In a bizarre turn of events at the Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival north of Valencia, Spain, Jewish American musician Matisyahu was removed from the bill. He was scheduled to appear on Saturday, August 22nd. As you read more about this, keep in mind that this is a week-long reggae festival, not a political event.
Or rather, it shouldn’t have been a political event, but the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement saw fit to intervene. BDS is a Palestinian coalition of groups whose aim is “to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with the stated goals of the movement: the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and respect for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.” [Wikipedia]
Matisyahu is an American who supports Israel, as do the majority of American Jews. The Rototom Sunsplash organizers were forced by BDS to insist that Matisyahu sign a statement indicating that he supported a Palestinian state.
You can see where this was headed. There were 250 artists on the schedule for this reggae festival. Likely you can guess how many of them were asked to sign such a declaration. If you guessed ONE, you would be correct.
Festival organizers immediately passed the shekel and claimed they did not remove the performer; rather, that decision was between him and BDS. Even though it was, by name anyway, not BDS’s festival but theirs.
The festival, noting a threatened boycott by a handful of performers, asked Matisyahu to clarify his positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those who have ever listened to any of Matisyahu’s recordings or heard him perform know that politics have never, ever been the subject of his songs.
Incredibly, organizers said at first: “We have never invited anyone to the festival who intends to spread hate messages, and this criteria (sic) has been used in exactly the same way when inviting Matisyahu here.”
The Jerusalem Post interviewed Jorge Ramos, a member of Valencia BDS. Quoting from their news report:
“From [Ramos] point of view, the declaration was simply one that would show, if signed, that Matisyahu was ‘in favor of human rights.’ He described Matisyahu as someone ‘in favor of peace, as assumed by his songs,’ though described the artist several times as someone who ‘does not respect human rights’ and justifies ‘Israeli crimes.’ Nevertheless, Matisyahu has never declared that he is in favor of human rights, nor the human rights of ‘Palestine,’ Ramos said. ‘Unlike us.’”
Incredible doublespeak. George Orwell would be proud.
While Ramos claimed to be opposed “all types of racism,” no other artists were asked to sign any declarations about human rights crises anywhere else on the globe. The disingenuous claim that the uproar was over Matisyahu’s political positions (good luck Googling that) was absurd. That did not stop Valencia BDS from claiming Matisyahu was “a ‘Zionist’ who is in favor of ‘apartheid and ethnic cleansing.’”
Rototom’s Facebook page claimed they were sensitive to the Palestinian situation… but apparently not to the many other conflicts such as in Sudan and Syria.
For his part, Matisyahu kept a positive outlook on this situation. From his Facebook page:
“The festival organizers contacted me because they were getting pressure from the BDS movement. They 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. I support peace and compassion for all people. My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music. Music has the power to transcend the intellect, ideas, and politics, and it can unite people in the process. 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”