Matisyahu: Anti-Semitism at Spanish festival was something I never experienced before

Former Chabad hassid says ‘has not chosen a side’ in Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A Palestinian flag flies as Jewish musician Matisyahu performs on stage during the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian flag flies as Jewish musician Matisyahu performs on stage during the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jewish-American reggae star Matisyahu said he felt unsafe last week performing at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Spain, facing a crowd that included a number of people waving Palestinian flags and flipping him the middle finger.
“People were standing on each other’s shoulders with flags giving me the middle finger.
It was intense,” Matisyahu said in an interview that appeared on the Daily Beast website on Sunday.
With Palestinian flags in background, Matisyahu vows: "Jerusalem, if I forget you"‏
“It was not peaceful. It was like ‘F*** you, Matisyahu.’ I’ve never had the experience of anything like that, as a Jew or anything in my life.
“I just assumed everyone in the festival was going to be regular reggae festival-goers, so I got really nervous. I felt totally open and that anyone could do whatever they want,” he said.
Matisyahu performed at the festival a week from Saturday night after the organizers buckled under heavy pressure from the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Valencia and dis-invited him when he would not come out in favor of a Palestinian state, only to re-invite him when this sparked international outrage.
The singer said that he noticed a Palestinian flag in the audience when he was standing backstage before the show, and that “about” another 20 flags came out when he stepped onto the stage.
A spokesperson for the festival told the Daily Beast that there were 20 Palestinian flags among an audience of some 15,000 people. She said she didn’t know if those making the obscene hand signal to Matisyahu were BDS activists “of if they were just pro-Palestinian.”
During his 45-minute set, Matisyahu played “Jerusalem,” which includes the lyrics, “Three thousand years with no place to be, and they want me to give up my milk and honey...”
He said, however, that he did not include that song in his set to make a political statement, but rather because it was one of his most popular hits. He also denied that the song is Zionist, according to the report.
Discussing the Middle East, Matisyahu said, “I’m not a political scientist, and I don’t claim to know all the details and the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I haven’t chosen a side.”
The former Chabad hassid said that the organizers of the festival emailed him before the event to inform him that they were being pressured by BDS operatives. The singer said the organizers then told him that they could “make the group go away,” if he made a statement in support of Palestinian statehood.
“I responded that I was sort of taken aback they would ask me for it. It felt weird. I’m pretty much known throughout, I think, as someone who is pro-peace and all about building bridges and bringing people together. It was kind of interesting to me that they would take this group seriously.”
After writing back that he “couldn’t give them a direct answer,” the organizers wrote again for a specific statement in support of “Palestine,” and “to speak out against Israeli ‘war crimes.’” “At that point, I said I wasn’t comfortable and if they didn’t want me there, I wasn’t interested in being there,” he said.
Matisyahu said that he “absolutely” felt he was the victim of anti-Semitism, saying he has never experienced a similar situation before.
“I’ve been touring in Europe even from the time I had a beard and yarmulke, and I had never been with people who expressed what I thought was outright anti-Semitism,” he said.
“You hear stories. You hear things on the news, but at the end of the day, you relate back to your experience. I view it some extent as an isolated experience, but the [BDS] group seems to be making more noise. To me there’ s no doubt, maybe not for everyone involved in that organization, but there’s definitely an anti-Semitism that’s there.”