Roger Waters Confronts the Occupation of the Canadian Mind
Rock Musician and Palestinian Rights Advocafe Roger Waters discusses his recent concert tour in Canada
D. Lascaris: This is Dmitri Lascaris for The Real News network. Legendary musician Roger Waters, the co-founder of Pink Floyd, just completed a 14 concert tour of Canada which concluded on October 29th in Vancouver, British Columbia. For the last ten years, Roger has been a leading voice globally for the defense of Palestinian human rights. His advocacy has included the role of narrator in a documentary called “The Occupation of the American Mind.” In 2016 Paul Jay of The Real News explored this documentary in a three-part interview with Roger and with filmmaker Sut Jhally. If you haven’t seen the interview, I encourage you all to watch it on the website of The Real News.
The more Roger has spoken in defense of Palestinian human rights, the more he has come under attack and attracted the ire of the pro-Israel lobby groups in the countries where he has performed. At the outset of Roger’s Canadian tour, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith Canada began attacking him. B’nai Brith went so far as to follow Roger around the country. In Canadian cities where he performed, B’nai Brith staged showings of a so-called documentary by a US filmmaker by the name of Ian Halperin. Normally, Halperin is a celebrity biographer who’s work focuses on the less palatable aspects of celebrity lives. In the past, he’s described himself as a Kardashian expert.
But this particular Halperin film was about the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, for which Roger has become a major spokesperson. To discuss his Canadian tour, Roger joins us today. And we thank you so much for coming back on The Real News, Roger.
Roger Waters: I’m really happy to be back.
D. Lascaris: So Roger, I want to begin by relating The Occupation of the American Mind to your recent experiences in Canada. When you and filmmaker Sut Jhally came on The Real News last year, you talked about some of the techniques that Israel advocates typically employ in order to achieve their propaganda objectives. During your Canadian tour, did you sometimes feel that you were being targeted with the very tactics you examined in The Occupation of the American Mind?
Roger Waters: Yeah. That is the impression that one gets. In fact, that’s not the impression that one gets. That is the reality of what happens. It’s interesting to be part of it, because for a number of reasons.
One is that they’re deadly serious.
Two is that they’re very single minded.
Three is that they’re almost completely incompetent.
And four is that they are tiny in number. So there mass protests outside my gigs would be, five people? Maybe? Or six. This ridiculous film that this so-called filmmaker Ian Halperin has made, I’ve seen the first 32 minutes of it. That’s all they would give to people. Journalists, like. It’s so badly made, so incoherent, and one would be laughing if it wasn’t so serious that protest groups are attacking basic freedoms of speech that most of us like to think that we enjoy in countries that call themselves democratic, like both the United States and Canada.
Though I know I’m going to face this problem in Europe, as well. Where there has been an enormous amount of lobbying against BDS and attacks on people who support it.
D. Lascaris: I want to just talk to you about the nature, the substance of the attacks. And I think certainly one of the principal messages or claims in Halperin’s film and by the lobby groups that have supported his film in Canada, is that you have some sort of a fixation with Israel’s human rights record and that you ignore the human rights abuses of other states. How do you respond to that allegation?
Roger Waters: Well, it is true that I have taken a lot of notice of and studied in quite some considerable detail Israel’s abuses of human rights. And I have been doing that for the last ten or eleven years. I’m not quite sure which other countries they would prefer me to be focusing my attentions on. I think it’s a diversionary tactic.
To say, “Do not look at Israel’s abuses of human rights and all the illegalities that we, the Israeli government, are committing in the pursuit of the colonization and occupation of land that used to be called Palestine. Don’t look at us. Please don’t ask us any awkward questions. Don’t join a peaceful protest movement that is trying to bring pressure to bear on us in order to bring us in line with international law, and so on and so forth. Go and look at something else.”
Well, maybe I will when this battle is over, which maybe one day it will be. Maybe there will be some other beleaguered people who’s rights are being trampled on, and maybe I will engage myself in that struggle as well, because I care about all people who’s human rights are being trampled, all over the world, whoever they might be, whatever their race or religion or political persuasion. So really, it is no defense to say, “Yeah, okay, but why us?” Because you were there. Because I came to your country to do a gig, because I engaged in conversation with Palestinian civil society. Because they started a campaign called boycott, divestment, and sanctions, in order to draw global civil society into their struggle against their oppression by a colonizing power that maintains an army of occupation on their land. And controls their lives entirely. Where they have no civil rights at all.
So it’s not rocket science, this. And the diversionary tactic will not work. If you’re oppressing somebody, it is no defense if you, standing with your boot on the guy’s throat, to say, “Oh, look over there, there’s somebody else with a boot on somebody’s throat.”
No. We’re talking about your boot, and their throat, at the moment. We’ll go and have a look over there later.
D. Lascaris: Let’s talk about the colonization of the discourse, which was so ably examined in The Occupation of the American Mind. In Montreal, Ian Halperin blasted the media for its coverage of your criticism of Israel’s human rights violations and, according to The Montreal Gazette, during a Q&A following a showing of Halperin’s film in Montreal, “An emotional Halperin engaged in an expletive-filled rant against the Montreal media.” And apparently Halperin’s rant was so aggressive, that B’nai Brith Canada, which has been promoting as you know, his showings across the country was embarrassed and was forced to issue an apology to those who were insulted by Halperin’s remarks, which they acknowledged were disrespectful.
Roger, I want to talk to you about the Canadian media coverage of your tour, and of the political aspects of your activities. During the Canadian tour, there was a great deal written in the corporate media about the political and social justice initiatives to which you give some attention in your concerts and outside of your concerts. The National Post, The Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, among others, all chimed in with pieces on your tour and touching upon the political aspects of your work.
Generally, do you feel that their reporting was balanced? And how do you respond to Halperin’s claim that the Canadian media were too kind to you?
Roger Waters: He must have been looking at different newspapers that I was looking at, because all the articles that I saw were either … The National Post, for instance, carried a piece by a woman called Barbara Kay that was extremist, right wing, raging, rant, attack, personal, ad-homonym, attack, against me, personally. So I’ve no idea what he’s talking about.
They gave coverage to quotes from Michael Marsten, who’s the CEO of B’nai Brith, which as you know is a Jewish organization in Canada. So I don’t know what papers he was reading that I wasn’t reading. Some of the Canadian newspapers reviewed my show and gave it glowing reviews. Which is nice, thank you very much, those reviewers, for actually coming to the show, listening to the songs, checking out the show’s theme, what it’s actually about. The show is very, very, in its essence, it is only about promoting the idea that human beings are all equal, and that we all have rights, and that we should treat each other with empathy and love. That is what my show is about.
So the Halperin, Barbara Kay … what are the other organizations. There’s these people who’ve been following me all over North America with a truck saying that I spread hatred and lies. I don’t spread hatred, and I do not spread lies. I’m very, very careful not to tell lies about anything or anyone. Because I am a sincere supporter of a non-violent global protest movement against the occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, and also the containment of the large civilian population in Gaza where there are 1.8 million people kept in what is an open-air prison. It’s not a virtual prison, it is a prison. Where they are denied the basic stuff of life. They are denied water, electricity, they’re denied all the things that you need to stay alive.
Miraculously, they’ve managed to survive so far. But life is becoming untenable in Gaza. They are being starved out of existence. It is one of the most heinous examples of collective punishment that we can see anywhere on the collective globe. These people, who attack me, do so because they have an allegiance, I suppose, to Zionism and to the state of Israel, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have these allegiances. But unfortunately, in expressing their allegiance, they resort to propaganda and to lies.
If you read what they have written on their little truck, saying that I’m speaking hatred and lies, it’s actually they’re looking in a mirror. Because that is what they’re doing. I’ve never used the words, I didn’t use words like hatred. And I certainly don’t tell lies.
They tell lies. They say, for instance, that I’m an anti-Semite. Which is a bare-faced, out-and-out, lie. And anybody who knows what anti-Semite means, and is a reasonable person, of any faith, whatever their faith or color or nationality, will absolutely agree that you can accuse me of being many things. Outspoken, you could accuse me of being. Political, you can accuse me of being. You cannot accuse me of being anti-Semitic. They conflate the idea of criticism of the policies of the current Israeli government, and previous Israeli governments, with anti-Semitism. Which it isn’t. They’re just wrong. It’s a misunderstanding. It’s semantics. It’s a misunderstanding of the meanings of the words, anti and Semite.
So it’s something that, hopefully, we could have cleared up years and years ago. But we can’t. And the reason that we can’t clear it up is because they have no reason or defense of the policies of the Israeli government, and its occupation of its beleaguered, neighboring, people. In consequence, they try to deflect the conversation, always, away from the realities by calling people, like me, names like anti-Semite. It’s simply to deflect the spotlight away from the reality of what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinian people.
We in BDS, and other movements, and also I have to say many Jewish organizations. Some specifically I would mention, in the United States, Jewish Voice for Peace, and in Canada I was hosted by an organization called Independent Jewish Voices, who invited me when I was in Vancouver, on one of my nights off, to do a moderated talk and a Q&A session in a church. I think it was called St. Andrew’s Church. And we had 1200 people came, and we had a grown-up, measured, conversation about this whole subject. Which I’m happy to say ended with quite a long applause at the end, because I think they were glad to hear my views, the people who were there. And it’s the way that grown up people who care about actual issues speak to each other. And it’s not chanting slogans and calling people names.
D. Lascaris: It’s very interesting, Roger, the way, I think you’ve laid it out, the real dichotomy here. The dichotomy that we’re being told about but the advocates for the state of Israel is, you’re either for or against the Jewish people.
But you point out that Barbara Kay’s attack on you was really a right wing attack and that progressive groups including Jewish groups like Independent Jewish Voices are very supportive of your work, and in fact they issued a statement to that effect before your event at the end of October. We also have in this country, I’m not sure whether you’re aware of it, but Libby Davies who was the former deputy leader of the Social Democratic NDP, praised your work in a piece in Rabble.
So ultimately, the real divide is one of progressivism versus right wing nationalism. Remarkably, Barbara Kay herself, in a moment of uncharacteristic candor about this issue, pretty much admitted as much in a recent op-ed in The National Post, in which she characterized the people who are defending advocates like yourself and the work that you’re doing as progressives. And that’s ultimately what this is about. It’s about progressive values.
I want to talk about how we’re going to achieve those values. Conclude by talking about how we’re going to achieve those values, or realize them in the context of the Palestinian struggle, going forward. How would you evaluate the performance of the BDS movement thus far? It’s in it’s 13th year. And how do you feel the future looks for the movement, and where the real promise for it lies? What are the strategies that it needs to employ in order to achieve it’s ultimate objectives, going forward?
Roger Waters: That’s very interesting. I think the rise of the BDS movement has been absolutely spectacular. It was started in 2005, as you know, by a huge coalition of disparate groups within Palestinian civil society and from those roots in … And they wrote a letter inviting people, concerned human beings in the rest of the world, to join a non-violent struggle involving boycott, divestment, and sanctions, to bring pressure on both the Israeli government and upon the Israeli government’s main benefactor, the person who pays, mainly, for their army. And so on and so forth. Which is the United States of America. To bring pressure on these two governments to adhere to the rule of international law and to the basic tenets of human rights jurisprudence as laid out in the 1948-49, whichever year it was, Declaration of Universal Human Rights in Paris by the then fledgling United Nations.
The way this is going to go, I suspect now, now that the two state solution has been destroyed by the duplicity of successive Israeli governments, it’s quite clear from what has happened that they never had any intention of making peace with the Palestinian indigenous population. The land that they took over when the created the state of Israel, or the land that they invaded all around Jerusalem, but all over the West Bank as well, when they invaded neighboring land in 1967 during the Six Day War.
Which is another popular misconception, but which goes a long way to point at the success of the Israeli propaganda machine that has put out or explained, as they call it, that they’ve managed to persuade many people that Israel was attacked in 1967. It was extraordinary how many people think that, and that they defended themselves. As we know, that’s not true at all. It was a sneak, by the European this morning, surprise unilateral attack on Egypt and Suez.
Anyway, I’m meandering a bit. What’s gonna happen? What’s gonna happen is we are going to continue to ask this question: do we, the people of the world, believe in the idea that human beings have rights, and that those rights necessarily need to be protected by a rule of law that is accepted, all over the world, by global civil society.
My feeling about that is, yes.
A. I, me, the individual Roger Waters, I do believe that individual human beings should have rights. They should have the right to life, liberty, even in extreme cases, they’re very extreme now, but it should become less and less extreme, the pursuit of happiness. And also property rights, and a few other basic rights. They have a right not to be hungry. And they have a right to food and shelter. Basic, basic rights. But the main right is the right to liberty.
So, people should have recourse to the law, of some kind. Nobody should be able to arrest you, in your bed, at night, and incarcerate you, without you being able to make an appeal to due process and have a hearing, in a courtroom, in front of qualified people and if necessary in front of a jury of your peers. This was one of the rights that was fought for in 1215 on the banks of the River Thames at Runnymede, when they finally got their dictator-tyrant, King John, to sign an agreement with the bards. That’s where Habeas Corpus came from. It’s article 29. It wasn’t ratified for nearly a hundred years. It was ratified in 1297 or something. But that is the law that says, bring me the body. You cannot lock somebody up and say, we’re sorry. Well, the Israelis do that routinely. Thousands and thousands of Palestinians are locked away with no recourse to any law. They call it administrative detention.
So that’s one of the rights. All I’m saying is that the way this is going to go is that more and more of us are going to say, “You have to come out of the woodwork.” And in a way, I’m happy that the Israelis, or many members of the Israeli Knesset, are now coming out of the woodwork. People like Ayelet what’s-her-face, who’s the minister of justice. And others in the secular party. They’re now coming out of the woodwork and saying, “We don’t give a shit about law. We’re not interested in it.” They’re beginning to go biblical now, and say, “This is our country. God gave it to us. Go and read the bible. That’s the end of it.”
Well, that is not good enough. Any religious extremist or fanatic can say that. And it is no way for we, the human race, to organize relations between us and others on this planet. If that is the way to do it, well then all right, take your pick. You can be a muslim extremist, or a Jewish extremist, or a Christian extremist, or a Buddhist extremist. You can find the extreme end of almost any religion. Or almost any nationality. And say, “We are the exception to the general rule. We are more special that you are.”
Now I’m going to start waxing literary, because I’ll start talking Orwell here. I’m going back to Animal Farm, and quoting, you know, the pigs in Animal Farm accepted the notion that all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others. Well, if you want to have that conversation, I would prefer that you found somebody, or people, more eloquent than I am to sit down in a room and have it. And I could name a few of them.
There are wise men out there, who can sit round a table and who can talk about these general philosophical concepts and say, “Should these general philosophical concepts about human rights and about whether and what we got with the divine right of kings, if we did in the French revolution or the American revolution, or whatever. And you know, the latter was obviously in the 18th century. Was this a move in the right direction, and if it was, why? And blah, blah, blah, blah.” And as the power devolves, and suddenly it’s not just God who has power, or kings, or tyrants, or whatever. It is like, well actually, no, lesser mortals actually have rights. Well, then that’s something that we can discuss, and that’s the direction that I would like to think this small, fragile, delicate, planet might move in, in the future.
Rather than our current situation, which is to encourage things like the Israeli occupation of Palestinian homes, bedrooms, kitchens, gardens, villages. Hayarkon Stadium in Tel Aviv, where Radiohead went and played so ingloriously in July last year, is built on a village that was a Palestinian village that was razed to the ground after 1948. And they built a rock and roll stadium or a football stadium or whatever it is, on top of it. I will always come back, having meandered around Hayarkon football stadium or wherever, I will always come back to that innocent child shot in the head walking to school. And my rage will rise up in my gorge, and I will suppress it and go, “I must keep on with the work that I do. Small as it is, insignificant as I may be in a cog, the people that I have admired all my life have been the people that I have seen, sometimes against all odds, standing up for the weak.”
Standing up for the powerless. Standing up for the idea that though we may not be rich and powerful and armed to the teeth, we nevertheless are human beings and we deserve the empathy and love of our brothers and sisters all over the world. We’re brothers and sisters. We differ from one another, as brothers and sisters do. We all have families. We all have small, nuclear, families. We can look at our actual brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles and aunts and things, and see the differences, and understand that we’re not all the same. And we’re not all perfect. In fact, none of us is perfect. That’s the whole point. That’s the whole point. We need one another’s help. We need to cooperate. And at the moment, we’re not. At the moment, we have allowed greed really, to take over all our lives and we are allowing a culture of greed to destroy the planet that we should be protecting to hand on to our children and their children and their children. The successive generations. We should be applying ourselves to that, not to, how can I get this? How can I steal my neighbor’s land?
D. Lascaris: Yes and unfortunately, to a large degree, what’s happening to the Palestinian people is a microcosm of the destruction of the planet writ large. And on that somber note, with the hope that that message will be heard. And I really want to thank you Roger, for joining us today. And it was a pleasure speaking to you, as always.
Roger Waters: All right, Dmitri. Thanks, my friend.
D. Lascaris: Thank you. And this has been Dmitri Lascaris for The Real News.