Matisyahu Kicked Off European Festival Over Palestinian Politics

Spain's Rototom Sunsplsah festival wanted Jewish-American singer to endorse Arab state, but he did not reply to their requests

Matisyahu has been forced off the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Spain because he refused to endorse Palestine as a state. Credit: Rick Kern/WireImage

Organizers of a reggae festival in Spain have canceled a scheduled appearance by Matisyahu after he did not respond to their requests to endorse Palestine. Other artists at the Rototom Sunsplash Reggae Festival threatened to pull out of the festival since they felt that he, as a Jewish American, was "seen to represent Israel." Matisyahu refused to write a statement or appear in a video supporting "Palestinians' right to a state," according to The Times of Israel.

The organizers had given the reggae and hip-hop artist the ultimatum following pressure from members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, whose mission is to pressure Israel into recognizing Palestine and its citizens. The Times of Israel reports that activists in the area had called Matisyahu a "Zionist" and claimed he was "defending a state that practices apartheid and ethnic cleansing." The festival's organizers have since filled his slot with an appearance by reggae artist Etana.

"I support peace and compassion for all people," Matisyahu tells Rolling Stone. "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," he continues. "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."

Festival organizers did not respond to a request for comment from Rolling Stone, but released a statement on its website voicing their support for Palestine, claiming, "Rototom Sunsplash has demonstrated on numerous occasions its sensitivity regarding Palestine, its people and the occupation of their territories by Israel, as demonstrated by the holding of numerous debates in its Social Forum; giving voice to pro-Palestinian organizations, activists and initiatives that, while being a minority, also seek dialogue from Israel, together with the peaceful coexistence of both peoples."

Later in the post, they said, "After having repeatedly sought dialogue given the unavailability of the artist for comment, in order to clearly declare himself regarding the war and in particular the right of the Palestinian people to have their own State, has decided to cancel the performance of Matisyahu."

The Times of Israel describes Matisyahu as a Reconstructionist Jew, who joined the Chabad movement in 2001. After rising to stardom in 2004, he separated himself from Orthodox Judaism in 2011, but still cites the religion as an inspiration.