Spanish reggae festival re-invites Matisyahu

Organizers apologize to Jewish-American singer, say dropping him was mistake made under intense BDS pressure.

Matisyahu performing live at the Republik Music Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii. June 8, 2014 (photo credit: PETER CHIAPPERINO)
Matisyahu performing live at the Republik Music Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii. June 8, 2014
(photo credit: PETER CHIAPPERINO)
The Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival in Spain wants Matisyahu after all. Apparently it hopes that by apologizing and re-inviting the Jewish-American singer to the show, “every little thing gonna be alright,” in the words of reggae icon Bob Marley.
In a Facebook post that followed long hours of deliberation regarding how to re-invite Matisyahu – disinvited because he would not issue a declaration supporting a Palestinian state – the organizers of the week-long festival in Benicassim, Valencia, wrote that it had been a “mistake” to drop the reggae-rapper from the schedule.
They blamed that decision, made public on Saturday, on a “campaign of pressure, coercion and threats” against the festival by the local Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Valencia.
Spain branch of BDS to Jpost : Matisyahu justified Israeli crimes
The organizers said the move to disinvite Matisyahu came about because “it was perceived that the normal functioning of the festival could be threatened.” That concern, the organizers claimed, prevented them from “reasoning clearly how to deal with the situation properly.”
No comment was obtainable from Matisyahu regarding whether he would accept the organization’s apology and appear as originally scheduled on Saturday. He is currently on a European tour.
Dropping the singer from the lineup was widely viewed as anti-Semitism, and the apology came after the festival’s organizers came under sharp criticism for demanding that only Matisyahu – an identifying Jew who in the early years of his career performed in the traditional garb of a Chabad hassid – issue a political statement as a condition to performing.
The singer, who is not Israeli and does not make any specific political points in his performances, didn’t do so, and his show was canceled.
Ironically, the festival boasts on its website of promoting dialogue as tool for resolving conflicts.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry, the country’s major political parties and much of the Spanish press sharply criticized the decision to disinvite the singer. On Wednesday, the US Embassy in Spain chimed in, terming the cancellation “troubling.”
The spokesman at Israel’s embassy in Madrid, Hamutal Rogel, said the level of criticism from all corners of Spanish society over the past two days, especially the past 24-hours, was something “the organizers did not expect.”
Leading the criticism, she said, was the Spanish press. El Pais, a leading newspaper often critical of Israeli policies, editorialized on Tuesday that the cancellation was tantamount to “unacceptable discrimination.”
“It is absolutely unacceptable that in the Spain of the 21st century, individuals and organizations can still demand that somebody explain themselves in ideological terms in order to be able to exercise their profession, and takes us back to the dark days when everybody was required to prove their religiosity and purity of blood,” the editorial said.
“Anti-Semitism and discrimination on the grounds of ideology cannot be tolerated and must be stood up to,” it went on. “Criticism of Israel’s policies and defense of the Palestinians cannot be used as cover for systematic persecution of those who hold different views, or because they are Jewish. Spain’s politicians need to speak out about this scandal that questions this country’s commitment to free speech and thought.”
The festival, according to the paper, is funded with public money.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry said it rejects boycott campaigns and any sign of anti-Semitism.
“Imposing a public declaration [from Matisyahu] puts into question the principle of non-discrimination on which all plural and diverse societies are based,” according to a statement put out by the ministry.
Before the apology and re-invitation, the Federation of Jewish Communities (FCJE) in Spain said it was considering taking the festival to court.
The discussion to re-invite Matisyahu is the latest in a number of flip-flops by the festival’s organizers.
On August 11, facing intense BDS pressure to cancel the performance, the organizers wrote on the festival’s Facebook page that the fact that Matisyahu supported Israel “does not in itself mean he backs their policies of violence against the Palestinians, so we did not consider it necessary to exclude him from the festival on these grounds.”
But after facing more BDS pressure, the organizers buckled and on Saturday said they were dropping him Several influential Jewish organizations, as well as the FCJE, were quick to welcome the apology while insisting that it should be an impetus for introspection.
World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder and FCJE president Isaac Querub Caro said the decision was both “significant and welcome” in a joint statement.
“We thank the organizers for realizing their mistake and for taking the necessary steps to remedy it. However, lessons must be learned from this affair,” they declared.
Both had previously described the ideological litmus test placed on Matisyahu as anti-Semitic.
“The organizers have done the honorable thing and apologized. However, this affair leaves us with a sour taste in our mouths,” Lauder said.
“It was yet another example of how anti-Jewish attitudes, dressed up as vicious and unfair criticism of Israel, are still widespread, and are especially prevalent in a number of far-Left global political parties. This affair also showed that the BDS movement is rotten at its core: Although pretending to fight racism, it is fueled by anti-Semitism. It’s time people realize that and stop listening to this vicious form of propaganda.”
Speaking on behalf of the local Jewish community, Caro said it was hoped “that lessons have been learned for the future.”
“We need to stand together and work together in the fight against all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and hatred,” he said. “This includes avoiding discriminating against people who may have a different opinion than oneself on certain issues. The Rototom Sunsplash should be about celebrating music and not about politics. I am glad that the festival orga - nizers have realized that.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said the entire story made it “crystal clear” that “deeply rooted anti-Semitism” was fueling the BDS movement.
“Camouflaged as ‘anti-Zionism’ or ostensibly legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy, BDS is really a modern variant of the age-old scourge of anti-Semitism, and the sooner that fact is acknowledged, the sooner BDS will be defeated,” Efraim Zuroff, the head of the center’s Israel office, told The Jerusalem Post