Surely everybody is familiar with the phrase “the pot calling the kettle black.” Unfortunately it’s what comes to mind when reading Roger Waters’ September 17, 2017, piece in The New York Times entitled “Congress Shouldn’t Silence Human Rights Advocates.”
In it, Waters attacks efforts to combat the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, describing it as a form of censorship while continuing his irresponsible use of incendiary terms like “McCarthyite,” “blacklisting” and “authoritarian.” As an outspoken supporter of the most egregious aspects – and actions – of the BDS movement, Waters has no business taking a moral stand on free speech.
BDS is a campaign whose primary weapon is censorship, and whose activists put considerable energy into silencing Israeli artists, as well as international artists who schedule shows in, express support for, or even simply visit Israel.
In October 2014, during a French festival screening of the Israeli documentary Dancing in Jaffa
, 20 BDS activists threw stink bombs into the audience while screaming anti-Israel epithets. Rather than accepting the Israeli director’s invitation to stay and engage in actual dialogue, they had to be forcibly removed. Fearing for her safety, the director of the film – about Pierre Dulane’s efforts to bring Jewish and Arab children together through ballroom dance – was escorted back to her hotel by French police.
In August 2015, American Jewish singer Matisyahu was disinvited from the Rototom Sunsplash music festival in Spain after he refused to bow to demands by BDS activists that he – and only he – agree to certain political positions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The festival kept insisting that I clarify my personal views,” Matisyahu said in a statement, “which felt like clear pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda. Honestly it was appalling and offensive that, as the one publicly Jewish American artist scheduled for the festival, they were trying to coerce me into political statements.”
BDS activists have sent death threats to artists scheduled to perform in Israel, including Salif Keita and Paul McCartney. They – along with The Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Santana, Elton John, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Rod Stewart, Madonna, Guns N’ Roses, Regina Spektor, Chainsmokers, Pixies and Rihanna instead enthusiastically performed in defiance of BDS demands that they cancel their tours.
“We’ve played in Israel for over 20 years through a succession of governments,” Radiohead’s Thom Yorke said in a statement, “some more liberal than others. As we have in America. We don’t endorse [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu any more than [President Donald] Trump, but we still play in America.”
BDS activists continue to urge governments to ban films made by or starring Israelis. This past summer, a BDS campaign contributed to Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Algeria all banning the international blockbuster Wonder Woman
due to the leading role of “Zionist” actress Gal Gadot.
It’s easy to try to dismiss these incidents as outliers, but to do so would be disingenuous. On a daily basis, BDS barrages international artists with misinformation in an effort to pressure them to cancel their shows in Israel, and attempts to smear their reputation when they refuse. It bullies and threaten Palestinians who want to cooperate and engage in dialogue with Israelis. BDS is committed to silencing Israelis and isolating Israel, to show the world a black and white narrative where only one side – the anti-Israel side – is represented.
In other words, BDS activists such as Roger Waters – supporters of a movement that calculatedly tramples on freedom of expression – should not be taking a moral stand on free speech while simultaneously orchestrating campaigns to destroy it. This is hypocrisy at its most blatant and dangerous. Despite Waters’ attempts to characterize BDS as “human rights activists,” it has become increasingly clear that it is instead a band of bullies aimed at dismantling Israel. In fact, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti has said, “Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine,” referring to all of Israel. He reiterated that if all of BDS’ demands were met, “You would have a Palestine next to a Palestine, rather than a Palestine next to Israel.”
Finally, Waters blasts the Anti-Boycott Act as “serious lawfare,” insists it threatens “all those who believe in universal human rights and the First Amendment,” and histrionically rails that it promises felony arrests “from archbishops to altar boys.” This is taking fear mongering to a whole new level.
The fact is that existing federal law has long banned participation in boycotts of friendly nations, and that there is zero language in the current Act that would forbid anti-Israel activists from ever expressing support for boycotts.
Waters also ignores that more than 20 states have already enacted laws or executive orders banning state business with companies that support BDS, not to mention the international anti-BDS trade legislation signed into law by president Barack Obama in 2015.
We at Creative Community For Peace (CCFP) – and our colleagues throughout the entertainment industry who believe in the power of the arts to further peace – continue to hope that Roger Waters will reconsider this campaign of destructive misinformation and damaging rhetoric. Rather than demonizing colleagues and demanding prejudicial boycotts, we invite him to instead use his considerable voice and join us in building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians.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.
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