Pink Floyd frontman weighs into 'Palestinian Roots' controversy at York University

Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters has taken sides in a controversy at York University in Toronto, where businessman Paul Bronfman has demanded the removal of a painting that shows a Palestinian holding stones as he faces a bulldozer.

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Waters addressed his letter to Bronfman, who pulled financial support from the university over the artwork, which he called “pure hate.”

Waters wrote that Bronfman is wrong to “use his economic muscle” to try and force removal of “Palestinian Roots,” which is displayed in the York University Student Centre, a building on campus that houses the York Federation of Students.

Waters writes that the Palestinian 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,” adding that protesting Israel’s policy is not anti-Semitic, and is in fact “a moral duty.”

“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,” Waters writes.

Avi Benolo, director of the non-profit Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Toronto, has 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.”

York University President Mamdouh Shoukri issued a statement after Bronfman’s comments stating “it is clear that the subject of the artwork is offensive to some individuals and groups, particularly Jewish members of our community.”

“The Student Centre ... is 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.”

Shoukri described three actions that York will take to support the university’s commitment to “ensuring all students feel comfortable and safe on campus,” including 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 a boycott of Israeli academics that is supported by the York Federation of Students.

Artist Ahmad Al Abid described Palestinian Roots in a statement on the York Federation of Students website as depicting the relationship “between the defenseless, the antagonist and the ‘other.’”

The man is “fluttered with conflicting emotions, implications and potential consequences of action,” Al Abid’s statement goes on. “With each of these factors pulling him towards a different route of discourse, we find him calculating his next move.”


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