Roger Waters on Lionel Messi, Lana Del Rey and the BDS Movement
Pink Floyd Co-Founder Roger Waters called on Ms Lana Del Rey to “do the right thing.” Coincidentally, she did. Waters says such victories by the BDS Movement have the potential to be a game-changer
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News from Montreal, Canada, on August 30.
I had the opportunity to interview for The Real News Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters. The subject of our discussion was the plan of American singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey to perform at the Meteor Festival in Israel. The movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions on Israel, or BDS, as well as its supporters, including Roger, had called upon Ms. Del Rey to withdraw from the festival as an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people. At the time of my interview of Roger, Ms. Del Rey had announced that despite the requests of the BDS movement and her supporters, she intended to perform in both Israel and Palestine. But on the day following my interview of Roger, Ms. Del Rey announced that she would not be performing at the Meteor Festival after all. In her announcement, she stated: “It’s important for me to perform in both Palestine and Israel and treat all my fans equally. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been possible to line up both visits with such short notice, and therefore I’m postponing my appearance at the Meteor Festival until a time when I can schedule visits for both my Israeli and Palestinian fans, as well as hopefully other countries in the region.”
A wave of cancellations followed Ms. Del Rey’s announcement. U.S. musician Henry Laufer, or Shlohmo, announced his departure from the festival just hours after Lana Del Rey. Among other names also disappearing from the concert’s lineup are Britain’s DJ Shanti Celeste, Swedish DJ Seinfeld and British DJ Leon Vynehall. Despite these rather dramatic change in circumstances we have decided to air my conversation with Roger Waters, because much of what Roger had to say remains highly relevant to the question of BDS and the struggle for a just peace in Palestine and Israel. So please watch and listen.
Roger, thank you so much for coming back on The Real News.
ROGER WATERS: I’m happy to be here again. Thank you.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, Roger, I first want to talk to you about this notion that Ms. Del Rey’s decision is not a political one. Let’s assume for the moment she’s being forthright here, and that politics is not part of her own personal motivation for playing in Israel. Given, however, what we’ve seen in prior situations, where well-known artists ultimately do perform despite pressure from the BDS movement, how can we expect the Israeli government and its advocates to respond to her decision? What use can we expect them to attempt to make of it?
ROGER WATERS: What they always do. They will use it as part the cultural whitewash of their policies. So they will say this is an endorsement for them to go on with business as usual in terms of the occupation. The only I would say positive about Lana Del Rey, and there’s very little to find in what she’s done so far to be positive about, is that she has, to some extent, at least, engaged in a conversation. Which others have not. Like, Thom Yorke still hasn’t spoken to me about these issues, ever.
So it’s good that she’s at least engaging a little bit. Obviously none of us will be satisfied until she does the proper thing and cancels her performance at the Meteor Music Festival. Like- I have to say this now, as well, because I heard from the PACB yesterday. And it’s now 12 cancellations. Twelve artists have now canceled and said, no, we won’t go and play. So the message is getting through to a lot of our colleagues, and we take great solace from that. And hopefully Lana will wake up and do the right thing. There’s always a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do in any situation. At the moment she’s doing the wrong thing.
And she can- as much as she wants, you know, bless her, she can say this is not a political act. That’s like saying if you put a gun between somebody’s eyes and pull the trigger it’s not murder. It is. It just is. That is your reality. This is a political act. Whether she accepts it now or not is irrelevant. It is, Lana, trust me.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now, many would regard you as the leading spokesperson for the BDS movement, and among performing artists the most outspoken defender of Palestinian human rights. One would imagine that other performing artists who are confronted with this choice, whether to play in Israel or not, would be concerned about the practical consequences, the career implications of refusing to play there. From a professional perspective, have you yourself had to pay a price for your strong defense of Palestinian rights? And if so, what has that price been?
ROGER WATERS: Well, yeah, I have. I mean … But I have no idea what the hidden price is. I’ve had Amex withdrawing sponsorship for tours, and banks, and blah blah blah blah blah. As you can imagine, the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States has tried to attack me in every possible way they can. And they threatened me as well, and they’ve tried to destroy a lot of charity work that I’ve done, particularly with veterans in the United States.
And so yeah, there’s a lot. I’m in the very lucky situation of being very established, and also of pricking people’s interest with the work that I’m still doing now, the album I made a couple of years ago. And people are kind of interested in my views, because … not because they’re radical, particularly, but because they’re kind of interesting, A. But more, obviously, because people understand that I am motivated entirely by my capacity for empathy with other human beings around the world. And also by nurturing that capacity within myself, and trying to help other people develop that capacity for empathy with their brothers and sisters all over the world in the work that we do for human rights. Specifically, in this instance, for the people of Palestine, who don’t have any rights at all at the moment.
And as I say often on stage, when we all got together in 1948 in Paris, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed by the then-fledgling United Nations, it declares that all human beings all over the world, irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, or nationality, have a natural right to basic civil and human rights, and to the right of self-determination. And I believe that to be true. So this struggle is really only an attempt to implement those brave words from 1948.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: You know, before the World Cup was held in the summer, the Argentinian national football team, which had agreed to play a friendly match in Jerusalem, canceled. At the time proponents of Palestinian human rights hailed that as a major victory for the BDS movement, whereas the defenders of Israel attempted to characterize the cancellation as having been motivated by concerns for the safety of the Argentinian players, including in particular Lionel Messi, the most famous footballer on the planet. How do you assess- how important was that, that particular victory, for the BDS movement? And how do you assess the current state of the BDS movement as a whole?
ROGER WATERS: Well, to deal with the soccer, first, the football, it was hugely important. Because it was the toe in the door of getting sportsmen and sportswomen all over the world to start to pay attention to the predicament of the Palestinian people.
So for the Argentine football team to say, no, we’re not going to cross the BDS picket line, was huge. There have been moves very recently which, which to date have not succeeded, to try and stop the friendly between Northern Ireland and the Israeli Football team. I hope that our colleagues in BDS in Northern Ireland succeed in their struggle to have that game cancelled. Not because we want to punish Israeli footballers. Obviously we don’t, any more than back in the days of apartheid South Africa one wanted to punish South African rugby players or cricket players by refusing to play with them. It nothing to do with the players themselves. And certainly we bear no ill will to Lionel Messi, who as you say is, you know, probably the greatest dribbler of a football that anybody has ever seen or anybody ever will see.
And I gather from friends I have who have been colleagues of his in the Barcelona side that he’s a quiet man, and he’s kind of reflective, but he’s not the kind of guy who would stand up and wave flags, or, or, or shout his beliefs into the wind. And I have the utmost respect for him. But hats off to them for cancelling that game.
And it could be the start of a general movement within sport to right wrongs. You know, it’s beginning to become more of a thing. It kind of faded away after South Africa, after that battle was won. But trust me, that battle in South Africa against the apartheid state, which was won eventually, a lot of it was to do with the fact that they desperately- the people of the country desperately wanted to play cricket and rugby against the rest of us. And now they can. And they can do it with cricket and rugby teams that have black people in them. How fucking cool is that? I mean, I’m sorry, but it is hugely important that athletes can have this kind of effect. I don’t know what else to say about that.
You know, the other thing is in the, in the industry that I work in, it’s going to be a huge struggle for the Israelis to persuade enough artists to cross the picket line to be able to have the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel next year, given that lady, I don’t know who she was. I didn’t see any of it, because it’s not my thing. But given an Israeli lady apparently won last year, they are due to host it. Well, that is going to be a really really important struggle. Far more important than Lana Del Rey, or a lot of the things that are going on now.
BDS is so much more powerful than it was when I became involved, however long ago it was, 12, 13 years ago. And the Israeli government, the Israeli right wing- not Israelis. I mean, you know, there are people in Israel who are part of the resistance to the settler movement, just like you and I are. So we can’t lump all Israelis together, and neither should we. But they’re running scared at the moment, which is why they’re trying to make BDS illegal. Not just in the United States and Canada where they are, but also in Europe. I’ve been touring all over Europe this summer and in, both in Germany and in France they’re trying to make laws to make criticism of Israel illegal. So we’ll see. I am confident that we will continue to make ground.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, we’ve been … Yes, go ahead.
ROGER WATERS: Well the why is that there is always a right thing to do under almost all circumstances. Almost all. And certainly in this circumstance the right thing is to support the oppressed people of Palestine, who’ve had the rawest of any possible deal that any people could possibly imagine since 1948 when they were kicked- 70,000 of them were kicked out of their homes. And ever since then it has been a continuous encroachment upon any possibility of them having a right to self-determination over their land, where they were living.
So the right thing is to support … Desmond Tutu, I quoted Desmond Tutu to Lana Del Rey. You know, Desmond Tutu said famously, if you remain neutral where injustice is occurring, you are siding with the oppressor. And that’s exactly what Lana Del Rey is doing in this situation. Remaining neutral is to side with the occupation and with the apartheid state. So whether she thinks it is or not is completely irrelevant. It just is. And the right thing to do, Lana, is to cancel.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, we’ve been speaking to Roger Waters, one of the most prolific defenders of Palestinian human rights and proponents of the BDS movement. Thank you very much for joining us again today, Roger.
ROGER WATERS: You’re very welcome. It was good to speak to you again, Dimitri.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News Network from Toronto, Canada.