Spanish festival flipflops on ban, re-invites Matisyahu

Organizers say original misstep came after anti-Israel group threatened to ‘seriously disrupt’ the festival

Matisyahu on a visit to Israel. (photo credit: courtesy)
Matisyahu on a visit to Israel. (photo credit: courtesy)

A Spanish music festival that disinvited Jewish American reggae singer Matisyahu over his refusal to endorse a Palestinian state apologized and extended a new invitation to the singer to perform, Spanish media reported Wednesday.

The Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival said it rejects any form of discrimination and anti-Semitism, and said it was sorry for canceling Matisyahu’s August 22 show.

The new invitation follows condemnation of the move by Spanish authorities.

“Requiring a public declaration, which was demanded of him alone, is a violation of conscience and — to the extent that it came because Matisyahu is Jewish — challenges the principle of non-discrimination which is the basis for all plural and diverse societies,” the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

The United States Embassy in Madrid on Wednesday welcomed the ministry’s statement with its own condemnation of the incident. The embassy said the United States promotes and defends “fundamental liberties,” and called reports of the initial cancellation “troubling.”

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain also condemned Matisyahu’s exclusion, while in an editorial Tuesday, leading Spanish newspaper El Pais wrote, “He is the only musician performing at Rototom, which is funded with public money, who has been requested to make such a statement, and to make matters worse, he has been asked to do so solely on the grounds that he is Jewish: as said, he is not an Israeli national.”

The new invitation asks Matisyahu – the stage name of the ex-ultra-Orthodox artist whose real name is Matthew Miller – to perform in his originally planned slot on the festival’s Main Stage.

“We respect the Jewish community and sincerely apologize for what happened,” the festival organizers said in a statement, according to the Spanish news site El Mundo.

“Rototom publicly apologizes for canceling Matisyahu’s concert and announces that he has been invited to perform on Saturday, August 22 at the festival, as originally scheduled,” it says.

The statement blamed the local anti-Israel group BDS País Valencià, which campaigned to cancel Matisyahu’s invitation, for “pressures, threats and coercion” efforts that threatened to “seriously disrupt the normal functioning of the festival” and “prevented the management of the situation with clarity.”

In a hint that the festival may be facing legal troubles for singling out the Jewish performer, the festival said it “reaffirms its commitment” to each person’s freedom of belief as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Spanish Constitution.

JTA contributed to this report.

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