Roger Waters defends York U anti-Israel painting

'Freedom of speech is a fundamental right and not for sale to the likes of you,' he tells Paul Bronfman.

Gil Ronen ,

Roger Waters
Roger Waters

British musician Roger Waters has entered the fray regarding an anti-Israeli mural at York University in Toronto, Canada.

In response to demands by businessman Paul Bronfman that the mural be taken down, Waters wrote Bronfman: Happily York University students and faculty members seem to recognize that protest is ok, and that freedom of speech is a fundamental right and not for sale to the likes of you."

Bronfman pulled financial support from the university over the mural, which he called “pure hate.”

The mural, which has been hanging on the wall of the university’s student center for more than two years, depicts a man with rocks in his hands looking at a Jewish community. On his back is a keffiyeh/scarf with a Palestinian flag and a map of Israel without borders. Below that are the words Justice and Peace.

According to CTV News, Waters wrote that Bronfman is wrong to “use his economic muscle” to try and force removal of the mural by Ahmad Al Abid, called “Palestinian Roots,” which is displayed in the York University Student Center. Ironically given his statement, Waters has a long history of activity in the BDS movement, that seeks to economically harm Israel.

The Arab man depicted in the artwork “has a legal and moral right, under the terms of article 4 of the Geneva conventions to resist the occupation of his homeland,” Waters argued, adding that protesting Israel’s policy is not anti-Semitic, and is in fact “a moral duty.”

Avi Benlolo, President of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in Toronto (FSWC), called the painting “a call to murder” and said “the Jewish community will continue to call for inclusion and for freedom from victimization, marginalization and antisemitism.”

Bronfman, who provides considerable support to the university’s Cinema & Media Arts department, made clear to the university that he wanted the mural to come down and that his support for it was about to end.

Following this, York University President Mamdouh Shoukri issued a statement in which he said that “it is clear that the subject of the artwork is offensive to some individuals and groups, particularly Jewish members of our community.”

The Student a separate and distinct legal entity from the University,” Shoukri went on. “We sincerely hope that they will address the concerns which have been expressed.” He said that York will take several actions to ensure that "all students feel comfortable and safe on campus,” including the establishment of an advisory committee on inclusion and a policy review.

Shoukri reiterated that “we will hold firm to our position that the university does not support academic boycotts,” apparently a reference to a boycott of Israeli academicians that is supported by the York Federation of Students.

Bronfman, who has been described as one of Canada's richest men, is Chairman and CEO of Comweb Corp and William F. White International, and Chairman of Pinewood Toronto Studios, besides being Director of the FSWC.