German TV Drops Roger Waters Concerts Over His Support for Israeli Boycott

Roger Waters

The ex-Pink Floyd frontman supports the Palestinian-led boycott, which calls on artists to refuse to perform in Israel.

German public broadcasters have dropped plans to air concerts next year by ex-Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters, citing what they call “accusations of anti-Semitism against him.”

Waters is among the most prominent supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, or BDS, a Palestinian-led group that calls on artists to boycott Israel to protest the country's occupation of territories where Palestinians seek statehood. Waters, along with other supporters of BDS, have been accused of anti-Semitism for their protest.

Five television and radio affiliates of Germany's national ARD network have dropped plans to broadcast concerts by Waters in Berlin and Cologne scheduled next summer. RBB, a regional ARD affiliate in Berlin and Brandenburg, which was not scheduled to air the concerts, joined the protest by refusing to promote the concerts online and on its radio networks. The channel said it wanted to send a message to other artists who refuse to perform in Israel.

“Taking a clear position here is an important signal for RBB, to the Jewish communities in Berlin and Brandenburg,” RBB director Patricia Schlesinger said in a statement.
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, supported the move, calling the “quick and decisive reaction” by the public broadcasters “an important signal that rampant antisemitism against Israel has no place in Germany.”

Marek Lieberberg, Waters’ tour director (and the son of Holocaust survivors) called the broadcasters' decision “absolutely ridiculous.” Speaking to Germany's Mannheimer Morgen newspaper, he said the surge in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany party showed German Jews were right to be concerned about “clearly visible and growing antisemitism” in the country but argued that Waters “has a right to freedom of opinion.”

The BDS movement was launched in 2005 as a nonviolent campaign to try and pressure Israel to comply with international law and end the occupation of territory it has held since the 1967 war. But while the movement has gathered momentum in recent years, it has also drawn sharp criticism from artists who say it unjustly punishes Israeli's artistic community.

In Germany, the mayors of several major cities, including Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin, have officially condemned the BDS movement as "anti-Semitic." German culture minister Monika Grutters has also been sharply critical of the group. After several Arab artists boycotted a pop music festival in Berlin, citing BDS, Grutters called the movement "anti-Israeli propaganda." Israel's only involvement in the festival was paying the cost of a flight to Berlin for the one Israeli artist, singer-songwriter Riff Cohen, scheduled to perform there.

Australian singer Nick Cave said his recent tour of Israel was in direct, deviant response to the BDS movement, which he said has tried to “bully” and “silence” musicians. Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren has also rejected calls to boycott Israel.

ARD in Germany was recently accused of anti-Semitism itself after one of its affiliates refused to air a documentary exploring discrimination, media bias and rising violence against Jews in Europe. ARD claimed the film, Chosen and Excluded — the Hate on Jews in Europe, was one-sided and did not meet its journalistic standards.

But after the film was leaked online via a local tabloid, ARD broadcast the documentary, albeit in an highly edited form with additional on-air commentary. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that RBB had dropped the Roger Waters concerts from its schedule. The channel never planned to air the concerts, it simply dropped promotion of them on its outlets.