Image: Wikimedia Commons/Adrian Buss​

Most old popstars 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 front-man for Pink Floyd, 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. 

Everything demanded by the BDS movement aligns fully with international law and official Canadian policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict. But with 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 Minsky’s suggestion 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.” 

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 adopting a BDS motion. There’s no reason to debate the movement’s success when the facts speak for themselves.

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 popstars are happy to “leave Israel alone,” as long as they can make a buck performing. 

But Waters is no ordinary musician.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Adrian Buss​

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Thomas Woodley

Thomas Woodley is the president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME, Tom has a BS EE from Carnegie-Mellon University and an MS EE from Stevens Institute...