(JTA) — Roger Waters projected Anne Frank’s name at recent concerts to draw comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, leading Germany’s Orthodox rabbinical association to call for a ban on Waters performances in the country.
Observers told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman known as a leader in the boycott Israel movement, has lumped Anne Frank together with Palestinian Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in on-screen projections at concerts on his current tour. Abu Akleh was killed on an assignment in the West Bank last year, and the Israeli military apologized early this month for her death, after admitting that she was likely hit by fire from an Israeli soldier during a raid.
The screen at Waters concerts also frequently shows a pig-shaped balloon emblazoned with the logo of an Israeli armaments firm. He reportedly at times dons a Nazi-style uniform and symbolically shoots a machine gun into the crowd.
Some say the 79-year-old rocker plays with antisemitic stereotypes, going beyond political criticism into incitement of hate. German media “went into the shows and were disgusted by them; it is such blunt and disgusting propaganda they are hearing, and the music is really in the background,” said Sacha Stawski, Frankfurt-based pro-Israel activist and founder of Honestly Concerned.
Waters, who won many hearts in Germany through Pink Floyd’s live “The Wall” concert in 1990, recently performed concerts in Berlin and Munich and was on to Frankfurt, where he had successfully appealed a court order to ban the event. That concert is scheduled for May 28.
The city of Frankfurt had called Waters “one of the most widely spread antisemites in the world,” over imagery and Israel critique at his past concerts, in its attempt to ban him from playing there. Munich’s mayor had also unsuccessfully attempted to block a Waters show.
If they cannot stop him in the courts, opponents said they will continue to try to sway public opinion.
“My goal is to educate about his hatred, to make sure less and less people go into these concerts,” said Stawski, a main force behind efforts to challenge Waters in the Frankfurt court, which claim that Waters is antisemitic. Several German cities have passed legislation barring state-funded venues from hosting events for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that Waters champions.
Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, said at a protest before Water’s concert last Sunday in her home city that she was frustrated by the courts.
“Since October 2022, there have been arguments about this concert. Legal motions and media headlines have been produced en masse — without yielding any result,” she said. “So that now, in May, we are standing here protesting against a concert that is taking place exactly as Roger Waters always wanted it to.”
Politicians joined in the protest with Knobloch, and even the management of the Olympia Stadium, on monitors ahead of the concert, explicitly distanced itself from the singer’s politics, according to the Suddeutsche Zeitung.
“What do the regular affirmations of ‘Never Again’ by politicians and statements that antisemitism has no place in Germany actually count for, if at the same time errant interpreters and intellectual arsonists are offered a public space to blatantly spread their hatred of Jews and Israel?” read the May 22 statement from the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany, led by Rabbis Avichai Apel, Zsolt Balla and Yehuda Pushkin. “It is deeply shameful that in no case in Germany has it so far been possible to ban the clearly antisemitic and anti-Israeli concerts of Roger Waters.”
The Belltower journalist Nicholas Potter, who observed the May 17 Berlin concert, argued that Waters promoted antisemitic language.
In speech bubbles on an LED screen in the Mercedes-Benz Arena, Waters blamed the world’s troubles on “THE POWERS THAT BE,” which Potter described as “an ominous, overpowering elite that is not explicitly named — this is an antisemitic blueprint on which many conspiracy narratives work.”
Before the event, BDS supporters outside the arena handed out flyers and held up banners, one of which read, “Jews, Israelis and internationals all agree with the Roger,” added Potter, noting that the average concertgoer appeared to be white, German and around 60 years old.
Waters has had little new to say about the allegations of antisemitism and has not apparently changed his tune. According to the Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, hours before his concert in Munich, Waters posted a message on Facebook calling Israel a “tyrannical, racist regime.” He compared the BDS movement to Germany’s Nazi-era White Rose resistance movement, whose leaders, including siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, were beheaded by the Nazi regime.
His remarks were in keeping with his comments in an interview with Spiegel Magazine in March. He denied that he had ever been an antisemite, and added that it was “bizarre that my career should now be attacked on the basis of allegations made by the Israel lobby.”
“For all I care, they can try to cancel every concert I do in Germany. I will fight them in court,” he told Spiegel. “It’s a tragedy for Germany that they even try. Because the message to the world is: We Germans don’t care about human rights and freedom of expression.”
People should take Waters at his word and stay away if they disagree with his politics, said Stawski, referring to the fact that Waters also tells Pink Floyd fans who don’t agree with him to “f*** off,” via the arena screen.
“If you are a fan of Pink Floyd but do not want to go along with the antisemitism, buy a CD of Pink Floyd and do not damn well go into these concerts,” Stawski said.