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Documentary wishes Roger Waters weren’t here

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Roger Waters in 2006. (FILE PHOTO)

“How I wish, how I wish you were here,” Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters wrote on the band’s 1975 Wish You Were Here album.

Now,  Canadian author and filmmaker Ian Halperin has countered Waters’ well-known slagging of Israel with a film defiantly titled Wish You Weren’t Here.

It’s a message of unwelcome timed to coincide with the rock icon’s tour of Canada.

Waters’ extravagant Us + Them tour takes the Pink Floyd co-founder and lyricist to Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, ending Oct. 29.

Nipping at his heels will be Halperin’s dissection of Waters’ Israel animus, shown against the global rise of anti-Semitism, to be screened Oct. 2 in Toronto,  Oct. 8 in Quebec City; Oct. 10 in Ottawa; Oct. 16 in Montreal; Oct. 22 in Winnipeg; and Oct. 25 in Edmonton.

The screenings are presented by B’nai Brith Canada, whose CEO, Michael Mostyn, is interviewed in the film. Waters “is promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on a regular basis,” Mostyn declares in the 100-minute work.

By promoting the film, B’nai Brith hopes to raise awareness of Waters’ “extremely misguided and dangerous views,” and highlight the truth about boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS): that it is “biased, unfactual, and lends credence to the movement that seeks Israel’s destruction.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is collecting names online to tell Waters that “anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hatred are not welcome in Canada.” Currently there are 3,500 signatures collected.

A vocal proponent of the BDS campaign, Waters has repeatedly lashed out at Israel and encouraged other musicians and artists to boycott the Jewish state (a call ignored by other big names, including Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, and Elton John).

Waters has, according to a condensed version of the film screened by The CJN, likened Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. “One group of people has stolen the lives of another group of people,” states a Waters audio clip, “and they have to get it back or it has to be taken back.”

All this is set against frightening depictions of growing anti-Semitism across Europe, and the resulting Jewish exodus.

Clips and interviews include former British prime minister Tony Blair, who concedes that some of Waters’ “ludicrous” statements reflect “a basic hostility” to Jews and Israel,  former Jewish Agency chairman Natan Scharansky, Yaakov Bleich, the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Charles Asher Small, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, shown presenting a document on anti-Semitism to Pope Francis; and Dr. Eva Fogelman, a psychologist specializing in Holocaust survivors and their children, who, bizarrely, attempts to psychoanalyze Waters, whose father was killed fighting the Germans in Italy during the Second World War. That trauma, Fogelman says, set Waters on a course of identifying with Nazis.

A chronicler of pop culture, Halperin, who was born in Montreal and now lives in the U.S., has authored books on Michael Jackson (a 2009 New York Times bestseller), the Kardashians, Kurt Cobain, James Taylor and, according to its title, a “very, very unauthorized” biography of Celine Dion.

He’s made documentaries for some 20 years, mostly about Hollywood. “A lot of people said, ‘you’ve got to do something about anti-Semitism,’” Halperin, 53, told The CJN in a telephone interview. At first, that prospect “hit a bit too close to home,” as his father was a Holocaust survivor. “We never talked about it,” Halperin said. “We tried to move forward.”

Wish You Weren’t Here was two years in the making across several countries, and Halperin learned two broad things: he “really had no idea how prevalent” anti-Semitism is, and how it is “infiltrating European society.”

And as a Pink Floyd fan, “I was shocked and appalled when I learned about what Waters was up to. If Waters was doing this against any other race, his tour would have been cancelled by now. For some reason, people get a free pass when it comes to the Jewish people.”

Halperin is also a professional saxophonist. “I have credibility when it comes to the music genre because I actually practise what I preach. I speak the language of music.”

To those who defend Waters by saying music and politics shouldn’t mix, Halperin pointed out that singers Paul Simon, Tina Turner and others were criticized when they performed in apartheid-era South Africa.

Despite its disturbing content, the film is meant to unite, Halperin said.

“I want people to realize that in 2017, there’s no room for hate or prejudice, and that music has to bring people together, not divide them,” he said. “And people like Roger Waters, who targets a group with false allegations, he’s got to be held accountable.”

The Jewish Defence League will be leading a protest against Waters outside the Air Canada Centre in Toronto before his concert on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m.

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