Before the intermission at his second Toronto concert at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 3, musician Roger Waters took aim at B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn, who said that Waters’ concerts are filled with anti-Israel propaganda.
The former Pink Floyd songwriter claimed that Mostyn said that his shows feature “long, lengthy tirades against the country of Israel.”
“Well, we have 30,000 witnesses here tonight … who, along with 600,000 other witnesses who’ve been to my shows since we started, who also never heard a single word about Israel in any of my shows. So I just needed to mouth off for Michael Mostyn and that’s it,” said Waters.
The thing is that Waters is right that he’s avoided any anti-Israel comments or imagery on his current tour, which is taking him across Canada this month.
Since Waters became a chief spokesman for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement some 10 years ago, his critics have searched for anti-Semitic or anti-Israel symbols in his songs and concerts. His 2010-2013 The Wall tour became the subject of criticism from Jewish organizations and media outlets, including this one.
He flies a pig with a Magen David, they intoned, and wears a Nazi-like uniform.
I’ve been a fan of Waters’ music since I heard the lyrics, “We don’t need no education,” from the song, Another Brick in the Wall Part Two, which is featured on Pink Floyd’s 1979 album, The Wall. I was 13 years old at the time.
By becoming the chief spokesman for the BDS movement, speaking out against what he calls Israel’s “occupation” of Palestine, and pleading with other musicians not to perform in Israel, Waters has rightfully become the target of Jewish groups and Israel supporters. But protesting his concerts, as the Jewish Defence League did in Toronto, or organizing screenings of the anti-Waters documentary, Wish He Weren’t Here, is as counter-productive as a boycott.
What bothers me the most, as a fan who’s seen him live in concert 10 times over the years, is the false claim that fans are walking into the worst anti-Semitic rally since Nuremberg. Contrary to what you keep hearing, Waters is not incorporating “anti-Israel diatribes into his performances,” as a columnist wrote in the National Post recently.
Yes, away from the stage, he’s taken the lead of the BDS cause, but given that, it’s remarkable that he doesn’t bring up the issue at his concerts.
On this tour, he does pick on U.S. President Donald Trump, and it’s a good thing Trump isn’t Jewish, or Waters’ attacks would undoubtedly be used as further evidence of his anti-Semitism.
A search through YouTube does find a 30-second speech he gave at a concert during the Desert Trip Festival in 2016, where he praised college students for supporting BDS, “in the hope that we may encourage the government of Israel to end the occupation.” But other than that, it’s hard to find any overt examples.
Which brings us to the pig with the Magen David during his shows where he plays music from The Wall. It would be hard to defend this, if it was just a Magen David by itself.
Commenting on the Star of David, Waters pointed out in a Rolling Stone interview that, “I also use the crucifix, the crescent and star, the hammer and sickle, the Shell Oil logo and the McDonald’s sign, a dollar sign and a Mercedes sign.”
Waters, who’s always been a pacifist (his father was killed in the Second World War), was blaming governments, religion – all of them – and corporate capitalism for all the world’s evils. He wasn’t singling out Israel, or Judaism, for special attention.
(There are two pigs on his current tour: one is completely naked, the other is emblazoned with an anti-war slogan).
The op-eds usually show a picture of Waters from his Wall concerts, in which he’s seen sneering at his audience and wearing a Nazi-like uniform. But as everyone who’s only vaguely familiar with the album knows, Waters is playing a character, known as “Pink,” who, disillusioned with the rock-and-roll lifestyle, becomes alienated and imagines a world where the rock star becomes a fascist demigod who’s worshipped blindly by legions of adoring fans.
Yet in his live shows, he’s only worn that uniform on a handful of songs within character. Mostly, as he does for the entire show on this tour, he wears a black T-shirt, jeans and white sneakers. But that doesn’t make as good a picture