The Rototom Sunsplash European reggae festival has re-invited Jewish reggae star Matisyahu and issued a full apology, after cancelling his performance due to pressure from anti-Israel extremists.
According to Spain's El Mundo daily, organizers implicitly acknowledged the anti-Semitic overtones of the decision to force Matisyahu – who is not even Israeli – to publicly support the Palestinians as a precondition to performing.
"We respect the Jewish community and sincerely apologize for what happened," organizers said.
In a detailed apology posted on the Rototom Sunsplash official website, the festival claimed supporters of the BDS movement – which calls to boycott the Jewish state – had threatened to disrupt the festival should Matisyahu's performance go ahead.
Rototom Sunsplash rejects anti-Semitism and any form of discrimination towards the Jewish community; we respect both their culture as religious beliefs and we sincerely apologize for what has occurred, thereby rectifying point 4* in the previous release regarding this controversy.
"Rototom Sunsplash would like to publicly apologize to Matisyahu for having cancelled his concert and invite him to perform at the festival next Saturday 22 August, as was initially programmed in the lineup," the statement began.
But organizers then attempted to shift the blame, claiming their reasoning had been "impaired" by intimidation and coercion coming from anti-Israel activists
"Rototom Sunplash admits that it made a mistake, due to the boycott and the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS País Valencià because it was perceived that the normal functioning of the festival could be threatened. All of which prevented the organization from reasoning clearly as to how to deal with the situation properly.
"After 22 years of history, Rototom Sunsplash reaffirms its commitment to a Culture of Peace and respect between cultures, including the freedom of belief as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Spanish Constitution."
Praise from Jewish leaders, but "bitter taste" still remains
Jewish leaders were quick to praise the about-face.
World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder and Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain (FCJE) President Isaac Querub Caro today hailed the decision.
"This is a very significant and welcome decision, and 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," Lauder and Querub declared in a joint statement, which explicitly ban discrimination based on religious, ethnic or political grounds.
Matisyahu was the only artist who was asked to sign such a declaration, apparently due to his being an American Jew who has expressed support for Israel in the past.
Both the WJC and the FCJE expressed outrage over the decision, calling it "anti-Semitic" and a clear infringement of anti-discrimination laws.
Pressure quickly mounted on festival organizers after news emerged of their unprecedented ultimatum to Matisyahu, with the Spanish government itself condemning the decision as "an act that violates the conscience."
Matisyahu himself branded the decision to ban him "appalling and offensive."
“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,” Matisyahu, aka Matthew Miller, wrote on Facebook.
“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,” he concluded.
But while praising the decision to reverse the ban, WJC President Lauder, who had raised the matter in letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Tuesday and urged Spanish politicians to speak out, said the damage had already been done.
"The organizers have done the honorable thing and apologized. However, this affair leaves us with a sour taste in our mouths.
"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," he continued, referring to the anti-Israel boycott movement which pressed the festival to cancel Matisyahu's performance. "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."
FCJE President Isaac Querub led Spanish Jewry in celebrating the about-face.
"On behalf of the Spanish Jewish community, I thank the organizers for their statement, and we hope that lessons have been learned for the future," he said.
"We need to stand together and work together in the fight against all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and hatred. 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 organizers have realized that."