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Roger Waters’ music rights label urged to ditch Pink Floyd star amid ‘antisemitism’ row

By July 24, 2023Article

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14 Jewish groups are calling on Bertelssman Music Group to reconsider its relationship with the star

BY Richard Percival / July 21, 2023

A music rights label is under pressure to ditch Roger Waters after a series of controversial concerts.

The Pink Floyd co-founder faced allegations that his recent performance to thousands of people in Berlin, Germany was antisemitic after a donned a Nazi-style SS uniform.

Waters, a well-known pro-Palestinian activist, also performed at several cities in the UK amid anger from Jewish community groups.

Now in an open letter, some of the world’s biggest Jewish organisations and the Creative Community for Peace urged BMG, who manages many of Waters’ song rights, to end its relationship with the 79-year-old.

In the letter, the signatories wrote: “We believe that artists, given their massive influence in the world today, have a unique and important responsibility to speak out against bigotry.

“Waters has repeatedly shown that he’s determined to do the opposite – and would instead use his voice, his platform, and his public microphone to fan the flames of hatred.”

The letter is signed by the Community Security Trust, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, B’nai B’rith International, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Canada, the Conference of European Rabbis and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Among the other signatories include the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France (CRIF), European Jewish Congress, Simon Wiesenthal Center, South African Jewish Board of Deputies, World Jewish Congress and the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Council of Jews in Germany).

Ari Ingel, director of Creative Community for Peace, said: “Roger Waters has peddled and promoted antisemitism and leveraged his immense platform to spread his hateful views to millions worldwide.

“As we witness the continued rise of antisemitism, his words and actions are unacceptable. Our letter demonstrates the Jewish community’s concern that corporations cannot sit idly by while their business partners promote hate.

“We hope BMG reflects on their historical role with antisemitism and re-examines their relationship with Waters.”

It comes after the US State Department weighed in on the controversy by saying that the concert “contained imagery that is deeply offensive to Jewish people and minimised the Holocaust.”

The State Department added in written response to questions: “The artist in question has a long track record of using anti-Semitic tropes to denigrate Jewish people.”

German police are also investigating whether the Pink Floyd star incited hatred through the May concert. Germany has strict laws on portrayal of the Holocaust, but Waters noted his demagogic role on stage wasn’t new.

During the show, he dressed in a long black coat with a red armband and brandishing an imitation machine gun.

At the same Berlin show, he also appeared to draw parallels between the deaths of several people by flashing their names on a large screen, including those of Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp, and Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian-American journalist shot dead last year while covering an Israeli raid.

Waters has claimed the elements of his performance being called into question are “quite clearly a statement in opposition to fascism, injustice and bigotry in all its forms”.

In a statement following the controversy surrounding his Berlin show, he said: “The depiction of an unhinged fascist demagogue has been a feature of my shows since Pink Floyd’s The Wall in 1980.

“I have spent my entire life speaking out against authoritarianism and oppression wherever I see it.”

Waters has long criticised Israel, urging a cultural boycott and flying an inflatable pig emblazoned with the Star of David at other shows.

In a statement, Bertelsmann told the JC: “Bertelsmann distances itself from any and all forms of antisemitism and discrimination. Our corporate values are clear: Bertelsmann promotes artistic and intellectual freedom, the protection of democracies and human rights, and respect for traditions and cultural values; this is why our content reflects a diversity of attitudes and opinions.

“Bertelsmann’s music subsidiary BMG manages various song rights for Roger Waters, mainly his rights to the repertoire of the band Pink Floyd, as well as other rights to Roger Waters’ solo repertoire.

“The songs in question do not contain any antisemitic lyrics or allusions. However, BMG is not Roger Waters’ record label and does not release or market albums by him, nor is BMG responsible for tours and performances by the artist. Roger Waters and Pink Floyd partner with other companies for these albums, the marketing, and performances.

“There are no plans to expand the scope of the contractual relationship between BMG and Roger Waters.”

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