An Open Letter to Roger Waters: Why Israel Is Not an Apartheid State

I know that your father and my grandfather, who saw and experienced so much pain, bloodshed, and death, would agree that a complex political conflict such as this one deserves a peaceful, productive, and equally complex solution.

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Dear Mr. Waters,

Once again, the internet is abuzz with controversy surrounding your recent concert in Belgium, at which an inflatable pig emblazoned with the Star of David among other religious and corporate symbols was displayed. Some critics have accused you of anti-Semitism, but I am not one of them.

I strongly doubt you are an anti-Semite, or a Jew hater, and I certainly don’t believe that you could be a Nazi. I have great empathy for you, having lost your father while he was fighting Nazis in World War II. My own grandfather, Norman Gilboord, was a gunner in the Royal Canadian Armed Forces and lost his arm in an ambush by Nazis in Holland. He survived the war, but died young, and I was named after him.

I was raised in Toronto, Canada, which is known for having a large Holocaust survivor community. Holocaust survivors and their children were frequently my teachers in school, guests around my parents’ dinner table, and speakers at community events. I was spared no horrific detail of the heinous crimes committed in the name of that most foul Nazi ideology. I remember my friends’ grandparents, their tattoos, and knew that where they had survived, millions more – Jewish and Gentile – had tragically perished.

Mr. Waters, I found myself mostly agreeing with you in your open letter to Rabbi Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I reiterate: I do not believe you have any ill-will toward the Jewish people. In addition, to peacefully protest against Israel’s domestic and foreign policy is not, in my opinion, anti-Semitic. Israelis do it all the time.

By placing the Star of David, which as you say “represents Israel and its policies” on an inflatable pig, which you say “represents evil” and “errant government,” you appear to portray Israel itself as inherently evil. Thus, it appears you fail to take into account the consideration of Israeli democracy, diversity, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With all due respect, let me attempt here to do so.

There are many Israelis who protest against their government’s domestic and foreign policies. They are free to do so, as in the U.S., by taking advantage of the freedoms afforded to them within a functioning and thriving democracy, and certainly not a repressive theocracy.

Your accusation that Israel is “a state that operates Apartheid both within its own borders and also in the territories it has occupied and colonized since 1967” is factually and morally incorrect. Apartheid is a state-sanctioned system of racial separation and discrimination. This is not the case in Israel, where there is one law for all citizens and minorities have full political rights.

Yes, every liberal democracy faces challenges in ensuing fair and equitable treatment of its minority citizens, but Israel’s track record compares favorably with other pluralistic democracies. Freedoms we all cherish, such as freedom of press, speech and religion, are centerpieces of Israeli law.

The troubling situation concerning Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank is not comparable to Apartheid and must be viewed within the context of the ongoing conflict. I grew up reading newspapers with photos of the latest suicide bombing in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem which indiscriminately murdered Israeli men, women, and children of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other backgrounds on their way to work and school. Close friends of mine have been injured in terrorist attacks and others have bravely volunteered as members of medical teams assisting injured terror victims immediately after the attacks.

When Israel was forced to protect its civilians to prevent such dreadful bloodshed, a system of check points, security roads, identification cards and security barriers were established to separate Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza from Israel’s citizens, providing physical security from the threat of attacks. Many people view these security systems as a source of racism, segregation, and humiliation.

I have great sympathy for Palestinians who are forced to cope with these systems on a daily basis, but I also see that these security systems are protecting my friends and my family members who live there. A balance, which you fail to provide, is required to ensure security for Israelis while working to ease the great pressure on Palestinians and move toward a final peace agreement. This issue is constantly debated in Israel, and the High Court has heard many Palestinian submissions. Rather than misusing the term ‘apartheid’, I highly encourage you to look for means to work with people of goodwill on both sides to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution.

I would also like to suggest that your open support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is most unhelpful in providing a lasting peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, as you so gracefully put it,

“can only impede progress towards peace and understanding between people.” While I understand the great imbalance of power between Israelis and Palestinians, and I have great sympathy, as mentioned above, for Palestinians that are forced to undergo humiliations at Israeli checkpoints each day, the BDS movement consistently fails to offer a viable solution to the conflict, and those who advocate for a one-state solution ignore the right of self-determination for both peoples to move toward living side-by side in peace and security. By singling out and assigning one-sided blame to one party over the other, we fail together as advocates for peace, to find ways to foster the harmonious atmosphere that would enable Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a real lasting peace.

If we truly seek to foster peace, I believe we should support programs and efforts that promote reconciliation and coexistence, rather than those that attempt to punish and divide peoples. We need to support efforts that help the parties move toward a “two states for two peoples” solution that would create a Jewish and democratic state of Israel, alongside an independent nation-state of Palestine.

I know that your father and my grandfather, who saw and experienced so much pain, bloodshed, and death, would agree that a complex political conflict such as this one deserves a peaceful, productive, and equally complex solution.

Secretary of State John Kerry has played a critical role in bringing the parties back to the negotiating table. Support for this process will be the most important collective step we can take. I am happy to join with you to work to realize this dream for the two-state solution.

Noam Gilboord

Noam Gilboord lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. with his wife.

Roger Waters performs in Toronto in 2010.Credit: AP

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