Spanish Festival Reverses Ban for Jewish-American Singer


The Rototom Sunsplash festival had uninvited reggae singer Matisyahu after he refused to make a public declaration in support of a Palestinian state.

A Spanish music festival has reversed a decision to cancel a concert by a Jewish-American singer after the ban sparked outrage and formal condemnation from the Spanish government. 

The Rototom Sunsplash on Wednesday publicly apologized to reggae singer Matisyahu, an American-born artist who is ethnically Jewish, and invited him to perform, as originally scheduled, at the festival's main stage on Aug. 22. 

The Rototom festival uninvited Matisyahu after he declined to give his public support for a Palestinian state. The decision was widely condemned in Spain and beyond and, on Wednesday, the Spanish government formally chastised Rototom organizers, calling the decision an “act that violates the conscience” and “put into question the principle of non-discrimination."

In a statement on Wednesday, the Rototom festival apologized, saying it "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." 

The festival said it bowed under what it called a campaign of "pressure, coercion and threats" employed by pro-Palestinian group the BDS, which had called for Matisyahu to be banned from the festival. The BDS is an activist group that calls for wide-ranging boycotts against Israel for the country's actions in the Palestinian territories. The BDS campaigned against Matisyahu, accusing him of being anti-Palestinian.

In a post on his Facebook pageMatisyahu called it “appalling and offensive” that he was put under pressure to air his political views. The singer is not known for his strong political stances and has in the past been careful not to address politics, particularly the Israeli-Palestine situation. He has repeatedly said he wants his music to be non-political and accessible to all.

The Spanish media is often openly critical of Israeli policies see last year's open letter from Spanish celebrities, including Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, which denounced Israel's incursion into Gaza last year as “genocide."

But the country's major political parties and much of the Spanish press have sharply criticized the decision to boycott Matisyahu.

An editorial in leading Spanish newspaper El Pais called the cancelation “unacceptable discrimination ... Anti-Semitism and discrimination on the grounds of ideology cannot be tolerated and must be stood up to. Criticism of Israel’s policies and defense of the Palestinians cannot be used as cover for systematic persecution of those who hold different views, or because they are Jewish.”

Twitter: @sroxborough