Pro-Israel protesters outside Madison Square Garden, in New York City

Roger Waters pays homage to slain Palestinian journalist in NYC concert

Pink Floyd frontman hardly spoke during packed Madison Square Garden show, mostly conveying his radical political messages through spectacular audiovisuals and biting song lyrics, as pro-Israel protesters voiced their own criticism outside the venue

Amir Bogen |
Published: 08.31.22, 15:24
The thousands of Pink Floyd fans who came out Wednesday night to see Roger Waters perform at Madison Square Garden were in for a surprise.
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  • A group of Israeli activists and local Jewish residents stood at the entrance to the New York City venue and asked to draw their attention to the fact that the grizzled British musician is a "Jew hater".
    Pro-Israel protesters outside Madison Square Garden, in New York City
    (Video: Amir Bogen)
    Holding up signs with slogans supporting their claims and Israeli flags, the group intermittently broke out in song, blaring "Hey, Roger, leave those Jews alone. All in all, He's just a prick in the wall", to the sounds of Pink Floyd's 1979 anthem Another Brick in the Wall.
    "He spreads disinformation about Israel. He's anti-Zionist, anti-Israeli, and frankly, it's antisemitism, that is why we oppose him being here," a protester named Yuval told Ynet outside the venue.
    "He is very open about what he says, he says it during his concerts, and he writes about it."
    5 View gallery
    ישראלים מפגינים מדיסון סקוור גארדן
    ישראלים מפגינים מדיסון סקוור גארדן
    Pro-Israel protesters outside Madison Square Garden, in New York City
    (Photo: Amir Bogen)
    Most members of the crowd seemed unfazed by the loud demonstration outside the venue, and I doubt the warnings of the Israeli activists persuaded any of them to give up their tickets.
    To Waters' own credit, he also provided his own warning just before coming up on stage, appropriately for a show called This Is Not a Drill. A recorded voice echoed around the venue and asked those present in a polite British accent to turn off their phones before adding a spicy take.
    "To all of you who say: we like Pink Floyd's music, but not Roger's political views. Well, you can go fuck yourself."
    Even after this not very implicit warning, no one left the place. And to be honest, no one turned off their cell phone either.
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    רוג'ר ווטרס
    רוג'ר ווטרס
    Roger Waters in concert
    (Photo: Amir Bogen)
    But were all these warnings warranted? To be honest, not really. At least not according to the horror scenarios pictured by the Israeli demonstrators outside. In fact, Waters hardly spoke during the show.
    His radical political messages were conveyed through the songs he performed, and especially through his spectacular audiovisuals that combined powerful fascist-style animations with footage of atrocities from around the world — the United States, South America, and yes, Israel.
    In one such instance, during the performance of the song The Powers That Be, a slide was projected on the giant screen overhead with the name of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian-American Al Jazeera reporter who was struck by a bullet and killed in a firefight between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.
    The slide also provided a curt description of the incident in bold letters: LOCATION: JENIN, PALESTINE. CRIME: BEING PALESTINIAN. PUNISHMENT: DEATH.
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    רוג'ר ווטרס במחווה לשירין אבו עקלא
    רוג'ר ווטרס במחווה לשירין אבו עקלא
    Slain Palestinian journalist Sheerin Abu Akleh's name projected on a massive screen during Roger Waters' show at Maddison Square Garde, in New York City
    (Photo: Amir Bogen)
    The more squeamish of you may be abhorred by the gesture, but Abu Akleh's name was bookended by the names of other victims of the establishment from around the world: Eric Garner, Philando Castile and George Floyd who found their demise at the hands of the police in America; Matheus Melo Castro, a pastoral assistant who was murdered by cops in Brazil; and Rashan Charles who died after a run up with cops in England.
    These and other names were projected on the screen one after the other alongside gut-wrenching footage of police brutality, suppression of demonstrations and even bloodshed and gunfire.
    And so ran the concert for its entire two and a half hours, peppered with some of Pink Floyd's greatest hits from Wish You Were Here, through Comfortably Numb and Money to Animals and Sheep (a number that was accompanied by sheep-ridden video art full on the screen, and a massive balloon in the shape of a pig that floated above the audience), and without any major scandals, which was a bit of a surprise considering his constant provocation in media interviews against Israel, the United States and other nations.
    The audiovisuals, the violent imagery and the blunt lyrics that were interwoven together outlined the anti-establishment and anti-war message that Waters wished to convey. According to the images projected on the screen, all governments are lying to us and forcing their lies on us through the cruel and violent arms of the law.
    Roger Waters plays Another Brick in The Wall
    (Video: Amir Bogen)
    Within this grim, and somewhat relatable, general concept, some current references popped up here and there, like "fuck the [U.S.] Supreme Court" and "fuck the occupation", or demand for rights for women seeking an abortion, for the Palestinians and for the citizens of Yemen.
    In general, it looks like gray-haired Waters simply wants all the injustices of this cruel world to end and he leverages all the cultural capital he has for this mission. This is how he uses his concerts, among other things, to show on the screen an American drone strike in Iraq that claimed innocent lives, the violent suppression of Black Lives Matter protests in American cities and footage from the West Bank security barrier and from the Gaza border.
    When the 78-year-old Waters did open his mouth, not to sing or take a sip of water, but to address the audience, he declared Madison Square Garden one big bar where everyone can express their opinion freely.
    He told in short about Pink Floyd's history, from its formation in the 1960s and through the inspiration he and his friends drew from British author George Orwell's novels 1984 and Animal Farm. In another instance, he admitted he was scared to death of the prospect of a third world war in which nations he calls "war machines" could use nuclear weapons.
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    רוג'ר ווטרס בהופעה
    רוג'ר ווטרס בהופעה
    A packed Maddison Square Garden
    (Photo: Amir Bogen)
    His rapid-fire messaging probably went right over the heads of some of the attendants who filled Madison Square Garden to the brim, but it was evident by the roaring applause that Pink Floyd's musical masterpieces resonated with everyone.
    However, one moment must have been hard to stomach for the American crowd. Slides featuring U.S. presidents appeared on the screen one by one with the caption "war criminal". From Ronald Reagan through Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Donald Trump of course, and even the sitting president Joe Biden, who was labeled a "war criminal just getting started".
    This provocation echoed a recent interview Waters gave to CNN ahead of his U.S. tour, in which he claimed Biden is a war criminal "inciting war in Ukraine".
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    רוג'ר ווטרס
    רוג'ר ווטרס
    An image of U.S. President Joe Biden projected on screen with the label 'war criminal just getting started'
    (Photo: Amir Bogen)
    Waters had previously expressed support for the takeover of Crimea by pro-Russian separatists, prompting the Ukrainian media organization Myrotvorets to add him to their "hit list" in 2018.
    Well, to his credit, Waters remains honest, open and blunt as always. But even in this case, the audience did not heed the warnings.
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