Somewhere in the middle of the movie Wish you Weren’t Here, Ian Halperin’s devastating critique of Roger Waters and the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz noted that Waters not only targets Israel, but also uses blatantly anti-Semitic imagery, and concludes that Waters is “a good singer and a horrible bigot.”
This is one of the themes running through the film: the contrast between the artist and his beliefs.
Waters’ artistry is an important part of this story as David Renzer, the CEO of Spirit Music and co-founder of Creative Community for Peace said, “We have to take him seriously in that he is still one of the top-drawing artists in the world, he comes from a legendary band, Pink Floyd, and, so he comes with a lot of credibility in terms of his track record in music.” Whenever an artist announces an intent to visit Israel, Waters will target him and pressure him not to perform in Israel, using that credibility.
However, Renzer notes that whatever credibility Waters has musically, he loses it due to his saying of “some pretty extreme things,” such as charging that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is worse than Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews. “Someone who is going to take those kinds of extreme points of view, is someone who doesn’t really have credibility,” Renzer observed.
Perhaps that lack of credibility is why, despite Waters’s best efforts, major acts continue coming to Israel.
“The reality is that the boycott movement is not succeeding, and major artists go to Israel and are continuing to go to Israel,” Renzer said. Referring to 2017, Renzer added, “this summer has been one of the most active concert seasons, with some of the biggest artists in the world performing there, from Aerosmith to Justin Bieber. Tears for Fear was just there, Guns ‘n Roses … these are major, major international artists and all of this completely frustrates Roger Waters, because he believes so firmly in his cause and, so really what we have to do is expose Roger Waters for being someone who holds extremist views.”
Waters’ artistry is also cause for regret of the cause he has championed.
“I’m kind of sad about it, because I love Pink Floyd, and I like what they represent on the music scene. I think he’s got some sort of problem with us. It doesn’t strike me as very rational. I don’t know him too well but just in terms of political dialogue, to be so focused on Israel – Israel is quite a decent place – even if you don’t like some things about it, is unhinged,” Akiva Tor, who works for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said.
The extreme focus of Waters and, more generally, the BDS campaign on Israel, and the implication of that focus, is another theme of Wish You Weren’t Here.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, summed up that implication as he recalled meeting then-president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, in 2008. Lauder mentioned that he heard Chavez was an anti-Semite. Chavez responded by denying he was an anti-Semite, but acknowledging, “I’m just anti-Israel.” Lauder retorted, “Who do you think lives in Israel, martians?”
Others were more direct.
“BDS is the modern anti-Semitism, because it focuses only on Israel, the only Jewish state,” Abraham Neguise, a member of Knesset from the Likud Party said.
It isn’t just singling out Israel for special opprobrium that is problematic about BDS. It’s that for whatever sins Israel is guilty of, there are countries, especially in the Middle East, that are objectively much worse.
Citing radio host Howard Stern, Charles Asher Small, President of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), observed that “we have a situation where everyone is saying, ‘Look at Israel. Look at Zionism. Look at the Jewish State. Let’s call for BDS. The only democracy in the Middle East. The only place in the region where people are equal under the law, where women have rights, where gay people have rights, where there’s a free press, a vibrant culture, the list goes on and on. But everybody here’s focusing on Israel, focusing on Netanyahu, focusing on Likud, and over here, lo and behold we have Syria, where the anti-Semites and the Islamists are running amok. There’s a genocide happening in Syria, just a few kilometers away from Israel.'”
A third theme developed in the course of the film is that the BDS movement is gaining traction at a time when Jews around the world, especially in Europe, are facing more and more overt anti-Semitism.
Overall, Halperin successfully and convincingly makes his case by weaving together interviews with and clips of notables and celebrities. BDS by another name is anti-Semitism, and there is a very skilled, but unhinged, musician that is trying to make that hate acceptable.
Wish You Weren’t Here is available for rent or purchase here.
[Photo: Wish You Weren’t Here Screen Capture]