Roger Waters, the co-founder and lead singer of the renowned band Pink Floyd, has gained notoriety for his strident anti-Israel rhetoric and as an outspoken advocate of the vehemently antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. His views have incited controversy and accusations of antisemitism, as he has often leaned into pernicious Jewish or “Zionist” stereotypes, drawn offensive parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany, and unabashedly criticised anyone expressing even a slight affinity for Israel, its institutions, and its people.
In an alarming incident in May 2023, Waters chose a concert in Berlin as the platform to exploit the memory of Holocaust victim Anne Frank, brazenly equating Israel to the Nazis while audaciously parading on stage in an SS-lookalike Nazi uniform. While the SS-lookalike uniform is a reference to the film, “The Wall”, this ostentatious display defiles the memory of a young girl who fell victim to the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, exemplifies the troubling nature of Waters’ public actions and statements.
Several months before, in October 2022, Waters participated in a webinar with notorious anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal on Grayzone. Waters passionately advocated for equating Israel with the Third Reich and demanded that Israel “join the human race” by abandoning its purported “apartheid regime” against the indigenous people of the Middle East. Waters seems to be unaware that Israel is proud to be home to a pluralistic and diverse religious and ethnic population, and that Arab citizens of Israel are represented in every single facet of Israeli society – including in government, the judiciary, and civil society. Waters’ assertion that Jews are not indigenous to the land of Israel is ahistorical and blatantly revisionist.
A few months earlier, in August 2022, Waters granted an extensive interview with World Beyond War. In this discussion, he repeatedly trafficked antisemitic conspiracy theories and themes. One particularly egregious comment involved the claim that Israel considers Jews superior to everyone else on the planet. This conspiracy-laden rhetoric only deepens the chasm between understanding and resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a July 2022 video interview with the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, Waters presented Zionists as “settler-colonialist” and hinted that Jews had no authentic connection to the land of Israel. He further invoked the antisemitic trope of a Jewish “cabal” when he suggested that European Zionists from the 19th century planned to conquer Palestine for their “little cabal.” Waters’ intentional use of the word “cabal” resurfaces entrenched antisemitic tropes levelled against Jews, and gives a nod to conspiracy theories about Jews. For Waters to ignore the extensive evidence of Jewish presence in the land of Israel, spanning millennia, highlights his ignorance of the people he so enthusiastically demonises.
In May 2021, Waters levelled severe accusations against Israel, labelling it an apartheid state and accusing it of committing genocide. Such inflammatory accusations not only lack veracity but also exacerbate existing tensions, making peace more elusive. The claim of genocide is, at best, a cheap throwaway term that he has failed to substantiate. Moreover, the Palestinian population in Israel has continuously and steadily grown since the State of Israel was founded in 1948.
In a public online spat with Polly Samson, wife of former Pink Floyd bandmate David Gilmour, Waters threatened defamation action. Samson had tweeted that Waters was “antisemitic to his rotten core.” While Waters refutes these allegations, his history of controversial remarks and actions concerning Israel and Jews remains a source of debate and contention.
Interestingly, his financial support of defendants in defamation lawsuits, such as the Jewish Voice for Labour and journalist Paddy French, suggest a lack of alignment with his proclaimed values. Moreover, his outbursts during these proceedings reveal an undercurrent of personal animosity.
It must be noted that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism unambiguously confirms that analogies between Israel and Nazis, as well as the assertion that Israel is a racist endeavour (e.g. an apartheid state) and therefore illegitimate are deemed antisemitic. The IHRA definition has been widely adopted by many countries and institutions around the world, and offers a robust standard against which to test whether rhetoric or actions, such as those exhibited by Waters, are antisemitic in nature. A strong case could be made that Waters has indeed breached the definition on several occasions in recent years.
Despite his claims to the contrary, Waters has been accused of using an antisemitic trope during one of his concerts in 2010 when he employed the imagery of the Star of David and dollar signs. The juxtaposition of these symbols has long been a common antisemitic trope, suggesting that Jews are driven solely by money. Waters defended his use of the symbols, saying there were no hidden meanings. However, it’s worth noting that by October 6, 2010, in a show in New York City, the offensive video no longer featured the two symbols next to each other. This incident raises concerns about Waters’ sensitivity towards antisemitism, and further fuels the debate over his stance towards Israel and Jews.
Waters’ denials of antisemitism and the accusations levelled against him are ultimately left to interpretation. However, the frequency and intensity of his historical distortions, devoid of context or qualification, are entirely mired in lies about Israel, and his potential evocation of antisemitic tropes certainly suggest a pattern that is at the very least troubling. His actions, such as advocating for a cultural boycott of Israel, further polarise the dialogue around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have led to a significant backlash.
Indeed, Waters’ views are highly controversial and have provoked a storm of criticism. His defence of Jeremy Corbyn, his financial support for groups accused of antisemitism, his accusations against the media, and his inflammatory rhetoric regarding Israel and its Jewish population have all fuelled the controversy around his stance on Israel and Jews.
Although Waters insists that his problem lies with the Israeli government and not with Jews, his rhetoric often suggests otherwise. The use of antisemitic tropes, comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, and vehement support for the BDS movement all point towards an antagonistic attitude towards Israel that goes beyond mere political critique.
Edit – September 29, 2023: The Campaign Against Antisemitism has released a documentary detailing Waters’ history of antisemitic comments, which can be viewed here or by clicking the image below.