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Pink Floyd Founder Roger Waters: BDS is One of "Most Admirable" Displays of Resistance in the World

By Democracy Now!

Posted September 15, 2017


Part 2: "The Occupation of the American Mind": Documentary Looks at Israel's PR War in the United States


Roger Waters Criticizes Senate Bill Criminalizing BDS & Radiohead's Recent Concert in Tel Aviv



AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour with the world-famous British musician Roger Waters, founding member of the iconic rock band Pink Floyd. The band is perhaps most well known for their records The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon. Roger Waters recently released his first new studio album in 25 years and is touring stadiums across the country.

But the tour has not been without controversy. Waters is scheduled to play on Friday and Saturday nights in Long Island, despite attempts by Nassau County officials to shut down the concerts, which will take place at the county-owned Nassau Coliseum. The reason? Water’s outspoken support for BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. Nassau County officials had claimed the concerts would violate a local law which prohibits the county from doing business with any company participating in the economic boycott of Israel.

Waters has also been met by protests on many other stops on the tour. Ahead of his concert in Miami, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation took out a full-page ad in the Miami Herald with the headline "Anti-Semitism and Hatred Are Not Welcome in Miami." The group also pressured the city of Miami Beach to prevent a group of schoolchildren from appearing on stage with Waters to sing during the concert.

Despite all this, Roger Waters has continued to speak out. Last week, he wrote a piece in The New York Times. The op-ed was headlined "Congress Shouldn’t Silence Human Rights Advocates." In the op-ed, he criticized a bill being considered in the Senate to silence supporters of BDS. Waters writes, quote, "By endorsing this McCarthyite bill, senators would take away Americans’ First Amendment rights in order to protect Israel from nonviolent pressure to end its 50-year-old occupation of Palestinian territory and other abuses of Palestinian rights."

Well, Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke to Roger Waters on Wednesday. I began by asking him to respond to a recent statement by Howard Kopel, a Nassau County legislator, who attempted to shut down Roger Waters' upcoming concerts in Long Island. He called Waters a, quote, "virulent anti-semite" and said, quote, "[E]mbrace the BDS movement and Nassau will not do business with you. There is no room for hatred in Nassau."

ROGER WATERS: Well, the first thing that leaps out of that statement is the notion that I might be in some way anti-Semitic or against Jewish people or against the Jewish religion or against anything that has Jewishness attached to it, because I’m not. I’m clearly not. You know, they comb through my past, and they find it very difficult to substantiate that accusation. But they use that accusation as they do with anybody who supports BDS or anybody who criticizes Israeli foreign policy or the occupation. That is their standard go-to response, is to call you an anti-Semite, to start calling you names, and, hopefully, to discredit you.

As far as Nassau Coliseum is concerned, and the specific thing there, I was hoping that the state’s attorney, I guess—I’ve forgotten his name for the moment—was was going to try and take the case to court, and was going to actually litigate with the management of Nassau Coliseum on the grounds that they were breaking some law, because it would have given us a chance to have our day in court and for what I consider to be the side of reason and dialogue and decency and the law and the Constitution and freedom and rights and being grown up about things. I think they—eventually, they’ve looked at it and thought it was too dangerous, because if they had gone to court with us, I think there’s no question but that we would have won the case. And it would have provided a precedent to stop legislatures around the rest of the United States from bringing frivolous cases in similar circumstances.

So, guys, I don’t know where you are, but I’m really sorry that you didn’t bring this out into the open, because it bears discussion that they’re attempting to take away the First Amendment rights of American citizens and others.

AMY GOODMAN: But you are playing Friday and Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.

ROGER WATERS: Yeah, we are. And I really look forward to it. And we will be playing, you know, to great audiences, who will completely understand, as well, that there is no hatred in my show. I mean, I’m somewhat critical of the current administration in a satirical and playful way, I like to think. But my show is all about the idea that if this—if this race, the human race, is to survive even the next 50 or 100 years, we need to start looking at the possibility of the transcendental nature of love, and we have to start looking after one another and recognizing our responsibility to others, which is what BDS is about, really.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Roger Waters, you wrote recently this op-ed piece for The New York Times headlined "Congress Shouldn’t Silence Human Rights Advocates," and this is about the proposed bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. So could you explain what the act calls for and what your own experience has been with it?

ROGER WATERS: Well, yeah. As I read it—I haven’t read the complete draft, but—and I know it sounds ludicrous, but it’s true. There is a bill before Congress, S 720, which seeks to criminalize support for Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions, which is a nonviolent international protest movement to protest the occupation of Palestinian land that’s been going on for 50 years. And they want to make it a felony to support BDS, as far as I understand it, with criminal penalties that are, in my view, absurd. Somebody like me, for instance, if the bill was passed in its current drafting, would be subject to a fine of between $250,000 and $1 million and a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years—for peaceful, nonviolent political protest on behalf of basic human rights for beleaguered people, which is absurd, clearly. When you put it like that, you think, "Well, that’s ridiculous." Why would Congress—why would Congress even be using any of the precious time in the legislature to even discuss such a thing, contravening as it does the First Amendment to the Constitution, which is one of the basic rights that American citizens have, freedom of speech, to say what they believe.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, explain your own involvement with BDS. How did you come to learn of it and then to support it in the way that you have?

ROGER WATERS: Well, many years ago, in 2006, in fact, I was doing a tour, and I was asked to play in Israel, to do a gig in Tel Aviv. And I’ll try and tell this very quickly. And I started getting—and I agreed to do a gig in Tel Aviv. And I immediately started getting emails from people saying, "Are you sure you want to do this?" And then I was told about BDS, which was started by Palestinian civil society in 2005. And I engaged in a dialogue—that famous word—with these people and with Palestinians, and they convinced me that I should cancel the gig that we were going to play in Tel Aviv.

But as a kind of an act of compromise, I moved the gig to a place called Neve Shalom, or Wahat as-Salam, I think it is, in Arabic, which is an agricultural community where many different religions—Christians, Jews, Muslims, Druze—all live together. Their children all go to school together. And, you know, so it’s an—they grow chickpeas for a living. And so we did the gig there, outdoors. And it was a huge success. Sixty thousand Israelis came. No Palestinians, of course, because they are not allowed to travel, but—which is kind of the start of my story. At the end of that gig, I stood up, and they’d been hugely enthusiastic, the audience. And I said, "You are the generation of young Israelis who have the responsibility to make peace with your neighbors and to figure out this terrible mess that your country has got itself into." And there was complete silence. It was like—I saw the 60,000 kids all looking at me, going, "What is he talking about? This is not in the script." So, anyway, I went back the next year, at the invitation of UNRWA.

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations agency?

ROGER WATERS: Yes, exactly. And a lovely woman called Allegra Pacheco, who—and we went all over the West Bank. We didn’t go to Gaza, unfortunately, but we went everywhere else that we could think of in the West Bank. And I was flabbergasted. I mean, I had never been—I had never been into—I’d never seen that kind of repression in action—you know, the roads that the Palestinians aren’t allowed to drive on. And they start showing me the development of the settlements. This is 10 years ago now, 11 years ago now. And so—and I went and talked to people in the refugee camps. And I determined, when I left there, that I would do everything that I could, until there was some kind of justice for the people who live there, to help them, which is why we’re here today. So, and the fight goes on. But I’m happy to say that it’s a fight that is being won by BDS. This is why there are people beginning to picket my gigs. They haven’t done for the last 10 or 11 years, but now they are, because they’re beginning to panic, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Roger Waters, founding member of the iconic rock band Pink Floyd. We’ll be back with him in a minute and look at the documentary he narrates, The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States.


AMY GOODMAN: Roger Waters singing "Pigs," live at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, earlier this week.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As we continue our conversation, we go now to an excerpt of—we are speaking with Roger Waters, the famous British musician, founding member of the iconic rock band Pink Floyd, Waters the narrator of the recent documentary titled The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States.

ROGER WATERS: Over the course of 51 days, the Israeli military dropped nearly 20,000 tons of explosive on Gaza, a densely populated area the size of Philadelphia, killing over 2,000 Palestinians and wounding tens of thousands more. The overwhelming majority of these casualties were civilians.

HAMISH MACDONALD: This strip of land is being bombarded from the air, sea and land.

DIANA MAGNAY: Israel launched at least 160 strikes on the Gaza Strip.

RICHARD ENGEL: And there’s one less hospital in Gaza now. Israel today flattened Wafa Hospital.

ROGER WATERS: The sheer scale of the attacks sparked outrage and condemnation around the world.

MARK BROOME: Israel’s month-long pounding of Gaza has shocked many people around the world. Mass demonstrations have been held in many of the world’s major cities.

ROGER WATERS: But in the United States, the story was different. Polls show the American people holding firm in their support for Israel.

ANDERSON COOPER: This is the latest CNN/ORC poll of Americans, shows 57 percent of those polled say Israel’s action in Gaza is justified, 34 percent say unjustified.

ROGER WATERS: These numbers were striking, but they weren’t new. Over the course of a conflict in which Palestinian casualties have far outnumbered Israeli casualties, the American people have consistently shown far more sympathy for Israelis than for Palestinians.

PETER HART: It’s very difficult to divorce public opinion on any question from the media coverage that people rely on to form opinions. And I think the most prevalent lesson from looking at the coverage is that the coverage tends to see this conflict from the Israeli side.

AMY GOODMAN: That last voice, Peter Hart, the National Coalition Against Censorship. That a clip from the film The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States, narrated by our guest, Roger Waters, the musician.

Well, on Wednesday, Nermeen Shaikh and I interviewed Roger Waters and Sut Jhally, professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts, founder and executive director of the Media Education Foundation, which produced the documentary. I asked Sut Jhally why he chose to make the film.

SUT JHALLY: Well, it started, actually, quite a while ago, and the reason for it is that American public opinion is so far outside the bounds of world opinion when it comes to—when it comes to Israel. As we talked before, I mean, the moment you start—you break—you start to talk about this, there’s an attempt to silence you. So you’re actually not allowed to—you’re not allowed to talk about it. And then, actually, once you do talk about it, you realize that Americans have a very warped sense of the conflict. I mean, I learned this from my own students, as well as from public opinion polls, that most Americans think that, in fact, it’s the Palestinians who are illegally occupying someone else’s land in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about legally—talk about what in fact is happening in the Middle East.

SUT JHALLY: Well, it’s such a clear kind of instance of, you know, colonization. We’ve just had 50 years of occupation, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and, until recently, of Gaza. And that’s actually very, very clear, because there’s also this instant—Americans think it’s so complicated. That’s actually—when I talk to my students, they always say it’s too complicated. And I just actually explain to them, you know, in a few sentences, that this actually is a very, very simple conflict. And what—and when the conflict is that simple, what you have to do is you have to make it more complicated. And that’s the function of public relations.

And so, that’s what we focus on. We focus on the public relations campaign in the United States to essentially confuse the American public about what was going on, so there will be no pressure coming from the public on this. And in that sense, you know—and we say this in the film—the occupation of Palestine also depends upon an occupation of American public opinion, that unless the American government is aboard with this and acts as a protector of Israel, then that occupation is not possible.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Let’s turn to another clip from The Occupation of the American Mind, featuring our guest, Sut Jhally.


SUT JHALLY: Israel can saturate the media with its spokespeople, but there’s still the problem of massive Palestinian casualties showing up on television screens. You can’t make those images go away. An Israeli official actually said, "In the war of pictures, we lose. So you need to correct, explain or balance it in other ways."

Here, again, the Luntz document spells out which talking points have been most effective in spinning the brutal reality of Palestinian casualties. He says the first thing the pro-Israeli spokespeople should do is to express empathy for the innocent victims.

DAN GILLERMAN: Unfortunately, innocents do get hurt. And we—we really grieve that.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We’re sad for every civilian casualty.

MICHAEL OREN: The entire situation is tragic.

SUT JHALLY: Once you’ve done that, Luntz says, you also have to get people to empathize with Israelis, by describing what life is like for them living in constant fear of Hamas rocket attacks. So, again and again, we hear the focus-tested phrase that the rockets are raining down on Israel.

MICHAEL OREN: We have thousands of rockets raining down on our civilians.

HILLARY CLINTON: Rockets were raining down on Israel.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Any advertising executive will tell you the essence of propaganda is repetition.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Rockets raining down on southern Israel.

FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Rockets raining down on Israel.

NEWS ANCHOR: Well, Hamas rockets rained down on Israeli border towns.

SUT JHALLY: Then, Luntz tells PR spokespeople to turn the tables and ask the American people, "What would you do?"

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: So what would you do in the United States?

RON DERMER: Will you imagine what America would do if it were facing a similar threat?

NACHMAN SHAI: We always try to ask you the question we ask ourselves: What will you do?


MARK REGEV: What would you do, if more than 3,000 rockets had been fired on your cities?

SEAN HANNITY: What would you do? Three thousand rockets.

MARK REGEV: What would you do, if terrorists were tunneling under your frontier?

SEAN HANNITY: What would you do if three kids are kidnapped because of a tunnel network?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: What sort of question is this? Of course, anybody would act to defend themselves against unprovoked aggression. But it is a question that is completely devoid of any context. What drives a society to a point where, after multiple devastating wars, they continue to resist with these most feeble methods? They don’t want you to ask that question. They don’t want you to ask what is behind this, what’s the history here, who are these people, where did they come from, why are they so desperate. No, they want you to understand Israeli behavior. Israeli behavior is always characterized as a reaction to unprovoked violence.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s an excerpt from The Occupation of the American Mind. And the last voice was Yousef Munayyer of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. We also heard from Norman Solomon. And this is another excerpt from the documentary.


ROGER WATERS: Two years after the Lebanon invasion, the American Jewish Congress sponsored a conference in Jerusalem to devise a formal public relations strategy, known in Hebrew as hasbara. Participants included PR and advertising executives, media specialists, journalists and leaders of major Jewish groups. According to a brochure from the congress, "No single event brought home the need for a more effective hasbara, or information program, more persuasively than the 1982 war in Lebanon and the events that followed." As one conference participant put it, "Israel is no longer perceived to be 'little David,' but Goliath steamrolling across the map."

The primary aim of the conference was to develop strategies to spin unpopular Israeli policies and to counter negative press coverage by shaping the media frame in advance. "News doesn’t just jump into a camera," a conference delegate said. "It’s directed, it’s managed, it’s made accessible." Israel-based advertising executive Martin Fenton would put it in even more blunt terms: "'Propaganda' is not a dirty word," he said. "Face it: We are in the game of changing people’s minds, of making them think differently. To accomplish that, we need propaganda."

The conference was chaired by U.S. advertising executive Carl Spielvogel, the legendary ad man who created the highly acclaimed Miller Lite beer ads in the 1970s.

SUT JHALLY: The choice of Spielvogel makes perfect sense. He’s known as a master of image inversion and rebranding. The ad man responsible for transforming Miller Lite, which had been viewed before as a woman’s beer, into a manly beer the tough guys would drink.

MAN IN BAR 1: But the best part is that it tastes so great.

MAN IN BAR 2: The best part is, it’s less filling.

MAN IN BAR 1: Nah, tastes great!

MAN IN BAR 2: Less filling!

SUT JHALLY: His job with Israel would require the same kind of rebranding, only in the opposite direction: to help soften the image of a country that’s coming to be seen as a bully. So he recommends creating a Cabinet post dedicated exclusively to explaining policy, whose job would not be setting policy, but presenting it in the most attractive way to the rest of the world.

NORMON SOLOMON: Classic PR is to say the problem is not the policy, it’s the presentation. When the policies are so reprehensible that many people become critical, rather than acknowledge there’s anything wrong with the policy, there’s a doubling down on the PR effort.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that was another clip from The Occupation of the American Mind. And that last voice was Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy, the film, of course, narrated by our guest, Roger Waters. But, Sut Jhally, I want to ask you about these clips, the way in which the Israeli state, working with different media organizations, has changed, as you argue, American public opinion, or swayed it in this way to be sympathetic only to the Israeli side. Now, this strategy of hasbara, the attempt to influence U.S. public opinion, Israeli supporters argue that such initiatives are attempted by practically all countries in the world, they all have lobbying firms in the U.S. What is it that distinguishes hasbara from the propaganda, in fact, that’s attempted by every country attempting to influence U.S. foreign policy?

SUT JHALLY: And that’s true. Everyone tries to mold perception in some way for their own—their own actions. The difference in this case is the public—is that Israeli public opinion—or, Israeli public relations is so closely connected to the interests of the American state. And so they’re not pushing against the American policy. And it’s American policy working hand in hand with Israeli policy, as well. In the film, you know, we try and we—because we really want to make clear that this is not about an Israel lobby that’s manipulating—you know, that’s manipulating politicians and the public. The reason why Israeli public relations works is because it goes hand in hand with American elite opinion. And if that didn’t happen, then the public relations wouldn’t work in that way. And we know that that’s—that those two things go together, because when American elite opinion differs from what Israel would do, oftentimes American elite opinion prevails, as in the discussion around the Iran policy. The Israel lobby really wanted to push a different line on that. But that was one place where the interests of the lobby diverged from the interests of the American state. And so, when we talk about this, it’s not about—it’s not about, you know, a lobby that has all this power. It’s about an Israel—it’s about a lobby that goes hand in hand with the interests of the state. And if that—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, in other words, even—so, if U.S. elite opinion were to change, this precise strategy, hasbara, would be relatively ineffective.

SUT JHALLY: Well, it relies upon the American state to go along with it, which is why American public opinion is so important, which is why you have to control American public opinion. Not only do you have to control Senate and the House, which they do, but you also have to make sure there’s no pressure on politicians, which is why you have to control public opinion, which is why we say you need to occupy American public opinion to make the occupation possible, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: When it comes to this film, where was it shown?

SUT JHALLY: We’ve had a huge amount of difficulty getting this shown. It’s been shown almost nowhere in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Elsewhere?

SUT JHALLY: It’s been shown in other—we showed it in Mexico City. It’s been shown in Brussels. It’s been shown—I just came from a screening in Beirut. We showed it in London. It’s screened in—on television stations in Scandinavia, in Europe. Russia Today showed it. Al Jazeera showed it. So, it’s been shown outside of this country.

AMY GOODMAN: And the reaction to this film when you attempt to get it to play in the United States?

SUT JHALLY: I mean, it’s the way that censorship works, which is silence. We submitted it to film festivals, which is the first way you try and get some publicity and some visibility. We did not get it accepted into one film festival in the United States, and therefore that means it’s very difficult then to make the next step, which is how do you get it into theaters, how do you get it into television, how do you get media reviews. I mean, we’ve—there’s been, around this issue—and it’s not just this film, but on this issue. It’s like there’s a web of silence around it.

And it’s not just, you know, the right-wing media. It’s not just Fox. And it goes everywhere. I mean, it’s the one—it’s the one topic that even so-called liberal media won’t touch. In the film, you know, we had the example of Rachel Maddow, who is supposed to be the most, you know, progressive voice on television, and yet refuses to deal with this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to another clip from The Occupation of the American Mind.


SUT JHALLY: Look at how American media covered Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza. A keyword search of all the major networks showed that over the course of the 51-day assault, Israel’s ongoing military siege and blockade of Gaza were barely mentioned, compared to the thousands of times Hamas rocket attacks on Israel were mentioned.

JAKE TAPPER: Why is Hamas launching missiles into population centers of Israel?

SUT JHALLY: The basic propaganda frame is built into the very assumptions journalists bring to the table.

JAKE TAPPER: Since Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, 8,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel.

SUT JHALLY: This is how propaganda works. It works by getting your words in the mouths of other people, especially the mouths of supposedly objective media commentators.

DAVID GREGORY: I’m wondering, though, whether you’re outraged by the conduct of Hamas, starting the conflict by firing rockets, building tunnels to kill and kidnap Israelis, being more than willing to sacrifice Palestinian lives by embedding them into—into their own kind of arsenal, and using them, as Israel contends, as human shields. Do you have a level of outrage at Hamas itself?

SUT JHALLY: It doesn’t seem like propaganda at all. It just seems like news. And this goes across all the major media, including the supposedly most liberal. Look at Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, who’s known as the leading progressive voice on mainstream television. She did only four segments on the war. And during these few segments, she never once mentioned Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank or its siege and blockade of Gaza, and never once mentioned the fact that the U.S. has armed Israel with the very weapons that were being used against a defenseless civilian population, instead choosing to frame the invasion as part of a senseless cycle of violence perpetrated by both sides.

RACHEL MADDOW: It’s been a constant cycle of fighting between Israel and Hamas for the past several years in Gaza. And the fighting and the cause of the fighting feel terribly familiar, because this is basically a recurring war. And if it feels like déjà vu, feels like, "Ugh, I’ve heard all of this before," you are right, because this really does keep happening, over and over and over again.

RULA JEBREAL: Rachel Maddow, the most important woman on MSNBC, the leader when it comes to politics, in six weeks of war, never mentioned the word "blockade," "occupation," "illegal settlements," never mentioned the support that Congress have for Israel, unconditional amount of money, billions of dollars. What is that? What a disappointment! Our media operations, national media, is a scandal when it comes to Israel.


AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from The Occupation of the American Mind, the documentary that is narrated by Roger Waters, that’s produced by Sut Jhally. That last voice, former MSNBC analyst Rula Jebreal, who is an Italian-Palestinian journalist. Let’s go for a moment to the contrast, Sut, that you bring into this film, which is the international media.


JON SNOW: Mark Regev, how does killing children on a beach contribute to that purpose? What was the point of bombing the al-Wafa Hospital, for goodness’ sake? ... There are grave uncertainties—


JON SNOW: —about whether you’re acting within the law.

MARK REGEV: No, no, no. I disagree.

JON SNOW: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You are deliberately targeting—

MARK REGEV: No, I reject that.

JON SNOW: —neighborhoods in which you know there are women and children. ... You’ve tried everything with Gaza. You’ve besieged it for seven years. The people live an intolerable and ghastly life, and you know that better than anybody. Why don’t you try one other thing: talking? Why not talk? Why not be brave and talk directly with them? Why not?


AMY GOODMAN: That’s another excerpt from The Occupation of the American Mind. Sut Jhally, you produced this film. Talk about the contrast of the media coverage.

SUT JHALLY: I mean, the contrast is quite striking when you look at—when you look at—you don’t have to go to other parts, you know, really foreign parts of the world. Just look to the way it’s covered in the United Kingdom. That’s a striking difference. And part of the reason—and, I mean, the clip we show—that clip we use was of Jon Snow, doing what a journalist should be doing, which is asking questions. So, in the U.K., journalism actually still exists. On this issue, in the United States, journalism has ceased to do what it’s supposed to do, because it has just succumbed to public relations.

AMY GOODMAN: Sut Jhally, founder of the Media Education Foundation, which produced the film The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States. When we come back from break, we return to Sut Jhally and the musician Roger Waters, in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Roger Waters, performing "We Shall Overcome," accompanied by the teenage cellist Alexander Rohatyn, here in the Democracy Now! studios.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with British musician Roger Waters, founding member of the iconic rock band Pink Floyd. Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke to him and Sut Jhally of the Media Education Foundation about their documentary, The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States, and Waters’ support for the BDS movement, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Last week, Roger Waters wrote a piece in The New York Times headlined "Congress Shouldn’t Silence Human Rights Advocates." In the op-ed, he criticized a bill being considered in the Senate to silence supporters of BDS. The bill’s author, Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, was recently questioned by The Intercept’s Ryan Grim.


SEN. BEN CARDIN: We are very sensitive to maintain freedom of speech and expression. Nothing in our bill goes—hurts that.

RYAN GRIM: The ACLU says that kind of the way that it’s written would lend itself towards felony penalties for people if they participated in these kind of —

SEN. BEN CARDIN: I didn’t think we had criminal—if we had criminal sanctions in it, we’d go to Judiciary. I don’t think we have—I don’t think—


SEN. BEN CARDIN: I just don’t think that’s in our bill. You know, you’re catching me without—

RYAN GRIM: Sure, sure.

SEN. BEN CARDIN: I think I know the bill fairly well. I don’t believe we have criminalized. I think our issue is U.S. participation in international organizations—


SEN. BEN CARDIN: —speaking out against the U.N. actions. I think that’s the bill.


AMY GOODMAN: So, Senator Ben Cardin, the co-sponsor of the bill. Roger Waters, you’re laughing.

ROGER WATERS: Well, yeah. I mean, that is funny. You know, that deserves to be on a comedy show.

AMY GOODMAN: Because, of course, there are sanctions and fines related to this.

ROGER WATERS: The guy hasn’t even read the bill he’s sponsoring.

AMY GOODMAN: But, interestingly, even some of the co-sponsors are changing their views. New York Senator Gillibrand responded to a question from her constituents at a Flushing town hall meeting by saying she wouldn’t support the bill in its current form and that she wouldn’t support it unless the bill’s authors add language specifying the punishments only extend to corporations and not to individuals. That’s according to Crain’s.

ROGER WATERS: I know Kirsten Gillibrand a bit. I’ve met her a couple of times. And I was absolutely flabbergasted when I saw her name as a co-sponsor. She was a co-sponsor of this bill. So, but it—so, that points to something. And that is that when a piece of paper comes across your desk, and you’re a politician, and you go, "Oh, AIPAC. It’s from AIPAC. It’s been drafted by AIPAC," you just sign it and hand it back. You don’t even read it. They don’t even read it. They just go, "Oh, that’s it. That’s a done deal. Whatever AIPAC wants, AIPAC gets. And that’s all there is"—which is bizarre, and wrong, obviously.

And I’m really glad that Kirsten Gillibrand has taken her name off it. She’s still against BDS, but almost certainly, she—almost certainly, she doesn’t know. She hasn’t traveled enough, though she did say—to her credit, she did say that she had a meeting with Netanyahu when on a visit to Israel. And she asked him a question of what was his plan for what should happen in the future. And he went, "Next." You know?

SUT JHALLY: Well, because his plan is to never leave.


SUT JHALLY: His plan is to take over the entire thing.

ROGER WATERS: But they can’t say that.

SUT JHALLY: Yeah. But in the film, we actually have some footage of him at a meeting with his right-wing settler base, where he thinks no one is listening, essentially saying that. He said, "We’re never going to give it back. And don’t worry about America. I know how to manipulate America. It’s very, very easy." It’s very, very telling. And so, from their perspective, the occupation is never going to end.

And one of the major ways in which you can put pressure on is, I think, precisely through things like BDS, is precisely through what’s happening within the U.S. I think BDS—you know, no matter what you think of BDS, as a rhetorical device, it is superb. It has been branded in a way that even if you’re against BDS, you’re talking about it. And so, I would really urge everyone to talk as much as possible about BDS, because it is such a weapon to use to be able to raise these issues, especially with young people. Especially with young people.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I just want to say that people who are critical of BDS say that Israel is being unfairly singled out, and there are many other countries who commit absolutely egregious violations of human rights against their own people, and the world is silent. Now, our guest, Roger Waters, and other supporters of BDS have criticized Radiohead recently for playing a concert recently in Tel Aviv. The group’s leader, Thom Yorke, responded, in part, by saying, quote, "Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing its government. We’ve played in Israel for over 20 years through a succession of governments, so more liberal than others. As we have in America. We don’t endorse [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America." So that’s Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Your response to that?

ROGER WATERS: I would say, in answer to Thom Yorke saying that we’re not supporting the Israeli government, "Willy-nilly, Thom." And I’ve said this to him—well, not face to face, because he won’t talk to me. But I’ve said to him, "Willy-nilly, you are. Like, after you did your gig in Tel Aviv, it was all over the front pages of Israeli newspapers." And they actually quote—there were quotes saying, "This is the best moment for hasbara that we’ve had in decades. Radiohead playing has given us so much better position and so much more power than we had before they played." Doesn’t matter what they say in—not that they’re speaking much about it. They’re being pretty quiet about it, I think. If you’ve listened to what Thom Yorke has said since the gig, it’s—I haven’t seen—

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been going back and forth with him a lot.


AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been going back and forth with him a lot.

ROGER WATERS: No, no, no. Before they played, I contacted him. I wrote him a number of emails, and I said, "Can we talk about this?" And so—and then there was a little bit of to and fro, when he said that people like me and—oh, well, people like me—it’s enough, me—have been kind of throwing mud at them from afar and not coming for dialogue, which is nonsense. You know, I entreated him. I implored him to have a conversation about it and to talk about the picket line and to talk about BDS and to talk about the situation on the ground, as well, because I’m sure Thom doesn’t know. I bet he hasn’t been around the West Bank. I bet he hasn’t been to Gaza. I bet he hasn’t actually looked. Because when you do and you see the way the Palestinian people are treated by the occupying army, it breaks your heart, and you have really no alternative but to say, "I am going to be part of this."

It’s like Michael Bennett, that Seattle Seahawk. A number of NFL players were invited to go to Israel on a PR—all expenses paid. And Michael Bennett, to his eternal credit, and half a dozen of the others went, "No, I do not want to be"—I mean, he’s a sporting icon. "I do not want to be used as part of the hasbara, part of the whitewashing of that." And see, sorry, just to finish—and he quotes John Carlos, you know, who was the athlete in '68 who stood up and gave the Black Power salute at the thing. He says, "It's John"—

AMY GOODMAN: In Mexico City Olympics.

ROGER WATERS: In Mexico City at the Olympic Games, very, very bravely and very controversially. And he says, as John Carlos says, you know, "As far as justice is concerned, you’re either in or you’re out." And he says, "Well, I’m in." That’s Michael Bennett. And I thought, "Yeah!" You know, that kind of commitment to the idea that everybody should have justice is laudable.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Critics of BDS, when it comes to Israel, say there are other very close allies of the U.S.—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, to name only a few—who have also waged egregious violations against their own people, minorities, to say nothing, for instance, of non-U.S. allies, of Russia and China, where people routinely go and perform and have other forms of cultural exchange. Now, what—is there anything, do you think, that distinguishes the position of Israel and why a BDS campaign is more legitimate there than it would be in these other countries?

ROGER WATERS: We’ve been asked by Palestinian civil society to join them in their struggle against the occupation of their land, let’s be clear, OK, land that was laid out in the U.N. resolutions in 1947 as land that should be for a Palestinian state. Whatever your feelings may be about the creation of the state of Israel or whatever, the U.N. decided that partition was a good idea, and whatever, OK? So—and it’s not happened. And as Sut just said, it’s been whittled away, piece by piece by piece, by illegal settlements. The land is slowly being stolen. The indigenous population, the Palestinian people, are being forced out, or the attempt is. Their resolve to protest their situation nonviolently, using something like BDS, is one of the most admirable pieces of resistance that we’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. You know, it’s quite extraordinary.

Could I boycott Egypt? If anybody ever asked me to go and play in Egypt, I might see if there was an organization in Egypt that I could ally myself to, like there is BDS in Palestinian civil society. Could I go and play in Syria? No, there’s nothing left. It’s rubble, you know. Well, there is, there’s something there, but it’s clinging to its statehood by its fingernails.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s end with one last clip of the film, The Occupation of the American Mind, that looks at how perceptions are changing in the U.S. about the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Again, the film begins with narrator Roger Waters.


ROGER WATERS: Over just the past few years, the proliferation of social media and internet news sources has made it increasingly difficult for the Israeli government and pro-Israel groups in the U.S. to manage American perceptions of the conflict. Video footage and reporting from the ground bearing witness to the reality of the occupation are now more accessible than ever on the internet.

In addition, over the past few years, a number of high-profile documentaries, made by Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers alike, have trained a harsh light on current Israeli policy and the repression of Palestinian rights.

ADEEB ABU RAHMAH: [translated] This is a small village. What do you think? Have you no heart? No family? Every one of you knows that this is village land! You stole my land!

ROGER WATERS: At the same time, a powerful new Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has been gaining momentum and raising awareness of the occupation, while activists from the Black Lives Matter movement have been making explicit connections between police violence against African Americans and the Israeli military’s repression of Palestinians.

MARC LAMONT HILL: We stand next to people who continue to courageously struggle and resist the occupation, people who continue to dream and fight for freedom. From Ferguson to Palestine, the struggle for freedom continues.

ROGER WATERS: And all of these developments seem to be having an effect. Polls now show that while sympathy for Israel remains at all-time highs among older Americans, it has been hemorrhaging among young people.

SUT JHALLY: Despite the efforts of the lobby, something really striking is taking place. Lots of young people are abandoning the mainstream media and turning instead to other independent sources. So they have a totally different way of making sense of what’s happening—an unfiltered view of Israel’s repression. And pro-Israel operatives like Frank Luntz are in a panic. In his latest report, he calls what’s happening with young people a "disaster," and demands that Israel’s supporters respond. And people have answered the call. You have powerful right-wing billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to Republican candidates, bankrolling a campaign to silence and intimidate student activists on college campuses. But it’s not working. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, who see what’s happening to Palestinians as a civil rights issue, have refused to be intimidated. They’re refusing to back down, even though they’re being labeled as anti-Semitic and terrorist sympathizers. And their numbers are growing.

PROTESTERS: Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The siege of Gaza’s got to go!

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: As the discourse begins to open, more people are starting to understand this as a rights-based issue, not an issue of radicalism. This is a movement for the rights of people whose rights are being denied, who are living under occupation, who want to live in their country freely, just like anybody else.

RASHID KHALIDI: You can see just so many video clips of kids having their hands smashed by soldiers with batons. You can see just so many pictures of thousands of people being killed as happened in Gaza. And at a certain point, there’s a cognitive dissonance. You realize that what you’re being told is a pack of lies.


AMY GOODMAN: The last voice, Rashid Khalidi, professor at Columbia University, and, before that, Yousef Munayyer, Sut Jhally, our guest, and Marc Lamont Hill. Well, Roger Waters, you’re the narrator of this film. You don’t have to do any of this. You could just perform. You are an icon in so many places in the world. But you focus on this issue. Ultimately, what gives you hope?

ROGER WATERS: What gives me hope? Well, we just saw a little clip there of a Black Lives Matter activist talking about how he feels that his struggle is in concert with the struggle of the Palestinian people. And it’s also what Sut was saying in the film, that there are blogs, there are other places to get news now via the internet, so that you can get at more of the truth of what’s going on. And the fact that people are communicating through that now gives me some hope. In our show, it’s expressed very, very clearly. I don’t mention Palestine once in our show. There’s one—there’s one shot, I think, of the separation wall going through it or something. It’s something I steered away with. But there’s a general sense in everything in my show that we’re all human, that we have an absolute responsibility to look after one another.

AMY GOODMAN: Roger Waters, founding member of Pink Floyd, and Sut Jhally, founder of the Media Education Foundation, which produced the film The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States. Roger Waters is performing Friday night and Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! co-host Juan González is speaking about his new book, Reclaiming Gotham, tonight at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, at 7 p.m. Tomorrow night, Friday, in Austin, Texas, Juan is speaking at 5:30 p.m. at the Workers Defense Project. In the next weeks, he’s heading to Newark, New Jersey; Kansas City, Missouri; and College Park, Maryland. I’ll be speaking throughout Canada on the weekend at the end of September. Check our website at democracynow.org.


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