Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters took to social media Friday night to defend himself — as he often has in recent years — against charges of antisemitism, saying that “my recent performance in Berlin has attracted bad faith attacks from those who want to smear and silence me because they disagree with my political views and moral principles.”
His statement followed on the heels of Berlin police telling news media that they had opened an investigation into Waters’ behavior and imagery at his arena concerts in Berlin. Waters did not directly refer to the news of the German police investigation in his post.
“The elements of my performance that have been questioned are quite clearly a statement in opposition to fascism, injustice and bigotry in all its forms,” Waters wrote on Facebook. “Attempts to portray those elements as something else are disingenuous and politically motivated. The depiction of an unhinged fascist demagogue has been a feature of my shows since Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ in 1980.”
A police spokesman in Berlin said Waters was being investigated on the “suspicion of incitement to public hatred because the clothing worn on stage could be used to glorify or justify Nazi rule.” It is illegal in Germany to display Nazi symbolism, justify the Holocaust or commit antisemitic acts. Reports that Waters wears a replica SS uniform as part of his show are incorrect, as the costuming is similar but parodic in nature, however disturbing or inappropriate his pantomiming firing a machine gun at the audience may be.
Berlin police further told the New York Times that investigators’ findings would be presented to the state’s attorney at some point during the next three months, at which time it will be decided whether Waters is indicted.
However the Berlin police investigation proceeds, controversy over Waters’ tour is not likely to die soon, as several local government officials in England are already responding to the German controversy by saying his upcoming appearances in the U.K. should be canceled.
The action by police came in response to complaints about pseudo-Nazi costuming and imagery during a segment of Waters’ concerts devoted to “The Wall.” Moreover, the polarizing rock star has also come under fire for projecting the name of Holocaust victim Anne Frank juxtaposed with the name of Palestinian Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, identified on screen as having been killed for “being Palestinian,” which some Jewish groups and others contend equates Israel’s actions with the death camps that killed millions in Nazi Germany. (The names of others Waters believes have been murdered at the hands of the state are also projected, including Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.)
In his Facebook post, Waters further wrote, “I have spent my entire life speaking out against authoritarianism and oppression wherever I see it. When I was a child after the war, the name of Anne Frank was often spoken in our house, she became a permanent reminder of what happens when fascism is left unchecked. My parents fought the Nazis in World War II, with my father paying the ultimate price. Regardless of the consequences of the attacks against me, I will continue to condemn injustice and all those who perpetrate it.”
Going into the run of concerts in Germany, Waters posted on Facebook that, while he would not be directly speaking about his pro-BDS, anti-Israel views during the concerts, he remained adamant that Israel is a “tyrannical racist regime.”
Waters is next set to appear in Frankfurt Sunday night, a show that will go on after the performer successfully appealed a court order to ban the concert. Frankfurt was not alone in trying to shut down Waters’ appearance; Munich’s mayor unsuccessfully led an effort to halt Waters’ show there.
In response to the frequent accusations of antisemitism, Waters has been adamant over the years that his ire is reserved for Israel specifically and not Jews generally. He has been an avid supporter of the pro-Palestinian BDS movement, whose supporters distributed material at his German concerts, even as Jewish protesters were kept away.
Drawing attention at the Berlin shows was a piece of staging during the song “In the Flesh” in which Waters puts on the type of black coat and armband strongly associated with Nazis — although the symbol of two hammers is a takeoff on a swastika — and is handed a prop machine gun, which he “fires” at the audience, accompanied by sound effects. This follows a spoken-word bit in which a “queer,” someone who “looks Jewish,” a Black person (referred to by a racial epithet) and someone smoking a joint are singled out as being worthy of being shot. Since 1979, Pink Floyd fans have understood the song and its staging — and its adaptation in the film version of “The Wall” — as being satirical, in the context of a story about a rock star whose delusional state leads him to become a fascist.
But some commentators have said that they’re fully aware of the levels of irony baked into the performance while still finding it alarming that Waters would mime shooting the audience while wearing an SS-type uniform at ground zero for the Holocaust. An understanding of the imagery is further complicated, to some, by Waters’ virulent statements against Israel in subsequent years that have inflamed Jewish organizations and their supporters.
The accusations of antisemitism against Waters have been constant enough that he opened his concerts in Berlin with text on-screen, narrated in voiceover, looking to refute the charges at the outset: “On a matter of public interest: A court in Frankfurt has ruled that I am not an anti-Semite.” The next screen read: “Excellent. Just to be clear. I condemn anti-Semitism unreservedly.”
Writer Nicholas Potter, who attended a Berlin concert and wrote about it for Belltower News, refuted Waters’ claim of legal exoneration: “Waters’ claim that a court ruled he is not an antisemite isn’t true, by the way. The Administrative Court in Frankfurt am Main merely granted an emergency request by the singer to be allowed to perform in the Festhalle Frankfurt. The city had tried to prevent the concert at the request of the Jewish community. A step that was justified, among other things, by the historical significance of the venue,” Potter added, noting the venue “was used for the deportation of Jews under National Socialism. In Munich, too, an attempt was made to ban the concert in the Olympiahalle – but this was not possible for legal reasons, according to a city council resolution.”
The controversy will soon move to England … or has already. Christian Wakeford, an MP in Manchester, wrote on social media Thursday, “Roger Waters has a long history of vile attacks against Jewish people. His recent shows in Berlin show why he should not be welcome in Manchester. My letter to the AO Arena outlines why his concert next month should not go ahead. … I hope sense is seen and this man his vile views are seen nowhere near Manchester.”
Supporters of the Palestinian movement see Waters as the rare brave celebrity willing to risk the rancor of the Jewish community by supporting their cause wholeheartedly. On the other side, it hasn’t helped Waters’ cause that his former partner in Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, signed on to a statement telling Waters he is “antisemitic to your rotten core.” The broadside was actually penned by Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson, who further said Waters is “also a Putin apologist and a lying, thieving, hypocritical, tax-avoiding, lip-synching, misogynistic, sick-with-envy, megalomaniac. Enough of your nonsense.” Gilmour quote-tweeted his wife’s message, writing that he considered every word “demonstrably true.”
Although Waters has been defiant in the face of criticism, and even boycotts or canceled concerts, he has altered elements of his show in the past in response to the antisemitism charges. Specifically, after initially defending the star of David that used to appear on a sinister pig that floats over audiences (“Like it or not, the Star of David represents Israel”), he has now replaced that on the pig with the logo of the Israeli arms company Elbit Systems.
Ever willing to wade into political waters where few other stars would dare tread, Waters has weighed in on geopolitical dispute having nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians, as well, and regularly lambastes American foreign policy, be it under Republican or Democratic presidencies. Most recently, despite his anti-authoritarian-state stance, he confounded many fans by saying that Russia had historically valid reasons for waging war against Ukraine and was “provoked” into its invasion. He later said in a streamed statement in front of a United Nations council, in which he appeared at Russia’s instigation, that he just wanted both sides to work toward peace.
Most Pink Floyd fans may be inclined to overlook Waters’ statements, if they don’t agree outrightly agree with them, for the sake of hearing some of the most popular material in rock history performed live, as Waters’ touring continues to thrive. There may have been some brand damage within the music industry, though, as a proposed Pink Floyd catalog sale potentially worth a half-billion dollars is said to have remained in limbo, with Waters’ proclivity toward deeply unpopular positions cited as one possible reason potential buyers might be wary of getting in bed on a deal.