Roger Waters is in hot water with the leaders of a Toronto-based anti-racism charity, who are shocked that the ex-Pink Floyd frontman picked a public fight with them online.
The ordeal began in early November, when a public letter, signed by Waters, was written to Celine Dion, urging her to cancel a pair of planned shows in Tel Aviv. The Canadian pop star will perform in the Holy Land on Aug. 4 and 5, as part of a global tour.
In the letter, Waters – a vocal supporter of the BDS movement against Israel – states that both he and Dion are members of a Canadian charity called Artists Against Racism (AAR), which connects celebrities with opportunities to create and deliver anti-racism messages.
“As a member of the Artists Against Racism, we call on you to stand with the AAR vision,” the letter states. “Given your AAR membership, we are dismayed that you have chosen to schedule performances in Israel, a state that practises apartheid.” The letter is signed by “Roger Waters, Artist Against Racism Member.”
Waters, however, isn’t actually a member of AAR.
Lisa Cherniak, the executive director of AAR, was baffled when a colleague forwarded her the letter. As a registered charity, AAR does not take positions on either domestic or international politics.
“I was shocked that he’d add his name as a member and try to use that to leverage Celine to cancel her concert,” Cherniak says. “Even if he was a member, it’s just very weird.”
After investigating the issue deeper, Cherniak traced the letter back to Karen Rodman, a United Church minister in Toronto and the founder of Just Peace Advocates, a group that advocates for Palestinian rights.
Rodman forwarded The CJN’s request for comment to the Canadian BDS Coalition, which clarified that they never meant to imply that Waters was a member.
“Cherniak and AAR misread the letter,” the group wrote in an email to The CJN. “The letter did not claim, nor was it intended to claim, that Roger Waters was a member or representative of AAR. Rather, the letter stated that Celine Dion is a member of AAR.”
In other words, the line in question – “As a member of the Artists Against Racism, we call on you to stand with the AAR vision” – meant to read, “As you are a member …”
Cherniak says she wrote an email to Rodman, insisting Rodman remove AAR’s name from the letter entirely. After some pushback, Cherniak says, Rodman obliged – but Waters wasn’t finished.
On Nov. 16, the creator of the rock epic The Wall posted a two-minute video to Twitter and Facebook, tagging AAR on both accounts. In the video, he speaks condescendingly of the charity and describes a different, more convoluted version of the story: he confirms that a Canadian organization wrote it and signed his name to it, but alleges numerous other names appeared, as well. (In a copy of the letter obtained by The CJN, only Waters’ name appears at the bottom.)
“The AAR contacted the people who’d organized the letter and told them to take their name off it, claiming it was being represented that AAR – Artists Against Racism – was part of the campaign,” Water says in the video. “Now then, A, the letter said no such thing.” (The letter explicitly mentions AAR four times.)
“But, B, excuse me?” Waters continues. “Are you against racism, or are you not? You cannot cherry-pick racism.”
Waters’ video has been viewed more than 180,000 times on Facebook and Twitter.
Coincidentally, the charity is currently planning to fundraise for billboards in Israel that will depict Israeli and Palestinian artists working together, to deliver “a message of co-operation and oneness, instead of divisiveness and antagonism,” Cherniak says.
“People like that don’t think of the consequences,” she adds. “He could have had a much better situation, had a dialogue and created communication. And instead he just incited more hatred.”