Matisyahu Says Spanish Reggae Fest Canceled Show Over Refusal to Support BDS
Jewish reggae star Matisyahu responded on Monday to being dropped by Spain’s Rototom reggae festival saying organizers’ efforts to pressure him to endorse the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement were “appalling and offensive.”
Days after the news broke that Matisyahu’s spot in the festival’s lineup was canceled, the internationally renowned singer informed fans via his Facebook page that Rototom organizers “wanted me to write a letter, or make a video, stating my positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pacify the BDS people.”
“The festival kept insisting that I clarify my personal views; which felt like clear pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda,” said the ex-Chasid. “Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival they were trying to coerce me into political statements.”
“No artist deserves to be put in such a situation simply to perform his or her art,” he continued. “Regardless of race, creed, country, cultural background, etc, my goal is to play music for all people.”
The artist was set to perform on Aug. 22 at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, near Barcelona, before his performance was axed last weekend.
In response, a number of Jewish groups expressed outrage and accused Rototom organizers of blatant antisemitism.
In an interview with The Algemeiner on Sunday, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, described the injection of politics into art as “disgusting.” He said the festival’s decision to dis-invite Matisyahu, who is not an Israeli citizen but a Jewish-American, was an “inconvenient reminder for all the Jews in the Diaspora that we are all now fair game for the crime of being proud of our heritage and our 3,500 year connection to [the land of Israel].”
“Next they will demand we censor our prayers,” he continued.
He also called on Spain’s king Felipe VI to condemn the incident, saying, “it would be highly appropriate for the new king to follow in his father’s footsteps and denounce this outrage.”
Felipe’s father, King Juan Carlos I, was praised by Spain’s Jewish community last year for celebrating Jewish heritage in Spain and his leadership in upholding freedom of worship in the country. The former king previously paid tribute to the “strength of spirit” of Spanish Jews forced to leave the country during the 1492 Spanish expulsion.
“Perhaps young Spaniards have conveniently wiped the memory of the expulsion of Jews from Spain,” Cooper said. “We haven’t and never will. They are among the people who forfeited their right to make demands of the Jewish people.”
Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt called the cancellation “a clear case of antisemitic discrimination,” since the musician was denied the opportunity to perform “for reasons completely unrelated to his musical talents.”
“A local BDS group pushed for the boycott of Matisyahu, and the festival’s action provides another example of a clearly anti-Semitic result from the BDS Movement,” he added.
The Jewish human-rights group called on Javier Moliner Gargallo, the president of the County Council of Castellón, which provided financial aid to the reggae festival, to insist that Rototom organizers reverse their “discriminatory decision” or have their financial support withdrawn.
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain called the cancellation “cowardly, unfair and discriminatory.”
“As Spaniards, we are ashamed of the organizers,” they said, according to the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle. “In this case, the BDS Movement employed all its antisemitic arsenal against the participation of Matthew Paul Miller [Matisyahu’s offstage name].”
In a statement on the festival’s official Facebook page, Rototom directors on Monday denied canceling Matisyahu’s performance because of the singer’s “Hebrew roots” or his Zionism. Instead they claimed it would have been inappropriate to organize a performance that would “certainly generate a conflict.”
“After days of disillusion, we realized this concert would have brought only disagreement, incomprehension, intolerance and intransigence. And we decided to cancel it,” festival directors said.
The festival also posted a statement on its website about its history of “sensitivity regarding Palestine, its people and the occupation of their territories by Israel.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said the decision was “a clear instance of antisemitism and nothing else.”
“Like everybody else in a free and democratic society, he not only has a right to express his views – whether you agree with them or not — but he also has every right not to have the repugnant views of the festival organizers imposed on him,” Lauder said of the reggae singer. “He is a musician who has been denied the opportunity to play his planned gig at a European reggae festival purely because he is Jewish and because he refuses to side with the vicious and bigoted BDS movement.”
Addressing Spaniards, he pointed out that being a Zionist is “about supporting democracy, the rule of law, freedom, openness and diversity.”
Lauder urged Spanish authorities to condemn the “sad incident” and take action. He called on authorities to order festival organizers to re-invite Matisyahu and apologize for their “outrageous behavior” or else return financial aid they received from public institutions.
“Antisemitism and racism must not be rewarded by public support – not in Spain, and not anywhere else,” he said.
Five other artists scheduled to perform at the festival backed out because of pressure from BDS activists, according to the Spanish daily El Pais.