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Music Industry Comfortably Numb to Roger Waters

By February 16, 2014February 17th, 2016Article

Music industry comfortably numb to Roger Waters’ bigotry

As a life-long fan of music, especially rock, it pains me that I’ve stopped listening to Pink Floyd. But the misguided geopolitical musings of Roger Waters on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and his stubborn insistence that all artists join him in a cultural boycott of Israel, don’t leave me much choice.

I’ve always vehemently disagreed with Waters’ boycott approach and his views on Israel, but didn’t feel that should stop me from enjoying the works of a band that’s meant so much to rock history.

But he’s taken it to new extremes. His recent interview with Frank Barat of Counterpunch makes it clear that Roger Waters isn’t just wrong on Israeli-Palestinian issues, he’s trading in classic anti-Semitic stereotypes.

He tells Barat, falsely, that Israel practices “ethnic cleansing” as part of a “racist apartheid regime,” then draws unfounded parallels between Israel and both the Vichy French and Nazi governments during World War II. He further describes the systematic murder of the Jews from 1933-1946 as no different from “this time . . . [where] it’s the Palestinian people being murdered.”

Waters goes on to incorrectly claim that some rabbis in Israel believe that Arabs are “subhuman” and exist to serve the Jews. American Rabbi Shmuley Boteach corrects Waters’ rant — “the dirtiest of blood libels” — in a recent New York Observer article, noting that such a belief “contradicts the core teachings of the Torah . . . that every human being is created equally in the image of God.”

Waters also told Counterpunch that other artists don’t publicly echo his positions on the Israel-Palestinian conflict because they’re “afraid” of the oh-so-powerful Jewish lobby in the United States, especially in the music industry. Naturally, he doesn’t offer specific names or incidents to back up this tired claim, only the paranoid insistence that nameless friends are concerned for his life because of the stand he is taking.

The reason other artists don’t join Roger Waters in his cultural boycott is simple: He’s dead wrong. Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East — and the only country that recognizes women’s rights, gay rights and equal rights for all minorities including Arabs and Christians. While many people in Israel may disagree with the Israeli government, Israelis (including Arab citizens) have the full right to speak out against their government and change it by voting out their elected representatives.

(The many artists that have performed for the Israeli people— people of all ethnicities and religions — include Rihanna, Paul McCartney, Cyndi Lauper, McCoy Tyner, Elton John, the Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Seal and Akon.)

I don’t expect Waters to change his views — but I’m appalled that no one calls him out on his rancid hate.

Recently, Scarlett Johansson spoke out against this boycott of Israel in connection with her appearance in a Super Bowl ad as spokesperson for Soda­Stream, an Israeli company that sells a seltzer-water machine and employs hundreds of Palestinians in a West Bank factory. As a result, Oxfam International obliged Johansson to resign as its global ambassador (after eight years in that position), since she refused to be bullied into breaking with SodaStream. (Oxfam objects to Israeli businesses operating in the West Bank, no matter how it economically benefits Palestinians.) Johansson politely said she was parting ways with Oxfam because of “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

What consequences has Roger Waters faced for his far more extreme words and positions? As far as I can tell, none.

He continues to tour extensively throughout the world, making tens of millions. He was asked to play in the high-profile Madison Square Garden concert a year ago for Hurricane Sandy victims. He gave the keynote address at Billboard’s 2013 Annual Touring Conference. His music (and the music of Pink Floyd) continues to be played everywhere.

In short, Waters has gotten a “free pass” from the music industry and the world, despite his hateful views — which, had he expressed them about any other religious or ethnic group, or about gays, would certainly bring much more outrage from the media and his fans.

I strongly urge Roger Waters to reconsider his bigoted and malicious words and opinions about Jews and the state of Israel, and hope others will join me in doing the same.

There should be consequences.

Craig Balsam is co-owner of the indie label Razor & Tie and an advisory board member of Creative Community for Peace (CCFP).

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