Philly-bound Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters is undeniably, proudly, anti-Israel. But is he anti-Semitic?
The question arises because the British rocker — "progressive" in his musical and political views — will bring his national Us + Them Tour to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. In the past, his act has contained anti-Israel and arguably anti-Jewish elements — and he's even more vociferous offstage.
What I am not going to do here is what he does — try to shut down concerts.
Just a few weeks ago, Waters picked a fight with Radiohead over the band's planned concert in Tel Aviv. A few years back he attacked Bon Jovi for playing Tel Aviv, and before that worked to boycott a performance of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Because of his record, the local chapter of the Zionist Organization of America asked local radio stations WMMR and WXPN to cease promoting it. The ZOA also asked the Wells Fargo Center to run a disclaimer about the concert.
Wells Fargo didn't get back to me, but the answer is going to be no.
"At WXPN we play the music of a multitude of artists" and "concerts we recommend are never based on their political views," GM Roger LaMay told me. A call to WMMR was referred to the station's attorney, who did not respond by deadline.
The protest against Waters flows mostly from his promotion of BDS, the Boycott, Disinvestment, and Sanctions movement that seeks to delegitimize Israel, which it accuses of "apartheid" as once practiced by South Africa.
The truth is that the more than 20 percent of Israelis who are Arab have full voting rights, 17 members of the Israeli Knesset are Arabs, one member of the Israeli Supreme Court is an Arab, and Arabs are found in Israel's military and diplomatic corps.
This is a very strange form of apartheid.
"Political statements are fine, but what he's doing is really stirring up incitement against a religious minority," said Steve Feldman, executive director of the greater Philadelphia chapter of the ZOA, who made the requests.
"We at ZOA question if someone who is anti-gay, anti-black, anti-woman would be welcome on their stage," says Feldman. "This guy has a record going back to 2006 that he has been actively engaged in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activity."
Are anti-Israel and anti-Jewish one and the same?
Not always, but some anti-Semites use "Israel" as a code word for Jews.
Waters denies being anti-Jewish, but sometimes makes me wonder. When he used an inflated pig with a Star of David and dollar signs on it flying around the concert hall, that is religiously offensive and promotes the slur that the only thing Jews care about is money.
When he says American musicians are "scared" to join him in BDS because they fear that it would end their careers, when it hasn't ended his, that isn't directed against Israel but against American Jews.
Waters occasionally walks and quacks like a duck, but does that make him a duck?
I regard "anti-Semitism" (like "racism" and "Islamophobia") as a word so toxic as to require lead-pipe proof.
Fans manage to separate the artist from the politics. Gov. Christie remains a Bruce Springsteen devotee even though the Boss loathes the chief executive.
Waters is a zealot, he's misguided, but free societies ask us to tolerate the intolerable, or at least the awful.