For more than a decade, former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters has loudly protested policies of the Israeli government that he maintains amount to an occupation and collective punishment of Palestinians. It's attracted criticism so severe that today, Mr. Waters has a word of caution for those who would join the movement of which he counts himself a member.
"They come down on you as hard as they can," Mr. Waters told The Globe and Mail. "Trust me, I don't mind a good scrap. But they pull no punches."
Mr. Waters, who in 1968 succeeded Syd Barrett as the psychedelic-rock band's creative leader, is on a Canadian tour that ends with two shows in Vancouver on Oct. 28 and 29. In addition, he's scheduled a more intimate gathering for Oct. 26, at downtown Vancouver's St. Andrew's Wesley Church. The evening will see Mr. Waters interviewed by Martha Roth of Independent Jewish Voices Canada in what's billed as a forum on human rights.
In an exclusive interview ahead of that event, Mr. Waters reiterated his support for the BDS Movement, which stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Palestinian activists launched the campaign in 2005, seeking to exert economic pressure on Israel's government. Mr. Waters became a vocal supporter the following year after visiting the country for the first time.
He described the goals of his participation in the BDS Movement in specific terms: To end what Palestinians regard as an Israeli occupation and to see the Israeli government respect the civil rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens the same as it does the rights of Jewish citizens.
"Everybody deserves the same, basic human rights," Mr. Waters said. "That's all my position is."
In recent years, the controversy has intensified. Mr. Waters has publicly criticized acts such as Bon Jovi and Radiohead for ignoring his requests that they cancel shows scheduled for Israel. In October, 2016, American Express backed out of a $4-million deal to sponsor Mr. Waters's tour of the United States. At one of his Toronto shows earlier this month, the Jewish Defence League of Canada held a protest outside the stadium. While Mr. Waters's tour crossed Canada, a second Jewish group, B'nai Brith Canada, followed him, holding screenings of a documentary titled Wish You Weren't Here. In the film, Mr. Waters is called a "horrible bigot" and "an anti-Semite." (A Vancouver screening is scheduled for Oct. 29.)
"This is why we are having a meeting in Vancouver," Mr. Waters said. He explained he wants to return the conversation to politics and the policies that the BDS Movement seeks to change. He maintained he is not, as critics such as the Jewish nonprofit Anti-Defamation League have labelled him, an anti-Semite.
"I'm not talking about the Jewish people," Mr. Waters emphasized. "The Jewish people are very divided upon this question. I am talking about the Israeli government, which is very, very right wing. The Netanyahu government."
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has posted a notice on its website, noting Mr. Waters's tour and encouraging people to speak out against "his bigoted campaign."
"Waters promotes vile discrimination against millions of people simply because of their citizenship. That is hate," the notice states, going on to allege that activists with the BDS movement "frequently cross the line into antisemitism."
Israeli and Palestinian politics have received some time on Mr. Waters's stage this year. But his primary target in concerts these days is U.S. President Donald Trump. Mr. Waters, however, said he does not see Mr. Trump as the United States' ultimate problem, but rather as a symptom of a much larger disease.
"America is broken," he charged. "Commerce is everything. They have allowed themselves to be taken over by the power of corporations … They are no longer living in a democracy."
Mr. Waters warned that Canada risks going down the same path, pointing to growing inequality and popular discontent to which an extreme concentration of wealth can give rise.
"As the Germans discovered in the early thirties, a disgruntled populace makes a country absolutely rife to be taken over and turned into a tyranny," Mr. Waters said. "Because it is very easy to persuade a population which is ill-educated and which feels defeated, that it is somebody else's fault. And to focus their attention on the enemy – the Muslims, the Chinese, the Mexicans, anybody. Anybody but their government. And that is what has happened."
It's those sorts of divides that Mr. Waters said his current tour, Us + Them, aims to bridge.
"I've done a few gigs in Canada now," he continued. "And this is the message that I'm trying to spread: love is a lot better than all of that crap."