Eyal Bitton
Cantor, composer, lyricist.

Roger Waters, Bully

In his phenomenal and classic song, Another Brick in the Wall, Roger Waters called out defiantly and with great passion: “Teacher! Leave them kids alone!” It’s a great moment in music. The song is incredibly infectious. The line captures the raw emotion young students can feel in the presence of a rigid authoritarian figure at the helm of his or her class.

Roger Waters, I’m sure, sees himself as a defender of the defenseless, as one who has the courage to stand up for the downtrodden. But, as I see it, Roger Waters is simply a bully.

Pop star Robbie Williams is scheduled to perform this Saturday, May 2 in Tel Aviv. As an ardent supporter of the BDS movement (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions), Roger Waters has sought to convince Williams to cancel his upcoming concert.

Waters wrote an open letter to Robbie Williams and argued:

…playing this concert on May 2 would be giving your tacit support to the deaths of over 500 Palestinian children last summer in Gaza, including the four soccer players on the beach in Gaza, and condoning the arrest and abuse of hundreds of Palestinian children each year living under Israeli occupation…

Apparently, then, by performing in Israel, Robbie Williams would be telling the world, ‘Yes, I support killing Palestinian children.’ The argument is full of holes. The accusations, I find, are vicious.

Random Slaughter

Later in the letter, when Roger Waters accuses Israel of “obscene random slaughter”, I just don’t know where to begin. The condemnation is so wrong that it is pointless to counter it. Those who believe the statement to be true will not be swayed by any words I can put together or by any statistics that I can present.

But, speaking of random slaughter of Palestinians, where in the media is Roger Waters’ outrage when 160,000 Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk, Syria, were whittled down to 18,000? Where are his words of condemnation when ISIS beheaded Palestinians in the same camp?

Equal Rights for All

In explaining why Israel should be boycotted, Waters says that “global civil society supports equal rights for all”. The accusation is so backwards, it’s almost laughable. The Palestinian Authority doesn’t tolerate critics very much. Several individuals who have criticized PA President Mahmoud Abbas have been sentenced to prison (in absentia) or arrested. So no equal rights for everyone under the Palestinian Authority – not to mention in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Freedom of the press? Absolutely yes – but not really.

Freedom of religion? Absolutely yes – but only on paper. Christian sites, in particular, have been targets of religious discrimination. And I, for one, wouldn’t exactly feel comfortable walking with a kippa down a street in Gaza or Jenin.

Equality for women? On paper, yes. Honour killings go on in both PA and Hamas-controlled areas. There are more Islamic restrictions on women under Hamas, of course.

How about equality for gays? Homosexuality is illegal in both Gaza and the West Bank. The PA is a little more lenient; unlike Hamas, they don’t say that being gay is punishable by death (although activists claim that they, too, have executed several men for being gay.)

So when Roger Waters says that “global civil society supports equal rights for all”, it seems he doesn’t hold Palestinian society to the same standard.

Why Waters’ Actions are Examples of Bullying

Now, here’s what gets me: why did Roger Waters pen an open letter to Robbie Williams? Do you know how much of a giant Waters is in the music industry? If Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, the guy who wrote Another Brick in the Wall, the guy who wrote Comfortably Numb and Money and Wish You Were Here, were to call you on the phone, wouldn’t you answer? If he were to write an email to you, wouldn’t you reply?

No, Waters made this an open letter. He made it public. He sought to shame Robbie Williams, to create public outrage and thereby pressure Williams into scratching his show in Tel Aviv. This is what I would call bullying.

He has used this tactic before to influence others into changing their minds about performing in or associating with Israel. In 2014, he wrote a private letter to Neil Young to dissuade him from playing in Israel. When Neil Young didn’t reply, Waters made it public.

He wrote an open letter to Scarlett Johansson.

He wrote another one to Alan Parsons.

Thirty-five years ago, Roger Waters bellowed:

Teacher! Leave them kids alone!

It was as a caring, outraged individual who looks upon the defenseless and seeks to protect them. Today, he calls out to movie stars and music stars who want to perform in Israel and publicly (because the private approach has failed) seeks to pressure them into complying with his views.

Roger Waters has become the bully he sang about in his classic song. Roger Waters has become the teacher he so despised.

About the Author
Eyal Bitton is the cantor of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Oregon where he incorporates Sephardi/Moroccan music, Ashkenazi music, popular adaptations, and original compositions into the service. As a composer and writer, his theatrical works have been produced in the US, Canada, Kenya, and China.
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