If you walk down the streets of Tel Aviv past you may hear some buskers play familiar tunes such as “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. Although the music of Pink Floyd can be heard frequently on the streets of Israel, some Israelis must make the sad admission that the singer and songwriter and Pink Floyd lead, Roger Waters, not only has made statements they disagree with, but probably doesn’t want their country to exist. An upcoming film, Wish You Weren’t Here by New York Times journalist Ian Halperin shows that Waters’ anti-Semitism is not simply a recent development, but has been a long time in the making
Roger Waters, one of the most enduring rock stars who still attracts massive crowds to his concerts, is also one of the most recognizable spokespeople for BDS, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. He has called Israel an apartheid state and has gone beyond advocating boycotts of goods from the “occupied territories” but from anywhere in Israel. Whenever an act such as Bon Jovi or Radiohead prepares to include Israel on its tour itinerary, they can expect to hear vociferous criticism from Roger Waters and threats to cancel the concert. Thankfully, many refuse to bow to pressure.
Many Israelis face the painful decision of having to forego popular classics such as The Wall by Pink Floyd, whereas others may listen to the music anyway, refusing to do personal counter boycotts. Akiva Tor, of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says in an interview in the film, “I’m kind of sad about it because I love Pink Floyd and I like what they represent. I think he’s (Roger Waters) got some kind of problem with us.”
In interviews, Roger Waters has insisted that he is simply anti-war, anti-colonialism and does not want to see the destruction of the Jewish State. He calls for the rights for Palestinian Authority in their own state, statements that do not seem a far cry from those made by left-leaning mainstream politicians. However, it is the aggressiveness of Waters’ behavior and imagery that crosses the line from leftist politics into outright anti-Semitism. Waters has given concerts with a featured image of a floating pig with a star of David on it. He has advocated a complete shut-down on trade with Israel and regularly threatens and harasses celebrities who plan to perform in Israel.
Ian Halperin has produced a number of documentaries on Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga and Kurt Cobain. HIs recent film Broken: The Incredible story of Brangelina, garnered a significant amount of attention. However, he told the Jerusalem Post that his trailer for Wish You Weren’t Here about Roger Waters’ issue with the Jews and Israel has received little press. Halperin believes that the subject of Israel and the Jews and particularly the anti-Semitic views of a popular celebrity is not something much of the media wants to touch.
However, Halperin has continued undaunted into perilous yet necessary territory. The trailer to “Wish You Weren’t Here” shows bleak images of the streets of Europe and harrowing statistics revealing that the harassment of Jews is at a 7 year high. Halperin began the idea for the documentary after his travels in Europe and questions that arose as to why Waters and the European left were singling out Israel when there were truly egregious violators of human rights around the world. Halperin’s father was a Holocaust survivor who lived in hiding from the age of 6 to 13 and whose family members perished in the Holocaust. He discussed with psychologists about how the images in Roger Waters’ concerts, such as that of the pig with the star of David, triggered trauma in Holocaust survivors and their children.
Halperin told the Observer that a childhood friend, Dr. Charles Small, a research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies and the founder and director of president at the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and policy encouraged him to make the film about Roger Waters. The ISGAS released a petition calling for the boycott of Roger Waters’ music with the statement, “While Waters speaks about tearing down walls, he is one of the musicians today erecting the very walls that hinder peace in the region and fuel hatred.”
The trailer features statements from Howard Stern who had a famously acrimonious interview with Roger Waters during which the latter simply lost his temper and called Stern an “a**hole.” Following the 2015 interview, Howard Stern was quoted in Rolling Stone as saying that Roger Waters, “sounds like an anti-Semite.” Stern said, “I’m the only a**hole brave enough to take him on. For some reason, it’s become very important to Roger to tell people where to perform. There’s so many countries with histories of abuse and slavery, but he’s focused on Israel. To me. He sounds like an anti-Semite.”
During the heated interview on Howard Stern’s radio show, Stern said, ““He can’t f****** deal with it. He’s writing letters to Bon Jovi. Don’t go there. It’s a terrible place. Where do you want the Jews to go, Roger? Do you want them to go back to the concentration camps?”
Halperin said that even though some distributors may refuse to carry the film, he has sold movies in 150 countries, and is confident that there will be some avenues. When asked if Roger Waters will be interviewed in the film, Halperin replied to the Jerusalem Post that he reached out to the Pink Floyd leading man, but he did not reply.