Berlin Police Investigate Roger Waters After He Wore Nazi-Style Costumes at Concerts

German police are investigating Roger Waters, one of the founders of the band Pink Floyd, which has long been critical of Israel, after he performed in Berlin last week in a Nazi-style costume like the one he wore to criticize the fascism in “The Wall”. ”

Mr. Waters, who has made anti-Israel statements in the past that many have said cross the line into anti-Semitism, has successfully fought two attempts by German courts to block him from German concert venues in the past.

The investigation centers on the costume Mr. Waters wore during a performance of the 1979 Pink Floyd song “In the Flesh” from their seminal album “The Wall,” in which a rock star imagines himself himself as a fascist dictator. A similar staging was featured in the 1982 film “Pink Floyd: The Wall” with Bob Geldof.

During parts of concerts in Berlin on May 17 and 18, Waters wore a black trench coat with epaulettes and a red armband, according to videos posted on social media and witnesses Flanked by men dressed in costumes reminiscent of Nazi stormtroopers, he fired a prop machine gun into the audience. Waters has worn similar costumes at concerts outside of Germany for years for the routine, which he has called satire.

The Berlin authorities will have to determine to what extent the display of Nazi-type images is protected by freedom of artistic expression. In Germany, displaying Nazi symbolism, such as swastikas or SS insignia, justifying or minimizing the Holocaust and anti-Semitic acts are illegal.

“Freedom of artistic expression is not a license to incite hatred,” Nicholas Potter, a researcher at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin, a group that tracks neo-Nazism, right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism in Berlin, wrote in an email exchange. Germany.

“Artistic freedom is often used as an argument to express anti-democratic or hateful views, including anti-Semitic ones, but that doesn’t always mean it’s applicable: context is crucial,” he added. Mr. Potter attended one of the Berlin shows and wrote about it in the foundation news blog.

Mr. Waters initially agreed to an interview with The New York Times about the investigation, but later declined. A representative wrote: “We are reluctant to comment if the intent is to further sensationalize this fabricated story.”

A Berlin police spokesman said investigators would present their findings to the Berlin state prosecutor within the next three months. The state’s attorney will decide whether to charge Mr. Waters.

Mr. Waters is a vocal advocate of BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which pushes foreign governments, companies and artists to cut ties with Israel until it ends its occupation of the territories it captured in 1967. , among other demands.

Mr. Waters in previous concerts has included a floating balloon depicting a flying pig, which featured the Star of David. He defended that action, saying in 2013 on Facebook that, “like it or not, the Star of David represents Israel and its policies and is rightfully subject to any and all forms of nonviolent protest.”

In a Facebook post Sunday addressing the controversy surrounding his concerts in Germany, he criticized German lawmakers who condemned BDS, saying that they had “enshrined a recommendation to the German people to ‘remain silent and indifferent’” in the face of the “institutionalized murder” of the Palestinian people by a “tyrannical racist regime,” which it said was the State of Israel. .

On giant billboards at the concert, the name of Anne Frank, one of the most easily recognizable victims of the Holocaust, during which the Germans killed more than 6 million Jews, was juxtaposed alongside the name of Shireen Abu Akleh, a correspondent for Palestinian American television. she who was shot by Israel Defense Forces soldiers during a raid in the West Bank last year.

On Wednesday morning, the Israeli Foreign Ministry posted on Twitter: “Good morning to all except Roger Waters who spent the night in Berlin (Yes Berlin) desecrating the memory of Anne Frank and the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.”

On Wednesday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center publicly called on the German authorities to investigate the concert in Berlin. “There are few artists whose anti-Israel vitriol can match Waters’s,” the center wrote. in a sentence. “Despite his protests to the contrary, Waters, for years, crossed the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.”

Any charges stemming from the concert would come as Germany grapples with a more general debate about the rise of anti-Semitism in the country, 78 years after the end of the Holocaust. In addition to a general increase in the number of reported anti-Semitic crimes in the country, there were far-reaching debates after a group of leaders of cultural institutions published an open letter denouncing not only BDS but also a parliamentary resolution declaring BDS inherently antisemite. And an art installation featuring anti-Semitic cartoons at the Documenta art festival in Kassel last year led to another round of soul-searching among cultural elites.

The city of Frankfurt tried to prevent Waters from performing at the Frankfurter Festhalle next Sunday, a concert hall that is partly owned by the city. In November 1938, thousands of Jewish men were herded into the arena after the night of pogroms known as Kristallnacht, before being sent to concentration camps. But a judge in Frankfurt backed Waters, who on Monday had filed an emergency injunction against the city, citing the constitutional right to artistic freedom and the fact that there was no evidence that Waters would break the law.

In March, the city of Munich ruled that it could not legally terminate a contract with the musician for a show he played at the Olympic Stadium there last week. Instead, the city decided to allow organized protests outside the venue on the day of the concert.

Alex Marshall contributed reporting from London.