Like him or loathe him, Roger Waters has always been a man of passion, his music has always carried a social message. From the dark side of capitalism on “Money”, to criticising the greed and selfishness of the ruling elite in “Pigs (three different ones)”, to singing “Picture a leader with no fucking brains”, a line from his latest album. Why should we be surprised that this man is going to be outspoken? His current tour, the “US + Them” tour features images of President Trump in Warhol-like colours depicting him with lipsticks and breasts, words like “racist”, “sexist” and “ignorant” punctuate the images whilst the song “Pigs (three different ones)” plays.
In recent months both Nick Cave and Radiohead have played concerts in Tel Aviv. These artists received scathing criticism from Mr. Waters, citing that they should respect a cultural boycott of Israel; after all, “this isn’t about music, it’s about human rights.”
In an 2011 Op-Ed piece for The Guardian, Roger Waters discusses his experiences whilst visiting Palestine and how this influenced his decision to support the Boycott, Divesment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. It was in this Op-Ed that Waters stated;
In my view, the abhorrent and draconian control that Israel wields over the besieged Palestinians in Gaza and the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem), coupled with its denial of the rights of refugees to return to their homes in Israel, demands that fair-minded people around the world support the Palestinians in their civil, nonviolent resistance.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Waters asked that his fellow artists to join him in the cultural boycott of Israel. Nick Cave and Radiohead both ignored the call and performed their shows, prompting further criticism and scorn from the veteran rocker.
What followed next however, I feel is unusual. German television and radio stations have pulled out of airing live performances of the “Us + Them” tour when it visits the state next year, citing that the move was made in light of anti-Semitic accusations against Waters.
The question really is, can you criticise the state of Israel without being anti-Semitic? After all, Roger Waters was criticising the government of Israel and their policies, not the people of Israel, nor the Jewish faith.
Given 20th Century history, it might be that these German broadcasters are taking an overly cautious approach. However, if we look at the experiences of everyday Palestinians, the government of Israel becomes a legitimate target of criticism.
The Huffington Post compiled a list of 10 things that the Palestinian people have to endure on a daily basis; on this list there are things such as living under Israeli military presence, not being to control supplies and goods into the territory, not being able to control the water supply and not having access to life saving health care. The reason they don’t have control over these things, the Israeli occupation.
A Palestinian citizen, Alfred Khoury, describes the ordeal of passing through a checkpoint on his daily commute to work.
“It’s so depressing. We feel like animals. But these days not even animals get treated like this. It’s humiliating. Every day I’m here by 4:30am to make sure I’m in my office by 8:30am.”
“We don’t live like human beings” laments 26 year old Firas.
Human rights are essential to any legitimate government. Every government should be held accountable for its actions and therefore open to criticism. Certainly in todays society of digital media and the internet, every government should know that its actions are being recorded and scrutinised. Governments implement policies and sometimes policies are bad.
Of course the situation revolving around Israel and Palestine is complex, its why the problem has not been solved in the past 50 years, nor is it likely to be solved any time soon.
What we need to realise is that criticising a government is not the same as criticising the existence of a state, or ironically, denying a people its homeland.