“You f**king Jew.”
That is what the big skinhead wearing the DROWN THE BOAT PEOPLE T-shirt had just called the lead singer of the Calgary punk band called the Hot Nasties. The Nasties had just finished their set at the University of Calgary’s MacEwan Hall, opening for the popular British punk band 999, when someone spotted the skinheads making Nazi salutes.
The skinhead and his buddies continued to spew Jew hatred. The Hot Nasties’ lead singer and lead guitarist continued to tell the skinheads to shut up, or else. The skinhead threw a punch, a fight erupted. The skinheads retreated – on that night, at least – bloodied and bruised, but vowing to return.
And, really, they never really left. Because anti-Semitism remains a significant problem in popular culture, and in music in particular. We’ve been seeing plenty of it since the atrocities of October 7.
Evidence that showed up again this week: Roger Waters, regarded as an anti-Semite by his own former bandmates in Pink Floyd, was this week dropped by his music publisher, BMG. As Variety reported, Rogers’ anti-Semitic statements “infuriated his former bandmates, as they have driven off several suitors interested in acquiring the wizening band’s recorded-music catalog, which was said to be on the market for half a billion dollars.”
Other artists who have refused to perform in Israel, or cancelled gigs there because of pressure from the anti-Semites who make up the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, include, but are by no means limited to:
Rage Against the Machine, Cypress Hill, Patti Smith, The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, System of A Down’s Serj Tankian, Questlove, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Run The Jewels, Anti-Flag, Santana, Sting, Lorde, Lana Del-Rey, Shakira, Elvis Costello, Lauryn Hill, Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg, Coldplay, Lenny Kravitz, Cassandra Wilson, Cat Power and (unfortunately) many more.
Some very notable artists refuse to go along with the BDS bigotry, however. Nick Cave, of the Birthday Party and Bad Seeds, refused to cancel shows in Israel, memorably saying: “At the end of the day, there’s maybe two reasons why I’m here. One is that I love Israel and I love Israeli people, and two is to make a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians.”
Thom Yorke, of Radiohead, had a similar view, posting on X: “We don’t endorse [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu any more than [Donald] Trump, but we still play in America. Music, art and academia is about crossing borders, not building them.”
Sir Paul McCartney, formerly of a little outfit known as the Beatles, was similarly defiant. In 2008, McCartney received numerous direct death threats for his insistence on playing in Israel.
Not only did McCartney show up, he dedicated a song in Hebrew to his deceased wife Linda, who was Jewish. McCartney told Israeli media: “I got death threats, but I have no intention of surrendering and I’m coming anyway…“I’ve heard so many great things about Tel Aviv and Israel, but hearing is one thing and experiencing it yourself is another.”
So, why do the BDS types continually lobby artists to boycott and besmirch Israel? Because they know cultural icons can have a tremendous influence on the opinions of millions of people, in a way that politicians rarely do. For low-information voters – who make up the majority in most electoral contests – the opinions of Taylor Swift can often be far more consequential than those of anyone else.
But, at the end of the song, politics and culture often make for an uneasy mix. Musicians tend to be lousy politicians. Just ask the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten.
The punk pioneer travelled to Israel in 2010 to play with his post-Pistols band, Public Image Limited. Asked about the Israel-haters and boycotters, Rotten (typically) minced no words: “I think it’s disgusting. I think they shouldn’t have agreed in the first place if they were gonna back out.
“I’m here to say: People of Israel, I support you 100 percent!”
[Warren Kinsella was the lead singer of the Hot Nasties.]