Last week I wrote about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel and the tenuous foothold it is getting in the American academy. I also happened to read an article that led me to think about how some individuals are so convinced that Israel is obviously evil that he believes that something must be amiss with “the Jews” if so many of them not only can’t see what he sees, but actively defend the evil state. Whether the fact that it doesn’t occur to him that a reasonable person might disagree with his understanding of Israel is itself a reflection of preexisting latent anti-Jewish prejudice or is simply the hallmark of a dogmatic ideologue who is not immune to anti-Jewish feelings assumedly depends on the individual in question.
Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd fame) has helpfully pulled the two things I was thinking about together. Waters is perhaps the most outspoken Western artist who supports the BDS movement, and is very active in attempts to get others to boycott Israel.
Given some controversial imagery he has used at his concerts, has been at pains to deny that he is at all motivated by anti-Semitism. Here he is in September, in an interview with the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahoronot:
“I absolutely defend my right to express myself in my artwork in the way that I find the most appropriate and fitting. The Star of David is the symbol of the state of Israel. If you start to throw around the term “anti-Semite” at everyone who criticizes Israel – and that’s what they’re actually doing – that weakens your next attack on people who really are anti-Semites, ones that really don’t like Jews or Judaism or anything connected with it. I’m not an anti-Semite.”
“Two years ago, I explained to the Anti-Defamation League the use of symbols like the Star of David on the pig and they said: ‘We don’t like it, but we don’t believe that it’s anti-Semitic.’ Suddenly, after I wrote the open letter to my colleagues in rock ‘n’ roll and offered that they join the cultural boycott of Israel, they changed their minds and declared me an anti-Semite. Maybe they felt my letter went a step too far. …. “When they accused me of being an anti-Semite, I told them that I still remember my mother’s friends after the war. I remember Miriam and Claudette, I remember the numbers on their arms. Two of the lucky ones who survived were an inseparable part of my life – so don’t call me an anti-Semite.”
Fair enough. But flash forward to an interview with Waters just published in Counterpunch. After unabashedly comparing Israel to World War II Nazi Germany, Waters muses on why he can’t get other musicians to join him in boycotting such an obviously evil regime:
It is a very complicated situation which is why you and I and all the other people in the world who care about their brothers and sisters and not just about the people of our own faith, our own colour, our own race or our own whatever, have to stand in solidarity shoulder to shoulder. This has been a very hard sell particularly where I live in the United States of America. The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say. I promise you, naming no names, I’ve spoken to people who are terrified that if they stand shoulder to shoulder with me they are going to get fucked. They have said to me “aren’t you worried for your life?” and I go “No, I’m not”.
I think it’s fair to say that he’s claiming the an “extraordinarily powerful” “Jewish lobby” in the music industry doesn’t care “about their brothers and sisters” but “just about the people of [their] own faith.” Moreover, Waters either has the paranoid fantasy that criticizing Israel in the U.S. puts one’s life in danger, assumedly from that self-same “Jewish lobby”, or believes that the lobby is so powerful that otherwise reasonable people fear that it might do violence to them for criticizing Israel.
Now, it’s likely true that Waters isn’t an anti-Semite by his own definition of the term, in that he doesn’t dislike all things connected with Jews and Judaism, and indeed very likely has Jewish friends who share his political views. And indeed, without knowing what’s in someone’s heart, I’m loathe to call him an anti-Semite based on stray remarks. Nevertheless, when Waters starts talking about (a) a powerful “Jewish lobby” that so strongly suppresses criticism of the Nazi-like Jewish state that people fear for their personal safety if they criticize Israel (b)this lobby does so out of pure ethnic or religious loyalty, unconcerned about the rest of humanity, and (c) combine that with the fact that the overwhelming majority of Jews are supportive of Israel, it’s hard not to conclude that Waters has allowed prejudice to get the best of him, sufficiently so that he parrots anti-Semitic themes (Jews only care about other Jews, and are engaged in anti-humanistic, powerful, conspiratorial endeavors in support of this) that are about as classic as they come.
Whether his outburst will have any affect on his standing in the BDS movement remains to be seen. If not, it will be very informative.
UPDATE: A commenter writes: “I think Water’s statement ‘Aren’t you worried about your life’ could refer to his life as in his career.” It could, but for the context. The next couple of sentences discuss American musicians who were afraid to tour with him after 9/11 because “it’s too dangerous for us to travel abroad, they are trying to kill us.” I’m not actually sure what the relevance of this story is to Waters’ point about people being afraid the Jewish lobby is out to get them, but it does show that when he referenced, “aren’t you worried about your life,” he meant it literally. The interviewer, instead of challenging the notion that it’s physically dangerous to criticize Israel, responds, “Yes, the brainwashing works!” Waters replies. “Obviously it does.” They both seem to see an obvious “brainwashing” connection between Americans’ fears of traveling after 9/11 and the purported fear of criticizing Israel, but I have no clue as to what they are on about.