Should young Israelis boycott Pink Floyd?

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke highlighted the hypocrisy of BDS movement “From A Great Height.” 

In case you didn’t know, Radiohead just played live in Tel Aviv. It was part of their summer tour which included their headline performance at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. But the run-up to the concert, in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park, was overshadowed by a storm of ‘controversy’. Palestinian flags were waved at their latest gigs in the UK and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame, very publically, urged Radiohead not to play.

Normally, artists don’t respond publically to Waters and co, but Thom Yorke did. He stated that, “Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds and not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression. I hope that makes it clear…”

Waters accused Thom Yorke of “whining” and said artists should “observe the picket line.” But what exactly is the ‘picket line’ when it comes to a music concert? And how is not playing to a crowd, most of which, does not agree with Netanyahu’s government, going to help bring peace?

Waters is a major voice of Artists For Palestine, part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) movement. Almost every major rock artist that comes to Israel receives a letter from the BDS movement, usually signed by Roger Waters or film director Ken Loach, urging them to cancel their show.

But the question remains, what makes Roger Waters, a multi-millionaire rockstar aged 73, so passionate about the Palestinian cause? Is he fuelled by love of the Palestinian people or hatred of Israel?

And when I say Israel, I mean, the Israeli people, not government. Because artistic boycotts do not affect Netanyahu – he couldn’t care less if Radiohead played or not. Artistic and academic boycotts deprive the very people who can help bring peace – young, left-wing Israelis and Palestinians.

Now, I don’t want to get into the mind of Roger Waters too deeply. But, some could claim his motives spring from a new form of anti-Semitism. Waters and other BDS ‘activists’ focus all their anger on Israel, and do not feel so passionately about boycotting countries with human rights atrocities such as China or Saudi Arabia.

The strange thing is, Israelis still love Pink Floyd, almost to a fanatical extent. Most secular Israeli households grew up on Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here and Floyd songs get regular airplay on Israeli radio to this day. But Waters is determined to teach Israel a lesson.

Waters said Radiohead should “educate themselves” about what is going on. But Radiohead ‘Don’t need no education’ or ‘Thought control’, to borrow his own words. Radiohead’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood is married to an Arab-Israeli and the band are probably better informed than most on the situation.

It seems as if Waters became a real-life, self-fulfilling version of his ‘Pink’ character from The Wall – a crazed, tyrannical rock star whose ego got the better of him. His ego was part of the reason Pink Floyd fell apart in one of the most bitter break-ups in rock n’ roll history.

Die-hard fans often claim that the real talent of Pink Floyd was the much-missed Richard Wright, the keyboard and organ player, who was responsible for much of their atmospheric orchestration. Dave Gilmour with his thunderous, other-worldly guitar solos led the band after Waters departed in the early 80s. And Nick Mason, the drummer, was an unsung hero who often held the whole sound together. The three remaining Floyd members continued using the band name and had huge commercial success with live tours such as Pulse in 1994.

Therefore, Waters, who penned most of their lyrics, does have a right to be bitter. Perhaps, his bitterness got the better of him in the end.

The Radiohead song ‘Drunken Punch-up at a Wedding’ includes the lyrics, ‘Hypocrite… Opportunist… You had to piss on our parade.’ Though recorded for 2003’s Hail to the Thief album, this tongue-in-cheek song seems relevant for Radiohead’s disagreement with Waters. Quite literally, Waters was pissing on Radiohead’s parade.

The two bands, Radiohead and Pink Floyd, have often been compared. Ok Computer is the 90s’ version of Dark Side of the Moon – intelligent, complex themes, yet simple song structures and instantly hailed as a modern classic. But the bands are very different. Radiohead, five old school friends from Oxford, are still very much together after 25 years in the limelight. Pink Floyd were torn apart by their success.

For years, Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters were not on speaking terms. Even the enforced reunion for Live 8 in 2005 didn’t heal the wounds. Waters is someone who doesn’t like to back down and, when it comes to his political views of Israel, he will not waver.

Airing his views, of course, is totally acceptable but actively trying to dissuade or influence other artists about an issue is where Waters crosses the ‘picket line’. Perhaps it is he who needs to open his mind and be ‘educated’ on what’s going on. Tel Aviv is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, the heartbeat of young Israeli culture, art and music. The vast majority of Tel Avivians don’t vote for the right-wing parties of Likud or Beit HaYehudi, instead it’s a stronghold of Labour and Meretz, parties that actively want to start peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

A boycott of Tel Aviv does not open a conversation, it closes one. Tel Avivans, who have also suffered from their fair share of terrorist attacks by Hamas in recent decades, are the first to criticize their government. In 2011, the city became engrossed in the biggest wave of protests against its government, demanding social justice, democracy and fair living conditions.

Barack Obama, when he came to Israel in 2013, chose to speak to a conference hall filled with young students instead of addressing the Knesset (Israeli parliament), because he knew that’s where change will come from. He understood that the older generation of Israeli politicians and army generals are so corrupt that they will not be able to broker a lasting peace with their Arab neighbours. Peace has to come from the grassroots.

So the ‘artistic’ boycott movement is deeply flawed or ‘Floyd’, if you excuse the pun. You don’t boycott America because you disagree with Trump, you don’t boycott the UK because you hate the Tories. By responding so eloquently to Waters’ form of bullying, Radiohead highlighted the hypocrisy of the BDS movement. From a great height.

About the Author
Dan Savery Raz is a journalist, poet and editor from England, who lives in Tel Aviv.
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