Did you happen to hear President Barack Obama’s speech in Jerusalem, Israel the other day? The occasion was solemn: the funeral of Shimon Peres, Israel’s elder statesman and the last of its Founding Fathers. If like me you took a break from the mainstream media’s fevered campaign to lynch Donald Trump for voicing uncomfortable truths about the direction our country is headed you would have heard the commander-in-chief deliver one of the most reverential and nuanced eulogies in recent memory.
Obviously, though Obama like so many of the world leaders present in Jerusalem last week counted Shimon Peres as a friend—and as anyone who like myself had the privilege to meet this extraordinary man can attest, it would have been nearly impossible not to—his speech touched on the weighty issue of peace in the Middle East. He spoke of “this region [the Middle East] where too often Arab youth are taught to hate Israel from an early age.” And I am sad to report that one of the architects of that tragically misplaced bile, the singer Roger Waters, is about to be welcomed like the rock star he never actually was in our own Coachella Valley.
But not by me. First, on purely pop culture level, I don’t think Waters is worthy of sharing the same stage as Paul McCartney. The band for which Waters is mainly known, Pink Floyd, had one number-one hit in the United States. One. Whereas Paul McCartney—well, the record speaks for itself, so I needn’t waste a single precious breath on going there. I also take some issue with Waters’ pomposity, but then as Americans we expect a degree of that from our British brethren. We, after all, are the rebels in the family. But it’s Roger Waters’ pathologically misguided stance on Israel that should stop any American who has respect for the sole democracy in the Middle East from attending any concert in this country foolish enough to have him without asking some hard questions first.
In a March 2011 opinion piece for The Guardian newspaper, Waters announced his support for a specious thing called the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel by falsely comparing apartheid in South Africa with Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. He explained how a visit to part of a security barrier in Israel influenced his beliefs. Of course, if Waters’ reasoning had any basis in fact, China would have no Great Wall, Europe no medieval fortifications, and countries no borders because everybody can be trusted all the time, without any enforcement, to respect basic standards of human decency and international norms of territorial integrity. Right. It’s a good thing that performers like Water are just that, performers and not leaders. Waters seems to have had a visceral response to seeing an admittedly unlovely wall, and then in characteristic British imperialistic fashion, drew all the wrong conclusions from it and most egregiously, consistently fails to own up to the painfully clear reason for its construction in the first place.
So here’s a reminder: the reason is for one of security, not anything like racial separation. The number of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Palestinians against Israeli citizens, including Arab-Israeli citizens, since the founding of the Jewish State are too numerous to mention here but all are appalling and none are excusable. Far from it—and this is Water’s true shame and present danger—his willful empowerment of a toxic mindset that in one form or another is prone to sanctioning violence. Given much of the Arab world’s racist attitudes toward Jews (oh sure, they’ll call it anti-Zionism, but we all know what that really means) and decade after decade after Palestinian intransigence—the kind that Peres worked so hard to overcome but only too occasionally did—Israel’s decision to erect barriers in places, on land that is not in strictly speaking occupied but rather disputed—makes perfect, if joyless sense. What, pray tell, would you do?
Waters refuses to perform in Tel Aviv and that’s a good thing. Frankly there’s something a little unseemly about aging artists who scored some hits decades ago taking up space that is better filled by younger, more creative talents more aesthetically pleasing to behold and more in touch with the current zeitgeist, and who sometimes can barely afford to pay the rent. They’re the ones who need our support and enthusiasm the most, and yet they are even crowded out of the public conversation by a media that seems to have abandoned all pretense of objectivity to essentially shill for this sad lilypad of overpaid, aging talent. The Desert Sun and KMIR-TV have spectacularly failed to put on a critical eye: they may as well be PR agencies for the concert organizers and yes, on a very basic level, it’s a disservice to the entire population of Southern California.
However, the disservices the American media is doing to the American public this election season are legion. Instead of analysis and a critical eye there is puerile, lynch-mob reaction to the non-PC soundbite that might be at odds with what we’re told should be our better natures. But in the Middle East there’s no sugarcoating the less lovely sides of human nature. Obama has just warned the world about the hazards of preaching hate to the young. Roger Waters has demonstrated that he is more artisan of distortion than artist and until he gets a proper education in Middle East history, he doesn’t deserve the chance to impose his twisted views on anyone old or young. He deserves no spotlight under our desert sun.