US Calls Roger Waters Performance in Berlin "Deeply Offensive to Jewish People"

US Calls Roger Waters Performance in Berlin "Deeply Offensive to Jewish People"

US Calls Roger Waters Performance in Berlin "Deeply Offensive to Jewish People"


The recent performance by Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters in Berlin has sparked controversy, with the U.S. State Department denouncing the show as "deeply offensive to Jewish people." Waters, known for his activism and criticism of various political and social issues, has faced accusations of using antisemitic tropes in the past. This article will delve into the details of the controversy, examining the arguments from both sides and providing a broader context to understand the implications of Waters' performance.

The Performance and its Controversy

During his performance in Berlin last month, Roger Waters donned a black trench coat with a swastika-like emblem, which he claimed was a statement against fascism, injustice, and bigotry. The imagery used in the concert, particularly Waters aiming an imitation machine gun into the audience, drew criticism from various quarters. Critics, including U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt, denounced the concert as "Holocaust distortion." The European Commission's coordinator on combating antisemitism also amplified these concerns.

The State Department's Response

The U.S. State Department responded to the controversy by standing behind Lipstadt's comment and condemning Waters' performance. In an email statement, the department asserted that the concert contained imagery deeply offensive to Jewish people and minimized the Holocaust. Additionally, they accused Waters of having a long track record of using antisemitic tropes to denigrate Jewish people. However, the department did not provide specific examples of Waters' alleged use of antisemitic tropes or address whether officials had viewed the concert firsthand.

Waters' Defense and Political Stances

Roger Waters defended his performance, dismissing criticism as "disingenuous and politically motivated." He argued that his depiction of "an unhinged fascist demagogue" has been a recurring element of his shows since Pink Floyd's album "The Wall" in 1979. Waters, a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy, supports the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which advocates for pressuring Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territories.

Context and Analysis

The controversy surrounding Roger Waters' performance in Berlin highlights the complex intersection of art, politics, and historical sensitivities. While Waters claims his intention was to criticize fascism and promote justice, the imagery he used, such as the swastika-like emblem, is inherently provocative and could be seen as minimizing the Holocaust. It is essential to consider the historical context and sensitivity surrounding the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of six million Jews and remains an indelible scar on the collective memory of Jewish communities worldwide.

Critics argue that the use of such symbols can perpetuate antisemitic narratives and trivialize the immense suffering endured by Jewish people during the Holocaust. By invoking Holocaust imagery, even in the context of artistic expression, Waters inadvertently fuels concerns about the rise of antisemitism and the distortion of historical truth.

Furthermore, Waters' support for the BDS Movement, which aims to pressure Israel economically and politically, has also drawn criticism. While the BDS Movement raises important questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and human rights, some critics argue that it can be a vehicle for promoting anti-Israel sentiment and, in some instances, veering into antisemitic rhetoric. Waters' association with this movement adds another layer of complexity to the controversy.


The performance by Roger Waters in Berlin has ignited a heated debate, with the U.S. State Department denouncing it as offensive to Jewish people and accusing Waters of using antisemitic tropes. While Waters argues that his intentions were rooted in artistic expression and political activism, the imagery and symbols used raise valid concerns about the potential trivialization of the Holocaust. 

The controversy surrounding Roger Waters' performance in Berlin serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between artistic freedom and responsible expression. It underscores the importance of understanding historical sensitivities, particularly when dealing with subjects as grave as the Holocaust.

While artists have the right to convey their messages and provoke thought through their art, they also bear the responsibility of being aware of the potential impact and interpretations of their work. The use of symbols associated with hatred and genocide can easily be misinterpreted or sensationalized, leading to hurt and offense among affected communities.

Critics argue that by employing imagery reminiscent of the swastika, Waters crossed a line and risked perpetuating antisemitic narratives. The memory of the Holocaust is deeply ingrained in the Jewish community, and any depiction that appears to trivialize or diminish its significance is understandably met with outrage.

Moreover, Waters' support for the BDS Movement adds another layer of complexity to the controversy. While the movement aims to address human rights concerns in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, critics argue that it often veers into promoting an anti-Israel agenda and can inadvertently fuel antisemitic sentiment. The association with this movement further exacerbates the concerns raised about Waters' intentions and the potential impact of his performance.

However, it is crucial to note that the interpretation of art can be subjective, and different individuals may have varying reactions to the same piece of work. It is possible that Waters' intentions were not inherently antisemitic but rather aimed at challenging fascism and injustice. Nevertheless, the use of Holocaust imagery is a sensitive matter that requires careful consideration and contextual understanding.

This controversy should serve as an opportunity for dialogue and education. It highlights the need for artists, activists, and communities to engage in meaningful conversations about historical trauma, sensitivity, and the potential impact of artistic expression. Open discussions can promote a greater understanding of diverse perspectives and foster empathy and mutual respect.

Moving forward, it is crucial for artists to be mindful of the historical context and potential implications of their work. Engaging in constructive conversations, rather than resorting to accusations and counter-accusations, can lead to a more nuanced understanding of complex issues and help bridge divides.

In conclusion, the controversy surrounding Roger Waters' performance in Berlin raises important questions about the responsibility of artists, the impact of symbolism, and the potential for unintended offense. It serves as a reminder of the importance of empathy, dialogue, and context in navigating sensitive subjects such as the Holocaust and antisemitism.

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