Sam Gold & Ben Bowers: Matisyahu and Spanish music festival Rototom

JLC summer interns Sam Gold and Ben Bowers discuss the attempts to remove Matthew Miller (Matisyahu) from the Spanish music festival Rototom.

Matthew Miller, more commonly known as reggae star Matisyahu, was scheduled to play at the Spanish music festival Rototom, before the festival hierarchy withdrew him from proceedings. After pressure from the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, the event organisers were coerced into asking the singer for an official statement, and for him to legitimise and support a Palestinian state. Matisyahu refused this and in his statement after the episode, claimed "The festival kept insisting that I clarify my personal views; which felt like clear pressure to agree with the BDS political agenda". The local BDS campaign ‘accused’ Matisyahu of being a “Zionist” who supports the practice of “Apartheid and ethnic cleansing”. The BDS movement in Valencia have become an influential outlet with almost two thousand followers on Twitter.

However, the Jewish and international communities fought back and there was subsequent outcry over Rototom’s decision. Prominent Jewish figures such as Ronald Lauder, who accused the BDS movement of antisemitism, and the Spanish government, who condemned the actions, stated that the ban crossed the line. A few days later the festival’s organisers relented and they re-invited Matisyahu to perform. The singer praised the decision and he took to Facebook to proclaim that “Today music wins.”

Yet this does not allay fears that there is an anti-Semitic undercurrent to the actions of the BDS movement. Matisyahu openly supports the State of Israel. His music is not provocative and he does not often engage in such matters publically. If Matisyahu was an Israeli national then BDS would be using its usual cover of anti-Zionism, but he is not, and his career does not incite any controversy over Israel. This can only be described as the singling out of an innocent man for his political and religious beliefs. It is antisemitism. Rototom issued a statement apologising to Matisyahu, rejecting antisemitism and acknowledging that it had made a mistake. However Rototom is not new to pro-Palestinian advocacy; the Times of Israel discovered a two and a half hour video on their website consisting solely of Palestinian activists. For a concert that prides itself on social justice, they have seemingly contradicted their mission statement. By singling out an American Jew and banning him from performing at a concert, partially funded by the taxpayer, a social injustice is being committed.

Rototom did not ask for any other musician’s political alignments, nor asked their views on ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria or Iran, but instead singled out the one person who supports Israel. They claim that they are committed to promoting “human rights” but this was undermined by the fact that they allowed the singer Capelton, a Jamaican reggae artist whose songs call for homosexuals to be “burnt and killed”[1], to perform. Via Rototom, the BDS movement has shown its true colours. Something as universally important as a music festival has been heavily politicised. Matisyahu had the following to say: "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”.

No musician should ever have to justify their political stance to perform. He was stopped from playing for reasons completely unrelated to music, which violated Spain’s anti-discrimination laws. Although Matisyahu was eventually re-invited back to perform, the episode raises questions regarding the BDS movement’s tactics. Rather than boycotting Israel they have simply boycotted a Jew for his political beliefs.