If you believe in human rights, Madonna, don’t play in Tel Aviv


To perform in Israel serves to normalise the occupation, the apartheid, the ethnic cleansing, the incarceration of children, the slaughter of unarmed protesters.

Madonna’s acceptance of an invitation to perform in Tel Aviv at the Eurovision song contest finals in May raises, yet again, fundamentally important ethical and political questions for each and every one of us to contemplate.

In Paris in 1948 the then fledgling United Nations drafted and subsequently adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrined in international law that all our brothers and sisters all over the world, irrespective of their ethnicity or nationality or religion, have certain basic human rights, including but not limited to the right to life, liberty and self-determination.

So the question each one of us should ask ourselves is this: do I agree with the United Nations Declaration?

If your answer to this question is yes, then a second question arises: am I prepared to stand behind my support for human rights and act on it? Will I help my brothers and sisters in their struggle for human rights, or will I cross over and walk by on the other side?

In the context of the current conversation about the location of the Eurovision finals and the participation of Madonna and the other performers, the brothers and sisters in question are the people of Palestine who live under a deeply repressive apartheid regime of occupation and do not enjoy the right to life, liberty and self-determination.

Back in 2004, Palestinian civil society appealed to the rest of the world for help and, among other things, established a cultural picket line, asking artists to refrain from performing in Israel until such time as the Israeli government recognises the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Since that time I have responded to their call and done what I can to persuade others to do the same.

Some of my fellow musicians who have recently performed in Israel say they are doing it to build bridges and further the cause of peace. Bullshit. To perform in Israel is a lucrative gig but to do so serves to normalise the occupation, the apartheid, the ethnic cleansing, the incarceration of children, the slaughter of unarmed protesters … all that bad stuff.

By the way, because I support human rights and criticise the Israeli government for its violations, I am routinely accused of being antisemitic. That accusation can be used as a smokescreen to divert attention and discredit those who shine a light on Israel’s crimes against humanity. I should point out that I support the fight for human rights for all oppressed peoples everywhere. The religion of the oppressor is neither here nor there. If I support the Rohingyas and deplore the Myanmar persecution of them, it doesn’t make me anti-Buddhist.

It is my belief that the future of the human race will largely depend on our ability to develop our capacity to empathise with others, not our capacity to oppress and control them. We cannot afford to regress to the dark ages, when might meant right. We are better than that, aren’t we?

I suppose I’m calling on everyone involved in what I see as Eurovision’s betrayal of our joint humanity to focus on their capacity to empathise with their Palestinian brothers and sisters. To try to put themselves in that place. Try to imagine, for 70 years, generation after generation, waking every morning to the systematic, creeping plunder of your people’s life. And they, who have held their heads high and resisted with great courage, fortitude and grace, have asked us, “the bleeding hearts and the artists” for our help. We, all of us have, in my view, an absolute moral and human obligation as fellow human beings to answer their call.

My mum, in maternal attempts to provide guidance to me in my youth, used to say: “Roger, in any given situation, there’s nearly always a right thing to do; just think about it carefully, whatever it may be, by all means consider all points of view, then decide for yourself what the right thing to do is and just do it.”

I would urge all the young contestants – in fact all young people, in fact all people young and old alike, so that includes Madonna – to read the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It’s been translated into 500 languages so anyone can apprise themselves of its 30 articles. If we all abided by them we might yet save our beautiful planet from its imminent destruction.

Roger Waters is a founding member of the rock band Pink Floyd


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