Canceling Roger Waters

Waters’ new documentary, shot during his 2017/2018 concert tour, debuted internationally this October in limited theaters.

Roger Waters, draped with a Palestinian keffiyeh (photo credit: REUTERS)
Roger Waters, draped with a Palestinian keffiyeh
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Something significant happened last month that went pretty much unnoticed. A small group of activists fighting back against rising antisemitism got a screening of the Roger Waters documentary US + Them canceled in IPic Los Angeles regional theaters.
In Jewish circles, Roger Waters has become almost as well known for his antisemitism as for his music. Waters first came under fire for floating a pig-shaped balloon with a Star of David and a dollar sign at his concerts in 2013. Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center described the balloon as a “grotesque display of Jew-hatred.”
In a Rolling Stone interview in the same year, Waters called on fellow artists to join him in a boycott of the Jewish homeland commonly referred to as BDS (an acronym for boycott, divestment, and sanctions). Since then, he has made numerous statements attacking Israel and denigrating entertainers who chose to perform there. He claims other artists are afraid to join him because they fear that it would end their careers; an accusation clearly aimed at Jews in the music business and not at Israel.
Despite all this, Waters has remained relatively unscathed at a time when the accusation of other “isms” like racism and sexism have derailed many high-profile careers. His concerts continue to generate millions of dollars, he is a popular subject for interviews, and he has faced relatively few successful counter-boycott campaigns. A couple of notable exceptions include the city of Miami Beach, which abruptly canceled the participation of a dozen teenagers in a concert after the local Jewish Federation accused him of antisemitism; and several German public broadcasters that dropped plans to air his concert for the same reason.
Waters’ new documentary, shot during his 2017/2018 concert tour, debuted internationally this October in limited theaters. The initial Los Angeles release was scheduled for two nights – October 2 and 6. On the first evening, a dozen people stood outside the IPic theater in Westwood handing out flyers describing his antisemitic activities.
The group, Yad Yamin, is one of the many grassroots organizations which have sprung up to fight growing global antisemitism. Their approach, however, was more educational than protest. Instead of loud music and chanting designed to disrupt the experience of the audience inside (which typically occurs at gatherings targeted by BDS), they handed out leaflets and answered questions. One of the patrons elected to skip the screening. Another complained to the management which led to being asked to leave – but not before speaking with the regional theater director.
In a follow-up email, they asked him to cancel the subsequent screenings. IPic’s management expressed concern about “censorship or taking positions on art and entertainment,” but recognized that “we have a responsibility to not grossly offend a particular group, race, religion or people” and canceled the October 6 screenings.
Most people who find Roger Waters’ position on Israel and BDS objectionable take the “high road” and do not call for a boycott of the political activist/musician because of a fundamental objection to cultural boycotts. They believe, as do I, that cultural boycotts undermine the peace and understanding that comes from cultural exchange. Others, however, do not initiate a boycott of Waters because they believe it will be fruitless. For the latter, this example might make them think again.
The activists at the Westwood IPic theater wanted to send the message that antisemitism, like racism and sexism, is toxic to our world and you can no longer be publicly antisemitic without consequences.
Like everyone else, artists are entitled to express their opinions and advocate for their personal agendas. When they do, however, they invite a public response and fame and fortune should not be a shield.
The writer is CEO of Liberate Art Inc., a leading expert on combating the cultural boycott effort against Israel, a Hollywood liaison and a professional speaker and writer. She was the premier director of Creative Community for Peace (2011-15), an industry-based organization against the boycott.