Are you insane?” was rock star Roger Waters’s response to persistent accusations during his summer European and UK concerts that he was an antisemite. “Why are you making this nonsense up?” he asked. Waters insists he has “never done anything antisemitic” and never “said anything antisemitic”.
So what should we make of the remarks I have uncovered in my documentary for Campaign Against Antisemitism, reported in this week’s JC? Recent years have seen Waters reveal publicly what he really thinks about Jews who are Zionists — which is the vast majority of Jews. Some of his attacks on Israel have been wreathed in the kind of classic antisemitic tropes that have Jews exercising omnipotent power.
“The Labour Movement” under Jeremy Corbyn has been “absolutely destroyed”, declaimed Waters in 2021. “It’s disgusting and it’s at the behest of the government of a foreign country. That foreign country being, Israel…”
The late American Jewish entrepreneur Sheldon Adelson was a “puppet master pulling the strings of Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo… and what’s his name… the (US) Ambassador [to Israel], Greenberg [sic] I think his name is.” (His name was Friedman.)
Waters has speculated that the “Zionist Israeli lobby in the United States” believe “they’re chosen by a “monotheistic being, a superpower superhuman being who controls everything, that he has actually decided that, that they are very very special that they’re exceptional, and that they should be served by every other human being on the planet. If they believe that then they can do anything”. It is this kind of musing about Jewish supremacy and malevolent intent that explains why the ex-Ku Klux Klan Grand Imperial Wizard David Duke has praised Waters: he’s been attacked, protests Duke, for “daring to expose Israel’s crimes and the crimes of the Jewish-controlled US government and media”.
For years Waters has dismissed allegations that he’s an antisemite as a “construction by the Israeli government” because he champions Palestinian rights. It’s an explanation that’s satisfied his most notable admirers in the UK, anti-Zionists such as the rapper Lowkey, the associate editor of the Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley, and Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), established in 2017 to defend Corbyn from allegations of antisemitism. Any suggestions that Waters is an antisemite have been dismissed by the JVL as part of an “unscrupulous campaign” which has a “disregard for factual accuracy” by “bad faith actors” with a “predilection for peddling falsehoods.”
Journalists are commanded to just “do basic research to check the facts…behind the allegations.”
“Basic research” is what I’ve sought to do, by talking to Jews with whom Waters has worked closely.
There are no axes being ground here. “Just the basic facts” to borrow a line from Waters’s own lyrics for Pink Floyd’s classic Comfortably Numb. Our witnesses are world-class in their field.
Norbert Stachel has performed with multiple established bands and Bob Ezrin is one of the music industry’s most successful record producers — Alice Cooper likened him to the hugely influential producer of the Beatles, George Martin. Marc Brickman is one of world’s foremost lighting-production designers. His visual concepts for Pink Floyd have been described as “iconic”. He’s also redesigned the lighting for the Empire State Building and the Noor Riyad Light festival in 2022. We sent details of their experiences with Waters to him in writing three weeks ago offering him a chance to respond.
So far, he’s been silent.
Ezrin was once close friends with Waters. He’s decided to go on the record about him for the first time more out of sorry than anger. “He’s a brilliant songwriter,” says Ezrin. “A brilliant poet. Not only were Roger and I partners in the music, we were also friends. There were times when he was really tender and very sweet and I loved the man, I did. Part of me still loves him.” But not that part of Waters with a “long track record of using antisemitic tropes”, as the US State Department has put it.
Because that’s the part that’s caused Ezrin to become “very upset with him for positions that he’s taking in the public that affect me as a Jew. And affect my people and my family and my friends.”
It’s also why Ezrin told me that he felt he had “to do this interview and speak about it publicly”.
Are Waters’ outbursts about Zionist “puppets”, comparisons between Israel and “the third Reich”, references to Israeli “Nazis”, his assertion that Israel believes “the Jew is somehow superior to everyone else on the planet” and so on only about Israel-Palestine? Or is something deeper going on in the mind of Roger Waters, who turned 80 earlier this month?
Here I declare an interest. Waters was — it’s fair to say — venomously critical of my 2019 BBC Panorama, Is Labour Antisemitic?, whose thrust was that antisemitism within Labour had markedly increased under Jeremy Corbyn, and that neither he nor those close to him, had done sufficient to eradicate it. Waters’ response was to say that the BBC was “paid for” and “entirely controlled by oligarchs”.
Even Waters must know the Corporation is funded by licence payers.
Last weekend, Waters was due to speak at a Palestinian literary festival at Penn State University. En route from the airport, he claimed the university had banned him from attending (which was denied by the university), so he recorded himself complaining that Palestinian rights “is what we should be talking about… not whether Roger Waters is an antisemite or not”.
Then the familiar refrain: “And by the way, he’s not. I know he’s not. Shall I tell you how I know? I am Roger Waters and this is my heart, and it doesn’t have even the slightest flicker of antisemitism in it, anywhere.”
Ezrin has a different view: “Where Jewish people almost universally will stand up and say they see Roger Waters’s actions as antisemitic, then he has to understand that whether he intends them to be or not, the effect of them is that.”
Ezrin has asked himself the same question as Waters: “Do I consider him to be like an active antisemite? Do I think he considers himself to be an antisemite?
“I’ll bet you dollars for doughnuts he does not and he’ll be the first person to say, ‘I’m not anti-anything. I’m in favour of everyone’. But as a person with a powerful public platform he has a responsibility to understand that what he does affects other people. And so he may not be one but he walks like one, he quacks one, he swims like one, so you know, from my point of view he’s functionally a duck.” Watch our documentary The Dark Side of Roger Waters on the CAA’s website antisemitism.org and judge for yourself.