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Roger Waters’ Support For Israel Boycott Stirs Up Some Astounding Hyperbole

He is due to give a series of concerts in Canada next month, and right on cue, pro-Israel lobby groups have mobilized to badmouth him.

09/12/2017 12:11 EDT | Updated 09/12/2017 12:27 EDT
Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
English film and television director Ken Loach (L), English musician and co-founder of rock band Pink Floyd Roger Waters (R) attend the Russell Tribunal at the International Press Office in Brussels, Belgium, on Sept. 25, 2014.

Most old pop stars end their careers playing arenas in front of aging fans, milking old hits for every cent they're worth. Long past are the days when their politics were meaningful or relevant. But Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman, is no ordinary musician. Waters' politics, in fact, still strike fear among some of the strongest political organizations in the world. All because Waters supports the international boycott of Israel.

Waters is due to give a series of concerts in Canada next month, and right on cue, Canada's pro-Israel lobby groups have mobilized aggressively to badmouth him. The hyperbole in these campaigns is astounding. According to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), for example, Waters "promotes vile discrimination" in a "bigoted campaign" targeting Israel. It sounds really nasty, until you look at what Waters is actually saying.

Basically, Waters is a dedicated supporter of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that was launched in 2005 by 170 Palestinian organizations. The movement calls for economic pressure on Israel until it 1) ends its military occupation and illegal colonization of the Palestinian territories, 2) gives equal rights to the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and 3) allows a just solution for the five million Palestinian refugees scattered across the Middle East.

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Pro-Palestinian Protestors supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, demonstrates ahead of Pharrell Williams concert outside Grand West Arena on Sept. 21, 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Everything demanded by the BDS movement aligns fully with international law and official Canadian policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict. But in their twisted logic, Canada's pro-Israel lobby groups seek to smear and misrepresent Waters' principled support for the human rights of an oppressed people.

An op-ed by Adam Minsky of the United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto peddles the warped arguments of the campaign against Waters. First, Minsky suggests that supporters of BDS seek the "destruction of Israel." But as described above, BDS' objectives speak only to the human rights of the Palestinians. Either Minsky's suggestion is ridiculous, like suggesting that giving African-Americans their civil liberties in the 1960s might have destroyed the United States, or it speaks to a dark side of Israeli society, where the survival of the state somehow depends on the denial of human rights to 4.5 million Palestinians.

Like others who seek to smear the BDS campaign, Minsky quotes the odd BDS activist who says something off-colour about Israel. Far be it from Minsky and his ilk to mention the stated objectives of the BDS movement — that would make the movement appear entirely logical and reasonable. Beware, Minsky warns instead: BDS activists cannot be trusted, for they "cloak their hateful intentions in the language of human rights and social justice."

Truth be told, many pop stars are happy to "leave Israel alone," as long as they can make a buck performing. But Waters is no ordinary musician.

Minsky then argues that Waters has somehow gone beyond simple boycotting, and now "harasses" artists who perform in Israel, going so far as to "bully" Radiohead into cancelling a concert recently. More hyperbole against Waters, whose supposed harassment techniques include writing letters and talking with other performers.

Ironically, Minsky's next argument is that the BDS movement is "failing." Of course, if the movement were such a failure, one could ask why Minsky and his kind are working so hard to smear BDS campaigners like Waters. But pop music is big business, and Minsky lists several A-list celebrities whose money-making potential in performing in Israel outstrips any concern for principle. Then again, not many Canadians look to Madonna, Britney Spears, or Justin Bieber for political guidance or moral insight. Waters, however, has a mountain of anti-war credibility, and that's why Israel's apologists are particularly intent on denigrating him.

But the success or failure of the movement is not a question of Minsky's or anyone else's opinion. Just go to the movement's international website to see the day-to-day successes of BDS: artists boycotting an Israeli government-funded festival in Berlin; Latin American NGOs urging Mexico's Cemex to cease operations in Israel; Jordanian companies ending contracts with G4S because of its business interests in Israel. And just last month, UNIFOR, Canada's largest private-sector union with 310,000 members, adopted a BDS motion. There's no reason to debate the movement's success when the facts speak for themselves.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
Pro-Israel supporter Paul Antey waves the Israeli flag in protest against what he says is the anti-semite political beliefs of artist Roger Waters as he performs on stage during the third day of the Desert Trip music festival at Indio, Calif. on Oct. 9, 2016.

Most Canadians are like Waters: they are put off by serial human rights violators, whether it be China, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Israel or others. An EKOS Research poll conducted last February found that 91 per cent of Canadians believe that sanctions are a reasonable way for Canada to censure countries violating international law. More importantly, 78 per cent of Canadians believe that the Palestinians' call for a boycott of Israel is reasonable.

But the crux of the matter might be explained by the name chosen for CIJA's anti-Waters campaign: "Leave Israel Alone." Because this is perhaps the real intent, as human rights violators prefer to be left alone so their crimes don't see the light of day. China doesn't want journalists in Tibet; Myanmar doesn't want journalists around the Rohingya; and Israel doesn't want scrutiny of their treatment of the Palestinians. Truth be told, many pop stars are happy to "leave Israel alone," as long as they can make a buck performing.

But Waters is no ordinary musician.

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