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The Schmooze

Roger Waters Ignites New War of Words Over Israel

Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters had some very strong words for rock star Jon Bon Jovi before the latter’s Oct. 3 concert in Tel Aviv.

“You stand shoulder to shoulder with the settler who burned the baby,” he wrote in an open letter to the rocker that went viral across U.S. and Israeli media. “The dead can’t remind you of the crimes you’ve ignored.”

His sentiments were not surprising to anyone familiar with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a pro-Palestinian campaign that encourages an embargo of Israel’s economic and cultural exports, levying political and economic pressure on Israel in a bid to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

For years Waters has been one of the industry’s most vocal critics of Israel, and he routinely takes it upon himself to publicly excoriate artists who defy his calls to nix concerts in the Jewish state.

Artists from Rihanna to Justin Timberlake have been targeted by the BDS movement for playing concerts in Tel Aviv, and Scarlett Johansson found herself facing criticism after she signed on as a spokesperson for SodaStream, the Israeli company previously based in the West Bank (it has since relocated).

But the movement has all but failed when it comes to swaying big names to boycott Israel. Madonna and the Kardashian sisters are said to be apartment hunting in Tel Aviv. Kanye West, who made a personal visit with wife Kim Kardashian and daughter North in April, returned on Sept. 30 for a sold-out show. Natalie Portman and Richard Gere both recently wrapped Israel-based film projects, and Israeli TV exports continue to penetrate the U.S. and European market.

However, the movement does appear to be making headway with smaller acts.

Take, for example, the Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival in Benicassim, Spain. When Matisyahu, the Jewish-American musician, took the stage there in August, he was greeted by a sea of Palestinian flags, boos and heckles.

He almost hadn’t made it to the show. Fest organizers, under pressure from a local branch of the BDS movement, had earlier nixed Matisyahu’s performance after he refused to publicly declare support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

The decision immediately set off a firestorm of festival criticism, with detractors declaring the move anti-Semitic, not anti-Israel. No other artist, they pointed out, had been asked their views on a potential state of Palestine, and leaders of the World Jewish Congress wrote Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy directly to condemn the move. The fest eventually reversed its decision, and Matisyahu — who is not an Israeli citizen — performed. But as he sang “Jerusalem,” a huge group of Palestinian supporters waved Palestinian flags and chanted “Out, Out!”

In the days following Matisyahu’s exclusion from the fest, pundits in Israel asserted that the incident publicly confirmed what many pro-Israel activists have long said: The BDS movement has transposed “Jewish” with “Israeli.”

“Let there be no ‘ifs,’ ‘buts’ or ‘maybes,’” says Arsen Ostrovsky, the director of research at the Israeli-Jewish Congress. “After Matisyahu the BDS mask has well and truly been lifted for what it really is, and that’s nothing to do with promoting peace or Palestinian rights, but Jew hatred, plain and simple.”

Matisyahu’s disinvitation from the fest came just a few days after Roy Zafrani, a documentary helmer based in Tel Aviv, learned that his short film “The Other Dreamers” had been rejected from Norway’s Human Rights Human Wrongs film festival simply for being Israeli.

“We support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel,” Ketil Magnussen, founder of Oslo Documentary Cinema, which runs the fest. Magnussen explained that he could show Israeli-based films that focused only on Gaza and the West Bank.Zafrani’s film follows a group of special-needs children in the Jewish state.

In the end, the BDS movement continues to call out artists, but most, like Bon Jovi, who played to a rapturous Tel Aviv crowd, ignore their call.

Meanwhile, Waters’ remarks stilled echoed across the U.S. media landscape.

“Israel has a little tiny country, and it bugs the shit out of Roger Waters,” said radio personality Howard Stern, who is Jewish, as part of a seven-minute blasting of Waters on his show Oct. 6. “Where do you want the Jews to go, Roger? You want them just to go back to the concentration camps? … Jews, go to the dark side of moon and live.”—Variety

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