Jewish American singer Matisyahu took part in a Spanish music festival on Saturday and performed his monumental hit “Jerusalem” in front of a large crowd, only days after organizers apologized for initially canceling his appearance amid pressure by pro-Palestinian groups.
Several pro-Palestinian activists waved Palestinian flags and heckled Matisyahu during his performance.
“Tonight was difficult but special,” Matisyahu wrote on his Facebook page after the concert. “Thank you to everyone who made it possible! Every chance to make music is a blessing.”
The initial decision by the Rototom SunSplash festival to pull Matisyahu’s act, which fuses reggae and hip-hop with Jewish music, from its lineup was criticized by Jewish groups, the Spanish government and the US and Israeli embassies in Spain.
The decision came after a local branch of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement accused the 36-year-old of being a “Zionist” who supports the practice of “apartheid and ethnic cleansing.” When Matisyahu refused to reply to festival organizers’ questions about whether he was in favor of a Palestinian state, they canceled his appearance.
On Wednesday, festival organizers backtracked and apologized to the singer, re-inviting him to perform at the weeklong festival — one of Europe’s largest reggae festivals — in Benicassim in eastern Spain.
“Rototom SunSplash admits that it made a mistake, due to… the campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed by the BDS Pais Valencia which made it think that the normal functioning of the festival could be threatened,” organizers said in a statement.
Matisyahu, who had initially denounced the cancellation as “appalling” on Facebook, accepted the new invitation, a statement from the organizers said Friday.
“Matisyahu has confirmed his participation in the 22nd annual Rototom SunSplash festival and will perform on the main stage on Saturday as originally planned,” it said.
The singer confirmed his attendance in a Facebook post Friday, writing, “Today music wins. Freedom of expression wins. Spain, this Saturday Aug 22nd.
“I have always believed in the power of music to unite all people, regardless of religion, politics or geography,” he wrote. “This was an excruciating decision, as I felt that my core, essential being was being used as a pawn for political convenience.”
The singer also paid tribute to those who had expressed outrage over the ban, saying, “My deepest thanks to the worldwide community for rallying to the cause of musical freedom. Most of all, thank you to my incredible fans and to so many people of all faiths who refused to remain silent in the name of artistic freedom. This is your victory.”