Last week, I read the wonderful news that Pink Floyd’s bassist and front man Roger Waters had finally decided to reconsider his cultural boycott of the Israeli people. I was ecstatic, until it was revealed a few days later that he had been misquoted and that he still in fact supports the collective punishment of my entire nation. Having grown up to the music of Pink Floyd, Waters’ boycott had broken my heart – especially because, like most anti-Israel celebs whose political views tend to stem more from fashion than from principals, his decision to boycott is completely incongruous with his own moral views.
The story began in 2005, when Waters bravely resisted calls from anti-Israel groups and came to Israel to give a concert in Tel Aviv for his many adoring fans here in the country. While here, he payed a visit to the West Bank Separation Barrier in Bethlehem and was, understandably to an outsider who isn’t aware of its utility, disgusted. It led him to move his Tel Aviv gig to a new venue – Neve Shalom – a village in what was once Israeli/Jordanian No Man’s Land founded and inhabited by both Jews and Arabs. Even without agreeing with his politics, up until this point, it would be hard to call Waters’ actions anything but commendable, even heroic. He had decided to challenge the inequality he saw in the Separation Barrier by promoting cooperation and cohabitation. He was utilizing his influence and celebrity in a productive and practical way. Then, upon return to Britain, he totally shifted gears, switching from a tactic of enlightening Israelis to one of punishing Israelis – all Israelis – because of their government’s policies, which he likened to apartheid.
Lilac Sigan wrote an opinion piece in Ynet last week about how grossly Waters misunderstands the conflict and why his decision to brand Israel an apartheid state is based totally on misconceptions. I wholeheartedly agree with her, but without wanting to repeat what she’s already written, I’d prefer to focus less on Waters’ ignorance of the facts, and more on the stupidity of his actions. I feel that even if the warped situation in Waters’ mind actually were the situation on the ground, his actions would still be despicable, counterproductive, and worst of all, hypocritical.
Hypocritical because while seizing every opportunity to demonize the Israeli people for their government’s “apartheid” policies, he has absolutely no problem playing in other countries that practice very similar policies. Take China for example, where he played in 2007, who’s policy of settling ethnic Han Chinese in Tibet, Uyghurstan, and Manchuria is very much akin to the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank. Hypocritical because he demands that Israel make far reaching changes to its treatment of Palestinian refugees before he returns to grace us with his presence, yet makes no mention of the horrendous treatment of Palestinian refugees in the other countries in which they live (namely Lebanon, where he played in 2002). Hypocritical because he has no problems playing this summer in places like Hungary, Bulgaria, or Serbia, where the economic disparity between the ethnic majority and the Romani (gypsy) minority in each country is far starker than the one between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Hypocritical because he’s been very vocal about his disapproval of the policies of other countries, like his native UK during Margaret Thatcher’s rule for example, yet took no steps towards boycotting the UK, or more appropriately, all British people on account of her actions, as is the case here. Hypocritical because, in essence, he’s doing exactly what he thinks Israel is doing – he is collectively punishing all Israelis for what he sees as their leaders’ collective punishment of Palestinians.
Now that Waters’ untenable morality has been established, it’s worth mentioning why his boycott will be utterly fruitless anyway. The “apartheid” policies which Waters saw here are very different than those of South Africa – a comparison he uses to justify his boycott. While in South Africa, the policies were based on the Whites’ greed, here, they’re based on the Jews’ fear. The Israeli leadership’s issue isn’t whether or not to give rights, or even whether or not to give land, but rather, whether or not giving land will create a danger for Israeli citizenry. To many Israelis, whether it’s justified or not, the prospect of retreating to the 1967 borders would doubtlessly precipitate another Holocaust. If faced with that option of certain death, or having to give up tickets to see Roger Waters play Dark Side in Yarkon Park, the choice is a clear one.
To that end, like his concert in Neve Shalom, Waters should focus more on breaking down those fears and fostering communication and dialogue between Israelis and Arabs instead of trying to punish one side or the other. Music is a powerful tool if used properly. Waters could do a lot of good in this region. Instead, it’s more important for him to punish Israel than it is to help create peace.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m against a lot of the government’s policies myself, and like most Israelis, I’m for a two state solution and look forward to the day when the wall which Waters so loathes actually can come down – not from external pressures from British Rock Stars – but rather from its becoming obsolete (i.e. a Palestinian renunciation of suicide bombers). In the meantime, the Israeli public’s knee-jerk reaction to misguided calls by people like Waters, who fails to recognize the threats that Israel faces while only focusing on the reactions to those threats, will be to rally behind the flag, to lean further to the right, and to fortify its defensive mental position. It takes great resolve for me to overcome such thoughts and to continue to try to steer my country towards a path of peace, but if and when peace finally does come to this region, it will happen not because of people like Waters, but rather, in spite of them.
In the 1977, Waters wrote what is in my opinion Pink Floyd’s best album – Animals. The album’s concept is that all of humanity can be divided into three animals, each with its own song – the upper class pigs, the middle class dogs, and the lower class sheep. The album tells a story of how greedy pigs manipulate ignorant sheep into attacking ambitious dogs in order to stop their social progress. In the song Pigs, Waters viciously attacked religious leaders, politicians, and more-righteous-than-thou censors like Mary Whitehouse for trying to project their own morality onto the mindless flock. By his own definition, Waters has now joined their ranks. If he were to change his ways, even simply changing his tactics while fighting for the same outcome, then he would be welcomed by the Israeli people he had so snubbed with open arms, open minds,and open hearts. But until then, as long as he continues to boycott an entire country based on his own crooked morals, then Roger Waters is nothing but a pig.