Precedent for Protest: ZOA Attempts to Galvanize Opposition to Former Pink Floyd Frontman

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Roger Waters performs “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” in St. Louis, with images of President Trump in the background. Photo by Takahiro Kyono via Flickr

You can expect several things from a Roger Waters concert: audio-visual insanity, a dash of nostalgia and a 20-foot-long helium graffitied pig.

But at the expense of spectacle, the Pink Floyd co-founder’s political commentary comes at the cost of heavy controversy.

Waters will perform three shows at the Wells Fargo Center — Aug. 8, 9 and 11 — for his 54-date “Us + Them” tour. But what occurs during his shows has concerned the Jewish community.

Waters is known to vocalize his political opinions, recently being aggressively anti-Trump.

While playing “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” from Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals, an animated image appears of President Trump vomiting, followed by other caricatures of the president as a diapered baby and as Hitler giving a Nazi salute. Overhead, the helium pig rolls over the crowd, illustrated with Trump’s face.

Although Trump is at the forefront of Waters’ current criticism, he is a known supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a position he’s affirmed at previous concerts.

He recently criticized Radiohead for playing a show in Tel Aviv, urging the band to cancel its July 19 show.

According to Newsday, a Nassau County, N.Y. attorney threatened legal action if Waters’ scheduled Sept. 15 and 16 shows — days before Rosh Hashanah — aren’t canceled, pertaining to a recent bill that prohibits the county from conducting business with companies that support BDS.

The Greater Miami Jewish Federation placed a full-page ad in the Miami Herald July 13, the day of Waters’ Miami concert, calling for him to cease his “outright lies about Israel and its policies.”

“His obsessive fixation on Israel betrays a bigotry that goes far beyond criticism of a nation’s policies,” the ad read. “Mr. Waters, your vile messages of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and hatred are not welcome in our community.”

Locally, Lee Bender, co-president of the Greater Philadelphia Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), said the organization is urging the community to recognize Waters’ political slant.

Bender, also a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, brought the issue up to the JCRC.

“We wanted to get other major players in the Jewish community — the [Jewish] Federation especially — and other constituent agencies to join with us,” he said. “I made it very clear that Roger Waters is a known bigot, known anti-Semite, known anti-Zionist. He’s a despicable person in terms of these areas toward the Jewish people in Israel, even though he comes across as someone who’s humanist.”

Bender emphasized that this rhetoric will not happen “in our house,” and the ZOA intends to expose Waters’ beliefs — without denying his right to free speech.

The ZOA has asked the Wells Fargo Center to put disclaimers inside the venue saying it doesn’t condone Waters’ viewpoints. Wells Fargo officials did not return calls seeking comment.

ZOA also reached out to radio station WMMR, which has given out free concert tickets in the past.

“Our intention is to expose him,” Bender said. “Sometimes the reaction of the community seems timid. ‘If we protest or counter or say something, it’s going to make something bigger than it really is.’ … Well, you know what, this guy is here for three shows over fours days — he’s here a long time.”

Roger Waters performing in St. Paul, Minn., during his “Us + Them” tour. Photo by Michel Curi via Flickr

Many celebrities have received harsh backlash for their anti-Trump vocalizations — Kathy Griffin was fired from CNN’s New Year’s Eve special for her bloodied, beheaded Trump photo, and several sponsors backed out of the Public Theater’s Julius Caesar in Central Park, which portrayed Trump as Caesar — yet Waters remains relatively unscathed as a result of his political activism, which has been a part of his music for years.

He did, however, lose $4 million after American Express backed out of its sponsorship deal with him.

The Anti-Defamation League released a statement in 2013 condemning Waters for the use of Jewish imagery in his concerts, such as a Star of David on the helium pig, alongside a dollar sign and a sickle and hammer.

But Adam Kessler, director of the JCRC, said the Jewish Federation is not taking an official stance against Waters. If he does speak of BDS at a concert, however, the Jewish Federation will then release a statement.

Kessler noted the challenge is “how to and when to speak out about somebody like Waters without giving him the light and shining a light on the topic and making BDS more popular than it really is.”

The Jewish Federation will, however, release some background information online about Waters ahead of his shows, discussing who he is and why BDS is a problem.

“It’s not enough to simply say in a statement, ‘We think that Waters is a bad guy because he supports BDS,’” Kessler said. “The problem is that 99 percent of the people that see that don’t know what BDS is, so they can’t make the connection between that and [Waters] being anti-Jewish.”

As a result of the Miami protests, the City of Miami Beach Parks and Recreation Department canceled plans for 12 teens to join Waters onstage during a performance of “Another Brick in the Wall” as part of the city’s summer camp drama program.

Eight students — who originally were not scheduled to participate — performed the choreographed routine instead, according to southflorida.com.

After they left the stage, Waters read aloud the names of the students who were unable to perform, which he blamed on pressure from “the Israeli lobby.”

The JCRC of Greater Washington in Washington, D.C., released a social media video campaign Aug. 2 also condemning the singer.

Overall during his tour, however, Waters has yet to comment on BDS.

Bender said the ZOA is considering protesting at Waters’ hotel in Philly. He hopes other Jewish groups will join them to form a collective voice.

“What Waters does to make a living — that’s fine. But we also have a right to speak up and defend our community, especially when a known celebrity,” Bender said, “uses his platform to castigate and condemn Jewish people and our one and only state.” 

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