'If you say anything against Israel you’re antisemitic': Roger Waters fans discuss the Pink Floyd singer

Outside The O2, gig attendees spoke of Waters' 'cerebral' nature, his SS-style costume, and views on Israel


As tens of thousands of Roger Waters fans streamed into The O2 earlier this week, they were caught between two forces battling for their attention.

On the left, several dozen hardened pro-Israel campaigners organised by the National Jewish Association and assorted Zionist groups. Waving the blue and white flags of the Jewish state they chanted “hey Roger, leave them Jews alone” as attendees walked past.

On the right, men in Guantanamo Bay style orange jumpsuits held placards calling for the release of Julian Assange alongside a life-size cardboard cutout of the imprisoned activist.

The rival forces had been drawn to this strange corner of south east London to face off over a string of inflammatory pronouncements made by Pink Floyd’s former bass guitarist. 

Waters has called for Palestine to be freed, condemned the power of the “Jewish lobby”, attacked “Israeli apartheid”, and declared that when Russia declared war on Ukraine, it was “probably the most provoked invasion ever”.

Last month In Frankfurt, the 79-year-old faced down an attempt to block his performance by Frankfurt local authorities before seeing off a stage invasion in Berlin. 

He insists he "abhors antisemitism along with all other forms of racism and discrimination" and has condemned "smear tactic lies" allegedly deployed against him.

In London, his supporters and detractors had gathered again to define his legacy.

Walking towards the entrance to The O2, Tony and Vivian Warwick, a middle aged Welsh couple seemed perplexed by the pro-Israel protest.

“No, he’s not antisemitic, he’s got an opinion like everyone else,” said Tony, clad in a Pink Floyd t-shirt and denim jacket.

“It’s ridiculous to ban him, it’s a free country.”

“Nobody says it, only Roger,” added Vivian. “Yes, I do agree with his views.”

But are the majority of fans attending for the music alone, or do they really care about Waters’ politics?

Nat Mankelow - likewise in a band t-shirt and denim jacket - said he did.

“He’s concerned with Israel and their treatment of Palestinians,” he said. “I don’t think he is antisemitic.”

The SS-like costume that caused so much fuss is Germany is referencing The Wall, he added.

“He’s got a problem with Israel. He’s always been the political, cerebral side of Pink Floyd, for the social dimension of the band. David Gilmour was writing more gentle songs.”

But, Mankelow acknowledged, the issue is “difficult”.

“It’s thousands of years that the Jews have been persecuted.”

Dainius, a Lithuanian man holding a half drunk bottle of Heinnekin, was more sympathetic still.

“I think the protestors are wrong,” he told me.

“Roger Waters is not antisemitic, he’s against war and any bad things. They take this wrong.

“He’s a peacemaker, he’s a good man, he’s an artist. I love him since I was ten, now I’m 52.”

A man who declined to give his name offered much the same take.

“I think they’re entitled to protest,” he said.

“I think Pink Floyd and Roger Waters were always against authoritarianism, fascism, oppression of any kind. [The pro-Israel demonstrators] have their right to protest, Roger has his.”

Fans hurrying towards the gig, unwilling to talk to a reporter, were often more hostile.

“I’ve got really strong opinions but I’m f**king freezing”, shouted one.

“You’re not Jews, you’re Zionists,” yelled another towards the cluster of Israeli flags.

Others shouted “Free Palestine” and raised their fists in the air.

One older gentleman, walking alongside a younger man, gestured towards the demonstrators, referencing a Pink Floyd lyric, and said to his companion: “Look, they’re Jewish. And one’s a coon!”

Christina Mills, a Pink Floyd devotee since she was a teenager in the 1980s but “not a fan” of Waters’ politics, was more sympathetic to the protest.

“Roger should keep his sixth form politics to himself,” she said.

“He’s used his platform for political views for far too long. It’s not appropriate to dress like that [SS-like costume] given the historical context of where he was performing in Germany.

“It’s an extremely historically sensitive issue. Someone must have thought about that.”

But what do the majority of Pink Floyd fans think about his anti-Zionist diatribes? 

Christina added: “I think when The Wall came out a lot of his fans would have seen it as an anti-fascist statement and nothing to do with antisemitism at all. 

“The fans who are not Jewish might not have thought much about it.”

Harry, an attendee wearing an ACDC t-shirt, agreed.

“He’s a bit like Bono, gobbing on about politics when he should focus on music,” he told me.

“He should get back in the studio.”

But when I stopped Mark Duley and his friend John, they were keen to defend Waters.

“You cannot say anything against Israel,” said Duley. 

“I’ve been to Israel, I lived there for six months on a kibbutz. I don’t judge the Israelis or the Palestinians. 

“If you say anything against Israel you’re antisemitic. I don’t agree with everything he says, I disagree on Ukraine. [But] you can’t deny what Israel does.”

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