ROME – An op-ed in the Vatican newspaper blasted “unrestrained anti-Semitism” at a music festival in Belgium where British rocker Roger Waters displayed an inflatable wild boar balloon with a Star of David and other symbols on it.
“The spirit and the style of the Werchter Rock festival was visible, with the fans who had every right to listen to music that they enjoy,” Cristiana Dobner wrote in a weekend edition of Osservatore Romano, referring to the July 20 concert. “But did they also have the right to draw the Star of David on the back of a pig and not be reported? … We continue to talk about the respect for every religion and every human being, yet we keep falling into these shameful situations.”
The op-ed, headlined “Unrestrained anti-Semitism at a rock festival,” did not mention former Pink Floyd front man Waters, 69, by name. In his act he used a huge inflated balloon in the shape of a wild boar. A Star of David was prominently visible on it, as were other symbols, including a hammer and sickle, crosses and a dollar sign.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center last week denounced the balloon as a “grotesque display of Jew-hatred” and called Waters an “open hater of Jews.”
Waters, a vocal opponent of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians, rejected Cooper’s criticism with a statement on his Facebook page, addressed to Cooper, denying he is anti-Semitic. He said other symbols painted on the balloon included a crescent and star, the Shell Oil logo and a McDonald’s sign.
Waters wrote: “Like it or not, the Star of David represents Israel and its policies and is legitimately subject to any and all forms of non-violent protest. To peacefully protest against Israel’s racist domestic and foreign policies is NOT ANTI-SEMITIC.”
In an op-ed Monday in The Times of Israel entitled “When pigs fly…the Star of David,” Cooper responded by noting that Waters affixed the Magen David — “the only symbol of a people and its heritage on the floating pig” — alongside icons of fascism, dictatorships and multinational corporations. “Far from being an original, if odious idea, linking Jews to the ‘treif’ pig is an image deeply embedded in Europe culture,” the rabbi went on. “While Mr. Waters crisscrosses Europe this summer, here is a reality check from European Jewish communities he may not have time to see: Virtually every Synagogue and school has armed guards. Hate crimes against Jews surge in Scandinavia and Western Europe. Core Jewish practices are being criminalized from Poland to Norway. Do Jews really to be subjected to their music-loving neighbors cheering this hateful image again and again?
Cooper concluded: “Roger Waters states he isn’t an anti-Semite and that he has friends and family who are Jewish. But if he doesn’t want to see his talents, energies and name serve those who seek Israel’s demise, he should denounce the BDS movement and permanently lose that Star of David on his pig.”
Waters has long used inflatable pigs in his act. Often they are emblazoned with provocative political slogans, including anti-religion slogans, such as “All Religions Divide.”
The Anti-Defamation League told JTA it does not think anti-Semitism was behind the act.
In his statement, the 69-year-old British performer cited the ADL’s position, and added: “I have many very close Jewish friends, one of whom, interestingly enough, is the nephew of the late Simon Wiesenthal.”
Waters, who recently urged other performers to boycott Israel and compared Israel to apartheid South Africa, appeared on the stage in Belgium on July 20 under the balloon while toting a machine gun replica and wearing a long black leather jacket with a red-and-white arm band, reminiscent of a Nazi uniform. The former Pink Floyd member was singing “get him up against the wall, that one looks Jewish and that one’s a coon, who let all of this riff-raff into the room” — the lyrics of the song “In the Flesh.”
Thousands of fans shouted his name and applauded as he stood on stage pretending to fire the fake machine gun.
Michael Freilich, editor-in-chief of the Belgian Jewish monthly Joods Actueel, called on the government to issue a statement condemning what he called “an anti-Semitic display” at the concert.