Over the last several years a cultural shift has the United States citizenry reevaluating our relationships with those we’ve canonized as heroes due to their contributions to the institutions we so deeply revere. Some have taken to referring to it as “woke” or “cancel” or “consequence” culture, and depending on your stance, it’s either something to be demonized or lauded. But for Jews, this is nothing new. 

The list of Jew-hating leaders in arts, sports, politics and industry is long, and at times inescapable. Nearly every secular wedding we attend features the wedding march titled “Lohengrin,” (“here comes the bride”) penned by Richard Wagner, a prolific and popular 19th century composer who was a vitriolic and outspoken antisemite. Henry Ford was an outspoken antisemite  whose seminal work was culled from columns written in The Dearborn Independent — a newspaper he purchased in 1918 — into a 4-volume tome titled The International Jew, which he distributed to half-a-million people in his network of auto dealerships, friends and business associates. Yet millions of Ford cars and trucks are still sold every year. Volkswagen was built by the Third Reich — via slave labor of Jews in concentration camps, in addition to Soviet and Polish POWs — into the internationally revered auto maker it is today.

For me, my first epiphany with regard to a childhood hero came when I was only 9 years old, preparing to play The Spider in my school’s production of James and the Giant Peach, a novel written by my favorite author at the time, Roald Dahl. I had already devoured so many of his works — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, The Witches, and The Twits topping my list of favorites. We rehearsed for the production each day for an hour at the end of classes, memorizing lines and learning the blocking for the performance. One afternoon, I stumbled onto a newspaper clipping from a British Magazine that one of the teachers had left sitting on a bookshelf — no doubt she was raising a concern with the school’s administration about the writer whose work we were producing. 

Dahl said, “…there is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason. I mean, if you and I were in a line moving towards what we knew were gas chambers, I’d rather have a go at taking one of the guards with me; but they [the Jews] were always submissive.” 

To call it a punch to the gut would be an understatement. Not only was it an egregiously cruel take, but it was also an out and out lie — just ask those involved in the Warsaw Uprising, for example. In just three sentences, Dahl had utterly dismantled himself in my heart — he’d ripped off the mask I’d come to know as the man who had filled my time with wonderfully written stories and fantasies, laying bare the sharp-toothed, Nazi-apologist maw of yet another person in the world who hated me simply for the blood coursing through my veins. I was utterly crushed. 

These thoughts came racing back to me as I watched my social network abuzz with excitement of those attending the Roger Waters concert at Ball Arena on the evening of Sept. 6. The Pink Floyd co-founder has become known for his outspoken stance against Israel of late, which in and of itself would not be a cause for labeling him an antisemite. But his approach, rhetoric and methodology has stepped over the line multiple times over the last few years, clearly earning him the label.

In 2013, for instance, Waters floated a giant inflatable pig with a Star of David painted on it at a concert he performed in Belgium, while sporting a long black leather jacket and a red-and-white arm band, recalling a Nazi uniform. It was a grotesque display that, had it been an emblem of Islam on the pig, would have certainly earned him a Fatwa order. Instead, it earned him a sharp rebuke from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. His pro-Palestinian rhetoric has drifted from support for a 2-state solution to directly parroting centuries-old antisemitic rhetoric, such as echoing old tropes about secret Jewish power brokers and control over the government. And he’s called for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the State of Israel, calling Zionism “an ugly stain” which “needs to be gently removed” in an interview with Palestinian news agency Shehab in 2020.

Image of a giant inflatable big emblazoned with a Star of Davis
Roger Waters floated this inflatable pig emblazoned with a Star of David above his Belgium Concert in 2013

(To be clear: Zionism is the shared belief of the vast majority of Jews that Israel has the right to exist as the Jewish homeland. You can absolutely be a Zionist and simultaneously support the right of Palestinians to have self-determination and their own homeland. Zionism in and of itself is not an embrace of anti-Palestinian doctrine.) 

Waters is representative of a growing voice on the far left of the political spectrum who seems to have embraced a rhetorical loophole — replacing the word “Jews” with the word “Zionists” when expressing antisemitic sentiments — and it’s as problematic as the tiki-torch wielding, khaki-wearing nonsense of the far-right neo-Nazis we see growing in numbers across the nation today. 

And it’s every bit as ugly.