"Which is worse? The wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not."— Leo Tolstoy

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Intellectual Aikido, Roger Waters and the Anti-Defamation League

I am not a regular viewer of Fox News, although I am a regular reader of The Drudge Report, which feeds Fox most of its stories. I am also not a regular reader of the UK's Evening Standard, preferring The Guardian. I therefore missed the late-September controversy regarding Roger Water's use of a Star of David in the production video for his 2010 "The Wall" concert tour.

Generally credited with being the musical genius behind Pink Floyd, Waters has added to his fortune in recent years by building concert tours around Pink Floyd's theme albums. I have seen Waters' Dark Side of the Moon show twice and it had the best production value of any concert I have ever seen (and I saw quite a few concerts growing up with a music critic father who could usually score two tickets to any concert coming through New York City). Waters' is known for what Fox would describe as "liberal" politics. However, the dominant message running through Pink Floyd's music has always been anti-authoritarian, anti-war and pro individual freedom. While it is true that Water's has been an outspoken critic of Israeli policies in the West Bank, as are a vocal minority of Israeli citizens, that in and of itself does not mean that someone is an anti-semite.

I was unable to see The Wall concert when it played in Phoenix tonight and was wistfully searching the internet for information on the concert tour when I came across this press statement from Roger Waters responding to the anti-semitism allegations. It is really a brilliant bit of pr/reputation management that quickly and neatly dismisses a potentially ugly controversy:
In a recent news item on Foxnews/online, subsequently abridged in The London Evening Standard, Abraham Foxman, head of the ADL,(Anti Defamation League) in the USA, accuses my new production of "The Wall" and by implication me, of anti-Semitism. A serious charge that demands a response. Had Mr Foxman come to my show before passing judgement and commenting publicly he might, I hope, have held his peace, as there is no anti Semitism in "The Wall" show. The song to which he refers, "Goodbye Blue Sky", describes how ordinary people, military and civilians alike, suffer trauma in the aftermath of war. The visuals that accompany the song show waves of B52 bombers dropping various symbols from bomb bays on a war ravaged landscape. The symbols are: in no particular order, a Crucifix, a Hammer and Sickle, a Star of David, A Crescent and Star, a Mercedes sign, a Dollar sign, and a Shell Oil sign. Mr Foxman's concern was that potentially the juxtoposition of a Star of David and a Dollar sign might incite hatred of Jews. Contrary to Mr Foxman's assertion, there are no hidden meanings in the order or juxtaposition of these symbols. The point I am trying to make in the song is that the bombardment we are all subject to by conflicting religious, political, and economic ideologies only encourages us to turn against one another, and I mourn the concommitant loss of life. 
In so far as The Wall has a political message it is to seek to illuminate our condition, and find new ways to encourage peace and understanding, particularly in the Middle East. 
Incidentally, being from England, I had never heard of the ADL until today, but I have googled them and I see from their mission statement of 1913 that their brief is not only to defend the Jewish people from defamation, but also, and I quote, " to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens". Perhaps we should all focus on that lofty ideal and stop cowering in our corners throwing stones at one another.
While I would not have advised Waters to admit that he has never heard of the ADL, which does have an international reputation, his use of the ADL Charter was nicely done.  It is a version of what I like to call intellectual Aikido, the practice of neutralizing an opponent's momentum by redirecting the force of the opponent's most effective argument back against itself.

While the ADL does important work, they sometimes fail to pick their battles carefully.  By being overly sensitive at times, they give fodder to the critics of political correctness who often use the pc allegation as a screen for failing to oppose serious discrimination.  By raising allegations of anti-semitism in situations where it is clearly inappropriate to do so, the ADL risks diluting its message and overall effectiveness in situations where its authority is needed to fight clear cases of anti-semitism and discrimination.


  1. I agree about the ADL. Too often they equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, when the reality is that a person can be strongly anti-Zionist without being in any way anti-Semitic.

  2. I guess that depends on how you define "anti-Zionism." I'm not sure I agree that someone who does not support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state should not be considered an anti-semite. My point was that one can be an honest critic of israeli government policies without being an anti-semite.

  3. I consider myself anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine, but not at all anti-Semitic. I think Israel is a terrorist state, but, while I don't think it should ever have been created, I don't deny its right to exist.

    I don't know that those who do deny Israel's right to exist are anti-Semitic; I'd say it depends on whether they object because the people there are Jewish, or whether they think, as many do, that the land belongs to the Palestinians.

    For me, whether Israel should or should not have been created is moot. It does exist, and to want to eradicate it may not be anti-Semitic, but is certainly cruel.

  4. Yes, wishing eradication upon a nation or people is certainly cruel, and usually is evidence of a biased mindset that can be characterized by adding an "anti" in front of the name of the nation or people that eradication is being wished upon. Further discussion is better left for another topic and time.