“Shame on you!” was the call of protesters to people arriving at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor on Long Island last week to hear archly anti-Israel Roger Waters. Also chanted: “Your money goes to fund hate and terrorism!”
As they waited on line to get in, the ticket-holders appeared uncomfortable as the more than 50 supporters of Israel continued.
Demonstrators were at the theatre both in the afternoon and evening when the Waters performance occurred.
“Someone has to speak out. We can’t let ourselves be bullied,” explained Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten of Chabad of East Hampton. “That’s what happened in the ‘30s and look how the world suffered. No one reacted.” Rabbi Leibel was holding a sign reading: “Learn the Truth. ISRAEL is NOT an apartheid country.” It referred people to bdsmovement/roger waters.
Waters is a founding member of the band Pink Floyd, has been active in the BDS or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and is an extreme critic of Israel.
He claims he is not anti-Semitic but anti-Israel. However, the protesters at the Bay Street Theatre and others say this claim is contradicted by the words and actions of the English performer including his having a large pig-shaped balloon featuring a Star of David inflate at the end of his shows.
Waters made news last month criticizing Jon Bon Jovi for performing in Israel accusing the singer of standing “shoulder to shoulder’ with “the settler who burned the baby.” He has pressured other performers not to appear in Israel. Last month media personality Howard Stern, like Waters a resident of the Hamptons adjacent to Sag Harbor, slammed Waters at length on his radio show declaring: “What is it with Waters and the Jews?….Where do you want the Jews to go, Roger? Do you want them to just go back to the concentration camps?”
Protesters at Bay Street Theatre considered Waters both anti-Israel and an anti-Semite, on their signs and in their comments. “Waters is an anti-Semite,” said protester Akivah Mordechai of Montauk. “His being anti-Israel is a way for him to translate his being an anti-Semite.”
One sign, held by Sharon Grindle of Southampton, read: “ROGER WATERS ANTI-ISRAEL ANTI-SEMITE.” Ms. Grindle commented: “As a Jew, I love the State of Israel. Waters travels around the world trying to influence people and because he is a celebrity, people think he knows something—but he doesn’t know anything.”
Another demonstrator, Dr. Emilie Kutash, professor of philosophy at St. Joseph’s College Long Island, said: “I suggest people read their history and read current events and learn the facts and learn that Israel is the victims of thousands of rockets, stabbings, murders and other attacks for decades—Israel is a victim, not a perpetrator.” Dr. Kutash was distributing literature.
One flier at the protest included the line: “NEVER AGAIN IS NOW!”
Osnat Gad of Southampton, originally from Afghanistan to where her family and other Jewish families escaped from Iran, although, she said, none are now left there–declared: “The state of Israel has to survive. We need a country for the Jews. We don’t want to go back to ghettoes.” She held a sign declaring: “BDS IS A HATE CRIME.”
Ruth Vered of Sag Harbor said “anti-Semitism involves not just words. It kills our people.” It is not an issue “of inconvenience,” she said. “It brings knives into terrorists’ hands.” During the afternoon protest she held a sign that included the line: “WATERS EMPOWERS TERROR AGAINST JEWS.” At the demonstration in the evening the sign she held stated: “AND WE ARE SILENT…AND THEN…SILENCED.” She wore a yellow Star of David emblazoned with: “NEVER AGAIN”
Said Edie Lutnick of Sagaponack: “Roger Waters is a raging anti-Semite and he doesn’t separate his politics from his music.”
Janet Lehr of East Hampton said: “Everybody who is here loves Israel and wants to protect Israel. Anti-Semitism is an age-old disease. BDS takes it to a new level.”
The 299-seat Bay Street Theatre was founded in 1991 by the late actress Sybil Christopher (once married to actor Richard Burton) along with Emma Walton Hamilton and Stephen Hamilton, the daughter and son-in-law of singer and actress Julie Andrews. Bay Theatre is a non-profit entity and includes Jews on its board of trustees—Scott Schwartz is both a board member and the theatre’s artistic director—and Jews have been significant contributors..
Among the protesters Friday was a major figure in non-profit fund-raising in the New York Metropolitan Area, Linda Shapiro of Sag Harbor, who said Bay Street Theatre’s enabling the appearance of Waters and its refusal to cancel his appearance in the face of the outrage it caused could have an unfortunate impact on its fund-raising. “They could have cancelled it,” she said. Ms. Shapiro noted that a few days earlier she was with Janet Lehr while Ms. Lehr was on the phone with Tracy Mitchell, executive director of Bay Street Theatre, and Ms. Mitchell was arguing that the performance was a matter of “’artistic freedom.’ I said, ‘Do you want the Ku Klux Klan at Bay Street next?’” Ms. Shapiro declared: “Tonight, I’m proud of our community. And I’m proud to be Jewish. I’m proud of everyone who is here.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the leading human rights organization famed for its decades of hunting down Nazis, joined in the situation issuing a statement last week headed, “Wiesenthal Center: New Yorkers Should Give Anti-Israel Boycott Leader Roger Waters what he Deserves—an Empty Theatre.”
The Simon Wiesenthal statement quoted its dean and founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, and its associate dean, Abraham Cooper, saying: “Roger Waters is an entertainer who hates the Jewish State of Israel. He is a major promoter of the anti-peace Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This extreme anti-Israel campaign has never helped a single Palestinian as it is designed only to demonize and denigrate the lone democracy in the Middle East and the only society in the region where freedom of speech and artistic expression flourish.”
“His words and actions have been condemned by the full spectrum of Israelis—from the Progressive Left to followers of Likud on the Right,” they said.
The statement continued: “Waters, who in the past has used a pig with a Star of David as props for his concerts, has vilified other performers for the ‘crime’ of performing before Jews, Christians and Muslims in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in the Jewish State.”
“Waters’ commitment to freedom of expression extends only to those who agree with him and does not apply to anyone who wants to share their talents with the people of Israel,” added Mark Weitzman, the center’s director of government affairs. “At this time, when Israelis are being butchered by Palestinian terrorists, it is indeed unfortunate that he was invited to Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre this Friday to [do] what he would block others from doing in Israel.”
The statement went on: “The Simon Wiesenthal Center therefore calls on New Yorkers to give Roger Waters the reception he deserves: an empty hall. We urge people who may have been unaware of his hate-filled boycott campaign and bought tickets to his performance to vote with their feet and instead stand in solidarity—outside of the theatre—with the innocent victims of terrorism in The Holy Land.”
Waters did not get an empty hall—but the event could have longer and broader impacts for him. Larry Silverman of East Hampton, with Ms. Lehr an organizer of the protests at Bay Street Theatre, said “This is just the beginning of what we intend to do. We intend to start a worldwide campaign to protest Roger Waters wherever he is. This is just the beginning of standing up to Roger Waters and what he stands for.”
Meanwhile, Congressman Lee Zeldin, whose district includes Sag Harbor, has commented: “I’m proud of our community’s reaction to this performance. Roger Waters has been so wrong on his stances on Israel so many times and on so many levels.” Zeldin, of Shirley, is the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives.
And New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., a Sag Harbor resident, is pointing to a resolution passed unanimously by the State Assembly on June 18 titled: “Rejecting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.” It was approved by all 150 members of the State Assembly after a debate in which, notes Thiele, the statements of speakers were “all favorable” to the resolution.
It declares that the BDS movement is “damaging to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy, and human rights for all peoples in the Middle East,” and the members of the State Assembly “oppose all attempts to economically and politically isolate Israel within the international arena, and oppose efforts to assault the legitimacy of Israel as the sovereign homeland of the Jewish people.”