Bad Vibes

Reggae Fest Demands Anti-Israel Pledge

Was Jewish American rapper Matisyahu booted from a Spanish music festival because he wasn’t anti-Israeli enough?

08.17.15 11:15 PM ET

The organizers of a week-long music festival committed to building “spaces of hope” and laying “paths of culture and freedom” have booted Jewish American rapper Matisyahu from the line-up, after he declined to make a public statement declaring his support for Palestinian statehood.

Spain’s El Pais reported Sunday that the annual Rototom Sunsplash festival near Valencia has canceled Matisyahu’s August 22 performance.

Rototom turned on Matisyahu after facing pressure from the Valencia section of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement, which, according to its website, is devoted to promoting a “culture of boycott as a central form of civil resistance to Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.”

According to Reuters, these local pro-Palestinian activist rebuked the rapper—real name Matthew Miller—as a “lover of Israel.”

In their eyes, being a “lover of Israel” would make Matisyahu discordant with Rototom’s larger goals of addressing the “existence or not of clandestine geo-engineering to promote climate change (chemtrails)” and “the role of the pharmaceutical industry in hindering the legalization of cannabis.”

Rototom also stated on its website a commitment to examining the “daily rise in Islamophobia in Western countries, as well as the situation of the prisoners in Guantanamo.”

Yet, plenty of performers from Western European countries where Islamophobia has reportedly increased, like France and the UK, are performing.

But Matisyahu, the rapper who came into fame as an Orthodox aberration to the hip-hop world (he no longer practices Orthodox Judaism and has shorn his beard for a more secular appearance), is being scrutinized on his Middle Eastern loyalties in order to perform at Rototom.

The BDS critics of Matisyahu claim that because he has professed public support for Israel, his feet should be held to the fire in order to perform at Rototom.

Matisyahu has yet to publicly comment on the cancellation. His manager David Serber told Newsweek in an email that “We are still dealing with the festival on this matter, but we plan on making a statement in the coming days.”

The BDS movement is by no means synonymous with the pro-Palestinian movement, nor is it the voice of those who believe in Palestinian statehood or a two-state solution.

In fact, when Tablet columnist Yair Rosenberg noted the difference between the movement for Palestinian statehood and the more extreme BDS movement, he pointed out that the latter “seeks a one-state solution that denies the Jewish right to self-determination.”

Yet, BDS activists are increasingly shaping, if not dictating, debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Their influence is seen on college campuses, as BDS student groups launch and pass bills to get their universities to divest from Israel or—almost comically—stop serving Sabra humus.

Musical performers like Matisyahu have also been popular targets of the BDS movement when they plan concerts in Israel.

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At the mere prospect of a performance in Tel Aviv, Taylor Swift was accused of potentially supporting an “apartheid state that commits war crimes” by Ramah Kudaimi of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, who spoke to the Daily Beast.

In May, the BDS movement jumped on Lauryn Hill’s cancelation of her concert in Israel as confirmation of her commitment to their cause in ending Israel’s “colonial oppression of Palestinians.”

BDS advocates have compared musicians performing in Israel to those who performed at Sun City in apartheid South Africa. This equivocation gets to one of the root problems with the BDS movement: it views Israel as a colonial oppressor to be dismantled, not a group to be negotiated with or worthy of cooperation.

Booting Matisyahu from Rototom is a disturbingly hostile gesture that damages the opportunity for open debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While Rototom organizers told El Pais that Matisyahu’s support of Israel is not what led to their decisions, the BDS pressure on the music festival to boot the rapper appears to be a key factor.

El Pais reported that Matisyahu has also “been accused of being a ‘zionist’” by the same contingency.

It is very hard not to read more than a hint of anti-Semitism wafting from the decision to kick out the rapper, which appears to undermine Rototom’s commitment to being a “point for meeting, sharing, and intercultural understanding,” as it states on its website.

Stigmatizing and restricting Jewish artists because they profess love for Israel seems unjust. To hold them accountable for all of Israel’s policies is absurd, and sets a damaging example.

Now, a week that should have been filled with talks of hope and peace is going to be filled with some very bad vibes.