U.S. Government Weighs In on Roger Waters German Concert Controversy
Roger Waters' May 17 performance in Berlin sparked plenty of controversy as the musician opened the show by proclaiming he "condemns antisemitism unreservedly," but later appeared wearing a costume that was a long, black leather coat with gloves and a red armband with crossed hammers, and banners with the same hammer symbol hung over his head reminiscent of Nazi-like imagery. The usage of that costume sparked an investigation by the State Security Department in Germany, as it is illegal to evoke Nazi imagery and gestures in Germany, and now the U.S. government has commented on Waters' actions from that performance as well.
It should be noted that the onstage outfit has been displayed many times by Waters over the years, as it dates back to the 1982 film The Wall when singer-actor Bob Geldof donned the uniform starring as Pink during the scene featuring "In the Flesh?"
Waters himself has worn the uniform as well at shows over the years while performing the song as a call back to the film. (see a video of him performing the song in 1990 here and a 2015 digital video of him performing the song here). But, as the uniform is based upon the look of Nazi officers and Waters wore it in a country where Nazi imagery is deemed illegal, the usage did not land particularly well. Police confirmed afterward that the costume could constitute a glorification, justification or approval of Nazi rule and therefore a disturbance of the public peace.
Roger Waters Performs "In the Flesh?" During Berlin Concerts on May 17, 2023
Following the concert, EU antisemitism envoy Katharina von Schnurbein had commented on social media, “I am sick & disgusted by Roger Waters’ obsession to belittle and trivialize the Shoah & the sarcastic way in which he delights in trampling on the victims, systematically murdered by the Nazis. In Germany. Enough is enough.”
U.S. special envoy to combat antisemitism, Deborah Lipstadt, then tweeted in response, “I wholeheartedly concur with @EUAntisemitism ’s condemnation of Roger Waters and his despicable Holocaust distortion."
Now, the U.S. State Department has weighed in on the controversy. Per the Associated Press (via Billboard), the State Department offered their take as part of a response to a question presented during a press briefing about whether or not the Biden administration agreed with Lipstadt's assessment.
“Special Envoy Lipstadt’s quote-tweet speaks for itself. The concert in question, which took place in Berlin, contained imagery that is deeply offensive to Jewish people and minimized the Holocaust. The artist in question has a long track record of using antisemitic tropes to denigrate Jewish people,” the State Department offered in response.
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In addition to the costume, an inflatable pig decorated in graffiti floated around the venue, which is another common prop during Waters' performances. As some sources have noted, the Star of David was one of the symbols drawn on the pig.
Several names also flashed on the screens, including Anne Frank, a teenage diarist who died during the Holocaust; George Floyd, a black man who was unlawfully killed by police officers in Minnesota in 2020; and Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was shot and killed in 2022 while covering a raid by the Israel Defense Forces on a Palestinian refugee camp. Many on social media have claimed that this was a tasteless comparison of the victims' lives.
Waters has been outwardly pro-Palestine over the last several years, though he has affirmed that he is not against the people of Israel, but the Israeli government. Earlier this year, the city council in both Frankfurt and Munich attempted to cancel Waters' concerts that were scheduled to take place there and accused him of being antisemitic. A few weeks later, the singer issued a statement on the matter, saying that he was taking legal action over the canceled shows.
"I want to state for the record and once and for all that I am not and never have been antisemitic and nothing that anyone can say or publish will alter that," Waters has written. "My well publicized views relate entirely to the policies and actions of the Israeli government and not with the peoples of Israel. Antisemitism is odious and racist and I condemn it, along with all forms of racism unreservedly."
Waters' tour has continued, currently wrapping up its run through Europe and the U.K. with a show tonight (June 7) in London and on June 10 in Manchester, before Waters takes his show to South America this fall. Stay up to date with his touring here.