My Word: Educating Roger Waters

In Israel, bashing the government is a national sport, but unlike Waters, for most of us, the older we get, the more sophisticated our way of expressing our criticism.

Roger Waters speaks to journalists 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)
Roger Waters speaks to journalists 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)
You could say I grew up on Roger Waters and Pink Floyd, but it wouldn’t be accurate. I was never a particular fan of the group; living in London of the late 1970s there was huge competition from Queen, ELO and other bands whose music and message caught my imagination and better suited my tastes. But at least you can say I grew up, which is more than you can say of Waters.
In 1979, the year Pink Floyd’s seminal The Wall album was released (and, of more historic importance, Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah in Iran), I moved to Israel.
While I didn’t abandon the “foreign” bands – you try getting ABBA tunes out of your head once they’re in there – I became more intensively exposed to the genius of Arik Einstein, Shlomo Artzi, David Broza, and, of course, Kaveret – Israel’s legendary equivalent of The Beatles. The seven members of Kaveret have aged, as they openly joked at their recent final reunion. Unlike Waters, they have also matured.
It was the year when the Village People forever changed the way we would think of the YMCA. There were also songs like Ian Dury’s “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” that are best forgotten.
More noteworthy, from my parochial point of view, Elton John first performed in Israel in 1979 and Cliff Richard achieved his 10th UK No. 1 hit with “We Don’t Talk Anymore.”
Richard and Waters were never on the same page musically, but Richard could share an important message with Waters – “We need to talk.”
For unlike Pink Floyd’s perennial bad boy, Richard last month defied calls to embargo Israel and appeared to enthusiastic audiences here, fitting in a quick visit to the tennis center he sponsors in Nazareth that gives local Arab youths a sporting chance.
Waters, on the other hand, this week published an open letter calling on fellow musicians to boycott Israel.
In the letter, first posted on the Electronic Intifada pro-Palestinian website and quickly picked up by many media outlets, Waters accuses the country of apartheid and ethnic cleansing – terms also popular in a different era, when they actually meant something.
“I write to you now, my brothers and sisters in the family of Rock and Roll, to ask you to join with me, and thousands of other artists around the world, to declare a cultural boycott on Israel,” says the 69-yearold falling star.
“Please join me and all our brothers and sisters in global civil society in proclaiming our rejection of apartheid in Israel and occupied Palestine, by pledging not to perform or exhibit in Israel or accept any award or funding from any institution linked to the government of Israel, until such time as Israel complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.”
Waters reportedly released his appeal after British violinist Nigel Kennedy called Israel “an apartheid state” at a recent Promenade concert at London’s Albert Hall (and I admit “The Proms,” as the cultural event is known, is one of the few things I miss from the Britain of my past).
The BBC announced it would remove Kennedy’s remarks in rebroadcasts of the concert, but the damage was obviously done. Mr. “We don’t need no education” Waters had found his muse and been spurred into action.
“It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone,” croons Welsh pop idol Tom Jones, but, proving that being loved is not something Israelis can take for granted, the 73-year-old is coming under intense pressure to cancel a performance scheduled for October 26 at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena.
The Cardiff branch of the British-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign has launched an online petition telling Jones: “A performance in Israel today is akin to a performance in apartheid South Africa.” It’s the sort of sentence that has become the mantra of those who don’t know what life in Israel is like, and probably aren’t aware of the full horror of apartheid, either.
That’s why I’d like to sing the praises of performers like Eric Burdon of The Animals, who earlier this month reportedly canceled his Tel Aviv concert following similar pressure and then, demonstrating true moral courage, reinstated it, and Alicia Keys, who ignored boycott calls to appear at Nokia in July, setting the stage on fire (at least figuratively) with a message of love and peace.
Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, proving she’s not just a pretty face, demanded Waters remove a photograph of her used in the video art during his performances. “If you’re boycotting – then go all the way,” Refaeli tweeted on Wednesday.
THIS IS not the first time Waters has opened his big mouth not to sing but to bash Israel. And it’s certainly not the first time he has failed to strike a chord with Jews around the world.
A concert in Belgium last month created a buzz Waters in his perverse way can be proud of when an inflated pig-shaped balloon sporting a star of David among other symbols unexpectedly hit the headlines.
The stage prop was not new, but somehow this time it took off.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced the balloon as a “grotesque display of Jew-hatred” and called Waters an “open hater of Jews.”
Waters responded with a statement on his Facebook page noting the other symbols painted on the balloon included a crescent, the Shell Oil logo and a McDonald’s sign, and stating: “Like it or not, the Star of David represents Israel and its policies and is legitimately subject to any and all forms of nonviolent protest. To peacefully protest against Israel’s racist domestic and foreign policies is NOT ANTI-SEMITIC.”
The much-troubled Waters refuses to bridge differences, at least when Israel is concerned. Go bang your head against the brick wall of his prejudices, for prejudice and bias it is.
Waters fails to realize – or deliberately ignores – the fact that Israel would give him a stage to speak his mind, as it did during his 2006 visit. It is much safer to criticize Israel from a performance hall in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem than to travel to the country’s northern neighbor, Syria, or southern neighbor, Egypt. And, even though I don’t like him, I suggest for his own sake – and the safety of the Western world – that he take great care in which Muslim countries he decides to raise his inflatable pig with the star of David and Muslim crescent.
In Israel, bashing the government is a national sport, but unlike Waters, for most of us, the older we get, the more sophisticated our way of expressing our criticism.
Like Waters, I hate “The Wall.” It was built because, while he chooses to use the platform of the Electronic Intifada to further his message against peace with Israel, there are others who carried out a real intifada – not inflating pigs but blowing up innocent people.
(Incidentally, Waters might think Israel is an apartheid state, but passengers on buses and shoppers at the mall represent a very mixed population of Jews, Christians, Muslims and others whose blood is indistinguishable when splattered on the ground in an act of terror.) By pushing the boycott of Israel exclusively, Waters is strengthening terrorism – those who want to see the country disappear. If he truly supported humane values – peaceful coexistence, democracy and freedom – he’d come and make music. Peace with the Palestinians seems about as likely as a flying pig that’s not a stage prop, but it’s clear that demonizing one side of the conflict while letting the other literally get away with murder is not the way to bring it closer.
To use the words of one of his songs, Waters thinks he “can tell heaven from hell, blue skies from pain.” But he can’t – not unless he grows up and looks at what’s really flying. Until then, we don’t need no Roger Waters.
The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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