Tanya Gold

Roger Waters isn't brave and neither was his inflatable pig

It’s easier being Roger Waters than a pro-Jewish woman of a certain age on Twitter


VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06: Roger Waters walks the red carpet ahead of the "Roger Waters Us + Them" screening during the 76th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on September 06, 2019 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

February 21, 2023 15:23

Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd — he left in 1985 — this month addressed the UN at the invitation of Russia and requested a ceasefire in Ukraine. The Ukrainian ambassador to the UN responded by calling him “another brick in the wall [of Moscow’s propaganda]” which is quite witty for a diplomat.  

It’s been a busy time for Waters. He granted an interview to the Daily Telegraph and admitted sympathy for Vladimir Putin who has wondered if Russian hackers are “Jews, just with Russian citizenship.” 

Meanwhile on Twitter, the novelist Polly Samson, who is married to Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd fought back. “You are antisemitic to your rotten core,” she alleged. It was pithy: she’s a lyricist for Pink Floyd too. As she was abused by Waters’ fans, Gilmore quoted the tweet with the words: “Every word is demonstrably true.” Waters responded by doing what every principled socialist would do beyond addressing the UN in support of Russia. He is consulting his lawyers.     

In some ways, Waters is a run-of-the-mill pro-Palestine activist. He is pro-BDS and names Israel an apartheid state: his criticisms are without nuance or context, and amount to a kind of scream. His nadir was in 2013 at a concert in Belgium, when he floated a pig balloon above the stage painted with a Jewish star. I think I understand Waters’ contortions. It can’t be easy, having made a pile of gold with songs that attack the establishment. That could give you sleepless nights.    

He calls himself an advocate for Palestine, not an antisemite, but this has been wearing thin since the inflated pig.    

Many leftists are for war in Palestine, but not in Ukraine, a contortion they don’t explain, presumably because they can’t. How can they when they battle ghosts of their invention? Such contortions are not alien to Waters.  

 The insistence of people like Waters that they don’t hate Jews — are we hallucinating the Jewish pig balloon, the sleight of hand from occupation to apartheid? — is the reason they are more irritating than his ilk on the right. People on the far right are more honest, that’s all. They are less likely to call us Nazis, or to pretend to hate Nazis, being Nazis themselves.   

In this context, Waters’ decision to dress up as a Nazi in 2013 while standing under the pig was particularly uncomfortable. You’d have to ask him why he did it. Perhaps it was the thrill of transgression. He held a machine gun and wore a long black leather coat and a red and white armband. He sung his song In the Flesh: “Are there any queers in the theatre tonight? / Get them up against the wall! / There’s one in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me / Get him up against the wall!” He would probably call it irony.  

Waters’ fans call him brave, but I disagree. Samson is brave: it’s easier being Roger Waters at a Roger Waters concert than a pro-Jewish woman of a certain age on Twitter.    

Waters is a celebrity activist, which requires a mad kind of narcissism, likely fuelled by guilt. And Waters, whose wealth is due to his anti-wealth creed (and that is irony), likely carries heavier guilt than most, and thus his descent to a place where his contortions make sense to him: whatever he is, he is not a Jew. Celebrity activism is performative, and it makes serious things unserious by association: what has Waters ever really done for Palestine?    

Still, it is narcotic, it glamourises. Until, at least, you meet Waters who, by outing himself as a Putin apologist - and Putin’s bombs drop on Syrians too - suggests he isn’t the advocate for self-determination in Arab lands that he imagines himself to be from his palace in Long Island.    

When criticising Israel many people stray from pro-Palestinian sentiment into anti-Jewish rhetoric. Being artists, they give the conflict a simplicity - in their minds, a purity – that it doesn’t have. They are dilettantes engaged in branding and the salving of buried rage, say I.    

February 21, 2023 15:23

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive