Rolling Stones

Neil Young, Dylan, Stones, McCartney: Divest from Roger Waters!

Over the past few weeks, several of the world’s most venerable rock and roll acts—Neil Young, The Who, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan—posted vaguely enigmatic videos on their social media pages, culminating with the single word:  “OCTOBER.”

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the enigmatic teasers that came after the credits of many Marvel superhero movies—Captain America, Thor, Iron Man—in recent years; quirky epilogues that announced The Avengers, the blockbuster that would gather all these good guys together.

Well, the rock enigma wasn’t hidden for long. Quicker than you can say, “Old white guys, assemble!” it was revealed that in October rock’s Avengers will appear at a three day festival in Indio, California, on the same site where the annual Coachella Festival takes place. The organizers are calling the festival “Desert Trip,” although wags in the media have dubbed it “Oldchella.”  Unlike Coachella, which generally promotes artists who haven’t been featured on the cover of AARP Magazine, this festival will star six artists (all male, all white) who have been around since rock’s early days: The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, The Who (well, two of ‘em), Neil Young, and Roger Waters.

Which of these is not like the others? Clearly, it’s Waters, the former member of Pink Floyd who for the past 20 years has made headlines for two things: endlessly recycling his morose 1979 album The Wall and his visceral hatred for the State of Israel.

The five other acts all have Israel connections. Dylan, most notably, has sung of Israel’s challenges (“Neighborhood Bully”) and performed there on several occasions (I saw him on a soccer field in Beersheva in 1993!). McCartney defied BDS threats and played Israel in 2008. Neil Young performed in Israel in 1993, and was scheduled to play in the summer of 2014, before Operation Protective Edge made unfeasible the idea of a large outdoor rock concert in the shadow of Hamas missiles. He regretfully cancelled and promised he’d be back.

The Stones played a triumphant show in 2014, with Mick Jagger spouting Hebrew phrases to the crowd, including, “Chag Shavuot Samayach!” (The festival of Shavuot had ended at sundown the night of the concert.) According to their guitarist Ronnie Wood, the inspiration to perform in Israel came from Dylan himself, who gushed about how much he enjoyed playing there.

The Who never performed in Israel, but Pete Townshend visited the country in 1966, and apparently it made a deep impact on him. The experience inspired him to compose a dense allegory called “Rael” for The Who’s third album, and in the recent past Townshend has made clear his support for the Jewish State. 

Then there’s Roger Waters. While the others vie for the throne of King of Rock and Roll, he seems to want to be its Grand Wizard. For years, Waters has been at the forefront of the BDS movement, the pernicious anti-Israel crusade that urges cultural, academic, and business boycotts of Israel exclusively. Waters does not make the case for a just reconciliation of Israelis and Palestinians nor does he argue for a two-state solution. He has not articulated what the endgame of divestment from Israel should be.  (In fairness, Waters did perform a concert at Neve Shalom in 2006. Since then, however, he has exclusively attacked Israel for the conflict.)

Waters—and BDS in general—is notorious for failing to see any nuance in the incredibly complex Israeli-Palestinian situation. Especially in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, and an ever-growing list of Western cities, one might think that people could empathize with Israel’s challenges on her own borders. But if anything, Waters’s obsession with Israel as the world’s ultimate human rights abuser has ossified.

Nuance is the key. Is it impossible—especially for an artist—to recognize that there are two conflicting narratives? Is it incomprehensible for Roger Waters, whose English childhood was devastated by World War II, to sympathize with the Jewish need for a safe haven in their historical home? I, for one, believe in the just cause of a two-state solution and I can hear the authentic narrative of the Palestinian people… but, Roger, what about Hamas and Hezbollah?

Although Waters, like other BDS activists, protests that he’s not an anti-Semite, the evidence seems to indicate otherwise. For instance, when he toured The Wall in Europe and North America in 2010-2011, an animated film accompanying the song “Goodbye Blue Sky” showed Jewish stars morphing into dollar signs—one of the most constant and established stereotypes against Jews. And on his otherwise forgotten 1992 album Amused to Death, Waters compared Jews (Jews, not Israelis—not that it matters) to Nazis.

This is not a voice of peace. It’s a voice that guarantees future cycles of hatred, violence, and war.

Messrs. Young, McCartney, Dylan, Jagger, Richards, Townshend, and Daltrey: Divest from Roger Waters! He doesn’t belong on your stage! And I’m sure there are plenty of dad-rock performers who would be thrilled to fill in for him:

How about Bruce? He’ll fit in perfectly with your demographic—and he’s rumored to be playing in Israel this summer. (You can compare your favorite falafel joints!)

Or maybe Bobby Weir and whichever incarnation of the Dead he’s got touring this fall? You know that they’ll bring their own audience with them. (I’ve got a vinyl copy of Blues for Allah with lyrics in Hebrew, English, Arabic, and Farsi, a nice gesture towards peace.)

Or how about Eric Clapton—surely his number is in your contacts? (He played Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem in 1989.)

Any of these alter rockers play the sort of music that will bring out the dads and their Platinum Cards in throngs—and without the anti-Semitism! Please: you can perform this gig without Roger Waters, who clearly stands for very different values than you do.

And if you can’t ditch him… how about adding a second series of shows in Park HaYarkon?

G-d Bless the Rolling Stones

June 17, 2014

After the Rolling Stones packed up from their performance in Tel Aviv last week, I found myself wondering:  Is it possible to separate the artist from the art?  Is it possible not to?

That’s a classic conundrum, and most of the time we have to agree that we’d have to make such a separation. We can’t expect moral perfection from the artists, musicians, and writers who touch us, and why should we? If we did, we’d have a very short list of pretty much zero entertainment that we could enjoy guilt-free. Further, who would want to do an entire biographical vetting of every new performer we discover, just to make sure she or he was “clean”? 

But that said, I have to tell you:  I can’t listen to my old Pink Floyd albums anymore.

Pink Floyd was one of the first rock bands that ever really touched me. I was 13 when I got The Wall, and although I haven’t played it in 20 years (it could be the most depressing music ever made) it led me on to their earlier records which had a lot more staying-power on my sound system: Meddle, Animals, “Cymbaline,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

But for the past few years, Pink Floyd’s bassist and primary songwriter Roger Waters has emerged as the most crass and vehement support of the BDS (“boycott, divestment, & sanctions”) movement to marginalize the State of Israel. He’s missed no opportunity to name Israel as the primary villain in the Middle East and the sole source of the conflict with the Palestinians. When confronted by well-meaning people who have criticized the coarseness of his arguments, he hasn’t mitigated them a bit.

Let’s be clear: the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is a disaster; the world needs moral leadership to broker a just two-state solution that will ensure Palestinian dignity and Israel’s right to live in terror-free safety and security. There are people of good faith working every day to build those bridges and bring that about.  And the BDS supporters are not among them.The BDS campaign is a vile attempt to stigmatize the world’s only Jewish state, to make it a pariah in the world community, and, I believe, to delegitimize it to the point of its erasure from the community of nations. It is anti-Semitism – because no other nation in the world, including ones with genuinely horrific human rights records, is targeted for such bile. It completely ignores the fear and suffering of the Israelis, the astonishing racism that is taught from official Palestinian literature in their schools, and the unapologetic and unabated terrorism from the likes of Hamas, who have recently been legitimized in a unity government with the PLO. 

And that is the movement that Roger Waters and his ignoble ilk align themselves with. Thus they encourage other rock artists to boycott Israel as part of their campaign of pressure until Israel… does what, exactly? 

So as much as I may appreciate “Echoes” as a really terrific piece of progressive rock, I find that it makes me sick these days. Ditto the music of Elvis Costello, who never meant much to me.

On the other hand, the cultural boycott that Waters promotes is pretty leaky; there are far more performers who are saying yes to performing in Israel. Neil Young (hooray!), Paul McCartney, Radiohead, The Pixies, Lady Gaga, and others have recently appeared or will be performing in Israel – which isn’t so easy, when you consider how much money and energy it takes to shlep a modern day rock crew to Tel Aviv for a single show. (After all, where else in “the neighborhood” are these artists going to play?)

But this year’s gold star has to go to the Stones. The Stones acknowledged from the moment they announced they were going to be playing in Tel Aviv on June 4, that the BDS crowd was pressuring them to cancel. They refused. (Didn’t those haters read Keith’s autobiography?  No one tells him to do anything!) They arrived in Israel a few days early and took plenty of photo-ops: Ron Wood and Charlie Watts at the Western Wall; Mick Jagger, more in character, in the high-end Tel Aviv nightlife.                               

There was even in-house controversy: The concert was scheduled to start before the Jewish festival of Shavuot was officially over, which would have prevented observant fans from attending. Yet the Stones graciously delayed the start of the concert. 

And onstage, the real fun began. Mick’s patter between songs was full of Hebrew, from his opening “Chag Shavuot Samayach!” (“Happy Shavuot!”), to teasing Ronnie about whether the guitarist had purchased his ugly shoes in the shuk. I’m not a sucker; I presume a smart p.r. staffer was feeding Mick his lines. Who cares? The effort means so much to a community that has been called a pariah by lesser stars!

So G-d Bless the Rolling Stones. And Paul McCartney. And Johnny Rotten. And Madonna. And Metallica. And Dylan (saw him in ’93 on a soccer field in Beersheva!). And so many others who have defied racist boycotts, and brought a real message of peace: one that says we’re not going to demonize anybody, and that music can build bridges, not burn them.