outspoken advocates of condemning Israel through the
movement to boycott the Jewish state – called on fellow artists not to perform
WATERS’ MOTIVATIONS are highly suspicious. He claims he is
defending the human rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. But Waters
has performed in China and Russia, flagrant abusers of human rights.
this is not Waters’ protest against “Israeli apartheid.”
What this is all
about is good old-fashioned anti-Semitism dressed up in modern
Waters has incorporated unusual – and very insulting – images into
his concert tours around the world. Playing on the phrase “when pigs fly,”
Waters trots out a floating image of a pig that is covered with a variety of
symbols – the dollar sign, the Soviet hammer and sickle, corporation logos and,
of greatest interest to me, a Star of David.
What message does Waters
want to convey to his audience? Is it the idea that Jews are greedy capitalists
or oppressive Communists? I really have no idea. This is truly bizarre. And
In fact, Waters’ placement of the Star of David on an image of
a pig is not far removed from the medieval Judensau – the iconic image
portraying Jews sucking at the teats of a female pig and eating her
This disgusting image was a staple of medieval and early
modern art in Europe. Often, it was associated with the “blood libel” – the
false and outrageous charge that Jews ritually murdered Christian children to
siphon their blood for the baking of matzah.
Waters is tapping into
popular images of Jew-hatred that permeate Western culture, and promotes a
modern “blood libel” in which Jews are accused of “ethnic cleansing” and
genocide. His placement of a Jewish symbol on an animal repugnant to most Jews
is meant to send a message to the world – divest from Israel because the Jewish
state is an apartheid and racist entity that has no right to
Waters’ blatant anti-Semitism leaves me uncomfortably
Waters is a rock genius. But musical or artistic genius and
creative expression are no excuse for anti-Semitism.
No opera lover would
deny the brilliance of German composer Richard Wagner. But Wagner’s hatred of
Jews was notorious. He was, without doubt, an inspiration to Hitler and to
Nazism. His anti-Semitic screed – Jewry in Music – was as much a part of the man
as was his musical genius.
To this day Jews, and survivors of the
Holocaust in particular, still debate whether Wagner’s music should be preformed
publicly in Israel. This is not about denying his genius. This is a condemnation
of his racism and his successful attempt to legitimize hatred of Jews.
Roger Waters any different from Richard Wagner? His leadership in the movement
to isolate Israel as a pariah state is not about his criticism of a particular
Israeli policy. It is all about the Star of David on the floating image of a
It is about legitimizing hatred of Israel and Jews. He teaches
through his musical presentation, in a way similar to Wagner, that branding Jews
as pariahs is acceptable and should be welcomed by his fans and fellow
It is as much an expression of hatred of Jews as was the icon
of Jews eating the excrement of the Judensau.The author is rabbi of Beth
Ami Congregation in Boca Raton, Florida.