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Spanish Concert Org. to Matisyahu: Publicize Your Politics on Palestine or Go Home

The Jewish-American reggae man refused, calling the BDS-influenced coercion ‘appalling and offensive’

Jas Chana
August 17, 2015
Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Stella Artois
Musician Matisyahu in Park City, Utah, January 18, 2014. Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Stella Artois
Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Stella Artois
Musician Matisyahu in Park City, Utah, January 18, 2014. Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Stella Artois

Matisyahu, a Jewish-American reggae musician, has been barred from performing at a Spanish music festival because he chose not to outline his position on Palestinian statehood. Matisyahu was booked to perform at the Rototom Sunsplash, a reggae music festival in Spain on August 22. However, according to Reuters, festival organizers heeded to local pressure to cancel his appearance as part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. A statement released by the organizers read:

Rototom Sunsplash, after having repeatedly sought dialog in the face of the artist’s unavailability to give a clear statement against war and on the right of the Palestinian people to their own state, has decided to cancel the concert.

On Monday, Matisyahu posted a response to the controversy on his Facebook page. He said that the festival organizers wanted him “to write a letter, or make a video, stating my positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pacify the BDS people.” However, Matisyahu refused, on the basis that his music should exist separately from politics. He continued to claim that the organizers were singling him out because he was Jewish:

The festival kept insisting that I clarify my personal views; which felt like clear pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda. 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. Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform? No artist deserves to be put in such a situation simply to perform his or her art. Regardless of race, creed, country, cultural background, etc, my goal is to play music for all people. As musicians that is what we seek. – Blessed Love, Matis

On Wednesday, festival organizers apologized after BDS “campaign of pressure, coercion and threats,” which “prevented the organization from reasoning clearly.” They also invited Matisyahu back; there’s been no word from him yet.

Valencia is reportedly a hotbed of BDS activity. According to Spanish paper El Pais, Matisyahu was branded a “Zionist” complicit in the practices of “apartheid and ethnic cleansing” by local activists. El Pais reported that the festival organizers asked Matisyahu to sign a statement officially endorsing Palestinian statehood.

According to Newsweek, The Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain—an affiliate of the Spanish government—condemned the decision in a statement, describing it as “cowardly, unfair, and discriminatory.” They continued to say that it was “shameful” that taxpayer money funds a festival that endorses BDS.

Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, was also outraged by the cancellation, Reuters reported. He has requested that Spanish authorities “take appropriate action against those responsible for it.”

This post was updated on August 19, 2015, to reflect the news that the Spanish festival apologized to Matisyahu, and invited him back to perform.

Jas Chana is a former intern at Tablet.