The Jewish American singer Matisyahu has been re-invited to perform at an international music festival in Spain, days after he was disinvited for refusing to make a public statement about his position on Israel's "apartheid policies" against the Palestinians.
The organizers of the Rototom Sunsplash festival, an annual reggae festival held in Benicasim, a resort town on the Mediterranean coast, said in a statement that they were sorry for cancelling Matisyahu's concert and that he was now welcome to perform at the festival on August 22, as originally scheduled.
The organizers said that the decision to disinvite Matisyahu — an American citizen who does not hold an Israeli passport — was due to a "campaign of pressure, coercion and threats employed" by BDS País Valencià, a local branch of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In a post on his Facebook page, Matisyahu wrote:
"The festival organizers contacted me because they were getting pressure from the BDS movement. They wanted me to write a letter, or make a video, stating my positions on Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pacify the BDS people. I support peace and compassion for all people. 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. 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. - Blessed Love, Matis"
The decision to ban Matisyahu was applauded by Compromís per Castellón, the provincial branch of the left-wing coalition that governs alongside the Socialist Party in the Province of Valencia. Compromís spokesman Ignasi García issued a statement calling on Matisyahu to "make clear his views on the 'apartheid the Palestinian people are subjected to every day.'" He said that although "we respect free speech and artistic expression," the festival "is about more than music, and we do not accept certain [pro-Israel] attitudes as normal."
Not surprisingly, the move to ban Matisyahu, whose given name is Matthew Paul Miller, ignited a firestorm of international criticism and, once again, cast a spotlight on the problem of anti-Semitism masquerading as criticism of Israel in Spain.
In a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, wrote:
"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: Although pretending to fight racism, it is fuelled by anti-Semitism. It's time people realize that and stop listening to this vicious form of propaganda."
The Spanish Foreign Ministry, which is spending tens of millions of euros to improve Spain's image abroad, distanced itself from the imbroglio. In a statement it said:
"The Government of Spain condemns the cancellation of Matisyahu's performance at the Rototom reggae music festival in Benicasim. The obligation for him to make a public statement, one that only he was required to provide, constitutes a violation of the freedom of conscience, and to the extent that this was determined by Matisyahu's Jewishness, calls into question the principle of non-discrimination, which is the basis of plural and diverse societies.
"The Government expresses its understanding for the unease expressed by Jewish communities and reiterates its rejection of all manifestations of anti-Semitism.
"Spain also reiterates its rejection of campaigns that call for boycotts of Israel, as well as its strong position in favor of a negotiated solution on the basis of an independent State of Palestine living in peace and prosperity with Israel."
At the same time, however, Mariano Rajoy's center-right government continues to pursue policies that are antagonistic towards Israel — policies that are virtually unchanged from the government of former Socialist Prime Minister of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero — policies that largely coincide with the objectives of the BDS movement in Spain and elsewhere.
In March 2013, for example, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo announced a plan to open a Spanish consulate in Gaza, accredited to Hamas. He backtracked after learning that the EU classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, and that his plan would have established Spain as the only EU country with a consulate in Gaza.
In January 2014, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned the Spanish ambassador to protest his "perpetual one-sided stance" vis-à-vis the Palestinians. At a press conference after the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was "time to stop this hypocrisy" and "inject some balance and fairness to this discussion." He added: "The EU calls our ambassadors in because of the construction of a few houses? When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors about incitement that calls for Israel's destruction?"
In August 2014, the Spanish government announced an arms embargo against Israel aimed at forcing the Jewish state to halt its military operations against Hamas. Israel launched Operation Protective Edge to stop incessant rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, which Hamas had restarted shortly after the terrorist group kidnapped and murdered of three Israeli teenagers.
In November 2014, García-Margallo praised the Spanish parliament for voting overwhelmingly to recognize "Palestine" as a state. He said: "I want to express my satisfaction that all political parties have decided to vote for this declaration."
Netanyahu said the resolution was counterproductive. "They don't tell the Palestinians that they have to make their peace with a nation-state for the Jewish people. They just give the Palestinians a nation-state."
In January 2015, García-Margallo called for an inquiry into the death of a Spanish peacekeeper in southern Lebanon. Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo died after being wounded by Israeli artillery fired in retaliation for a Hezbollah attack that killed two Israeli soldiers. García-Margallo said he "would not hesitate to bring those responsible to justice," a no-so-veiled threat to prosecute Israel officials. The Israeli Ambassador to Spain, Alon Bar, said that the UN peacekeepers were partly to blame, because they had failed in their duty to prevent Hezbollah from firing into Israel.
Although García-Margallo has repeatedly said that Spain does not support a boycott against Israel, under his watch the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), the Foreign Ministry's primary aid-giving agency, has continued to subsidize organizations that work to delegitimize Israel.
Between 2009 and 2011, the Zapatero government funneled more than €15 million ($20 million) of Spanish taxpayer funds to Palestinian and Spanish non-governmental organizations that are among the leaders in ideological campaigns aimed at delegitimizing Israel via BDS, lawfare and other forms of demonization, according to a comprehensive analysis published by the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.
Although the Spanish financial crisis has led to a steep reduction in Spain's foreign aid budget — Spanish support for Palestinian causes has decreased from €71.3 million in 2009, €32.5 million in 2010 and €48.9 million in 2011, to €11 million annually from 2015 to 2017 — the Rajoy government continues to fund NGOs that are involved in anti-Israel activities.
According to the August 18 edition of Official Gazette of the Spanish State, for example, NOVA-Centre per la Innovació Social, a Barcelona-based NGO with a history of anti-Israel activism, is slated to receive more than €200,000 in 2015 for a project to "promote the political participation of women and the rule of law in Palestine."
NOVA also received €270,000 (2014) to "strengthen the mechanisms for the implementation of international humanitarian law" in Gaza.
NOVA was instrumental in launching the so-called Russell Tribunal on Palestine, an ongoing "people's tribunal" that puts Israel "on trial" for "crimes against humanity." The tribunal recently said that it "commends and restates its support for the BDS campaign, which needs to be stepped up within the European Union and expanded to other states, regional organizations and intergovernmental institutions."
NOVA, which supports a flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, has also co-organized "Free Palestine, Boycott Israel," a three-year effort to promote BDS activities against Israel.
AECID also awarded €76,000 (2015) to a group calling itself the State Coordinator for Fair Trade (Coordinadora Estatal de Comercio Justo, CECJ) for a project cryptically titled "Entangled for Fair Trade" (Enredados por un comercio justo.) The CECJ is a member of the Network of Alternative Economics and Solidarity (Red de Redes de Economía Alternativa y Solidaria, REAS), a group that is active in anti-Israel BDS activities.
AECID awarded more than €30,000 (2015) to an NGO called Soldepaz Pachakuti for a project titled "Cooperation for Peace, Defending What is Shared." Soldepaz Pachakuti is a member of Nodo50, a network of "anti-capitalist, anti-fascist" groups heavily involved in the BDS movement against Israel.
AECID awarded €300,000 (2015) to a Madrid-based NGO called Movimiento por la Paz, El Desarme y la Libertad (MPDL), a group that supports the Russell Tribunal as well as "Rumbo a Gaza" (On Course to Gaza) which aims to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.
In 2014, AECID awarded €468,000 to a group called "Alianza por la Solidaridad" to perform humanitarian work in the Gaza Strip. In April 2015, the group signed a briefing paper titled "Charting a New Course: Overcoming the Stalemate in Gaza" which calls on the international community to develop a "common response to the government of Israel if immediate progress is not made to lift the blockade." Implicit is the threat to implement boycotts and prosecute Israeli leaders.
AECID awarded €60,000 (2014) to a group called "Iniciativas de Economía Alternativa y Solidaria (IDEAS)," which supports a BDS initiative called "Spaces Free of Israeli Apartheid," (Espacios Libres de Apartheid Israelí, ELAI).
AECID awarded €200,000 (2014) to the Catalan Association for Peace (L'Associació Catalana per la Pau), a group that has co-organized a three-year project to "raise awareness" for the BDS movement against Israel.
AECID appropriated €200,000 (2014) to "support the institutional functioning" of the "Diplomatic Mission of Palestine in Spain."
In 2013, AECID awarded €270,000 to "Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights," an Israeli NGO, to "improve access to Area C [an administrative division in the West Bank] for the Palestinian population." Bimkom's executive director, Hedva Radovanitz, once told US embassy officials "that she believed that in 100 years Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic."
Also in 2013, AECID awarded €150,000 to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a well-known anti-Israel NGO, for a project titled: "Improve the collection of information, testimonies and documents about violations of human rights in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the local and international broadcasting of abuses committed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority."
In January 2015, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) presented García-Margallo with a report documenting how AECID was funding anti-Semitic exhibitions and forums in Spanish cities.
One such exhibition, organized by the Autonomous University of Madrid, displayed a map of Israel covered with a Nazi swastika, as well as a picture of the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was falsely quoted as saying, "I don't recognize any international laws. I swear I will burn every Palestinian child that is born in this zone."
The exhibit also featured a photograph of Israel's security barrier, accompanied by the following caption: "The wall continues its route, enclosing more than 2 million persons in ghettos or concentration camps under Israeli control...."
Another event allegedly funded by AECID was the "International Conference of Local Government and Civil Society Organizations in Support of Palestine." Held in Seville in December 2014, the event was coordinated by the Andalusian Fund of Municipalities for International Solidarity (FAMSI), the UN Division for Palestinian Rights and the Al Quds Association.
According to the SWC, the forum "planned the international BDS campaign for 2015 against the State of Israel. There we learned of forthcoming BDS motions to be presented at the American Anthropological Association and the American Historical Association." The report continued:
"We were sickened to hear that boycott-compliant universities were to be honored as 'Israel Apartheid-Free Campuses' and municipalities would extol compliant shops and businesses as 'Israel Apartheid-Free Zones' — redolent of the Nazi designation 'Judenrein' (ethnically cleansed of Jews)."
One speaker at the event was quoted as saying: "We cannot accept the two-state solution as we are close to Hamas' 'one man, one vote' policy. Together with its exiled base of consensus, this means the return of all refugees, the restitution of all the land, resulting in one Palestinian state."
The conference was attended by Israeli Arab Knesset MP Mohammad Barakeh who claimed, "Israel has never been democratic... We are the only natives of this land."
According to the SWC, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS, Mahmoud Nawajaa, said: "Israel is committing crimes not only against the Palestinian people, but against the entire human species... All settlements are illegal, even from before 1967, so all Israeli products must be boycotted."
The event in Seville, and another one in Málaga, included a conference document, "Andalucía con Palestina" (Andalusia with Palestine), which stated: "For any Jihadist in the audience, this is the call for re-conquest of the lost territories of the Caliphate."
The SWC asked García-Margallo: "Is it Spanish policy to promote the deletion of the Jewish State of Israel to be replaced by a State of Palestine? If your reply is negative, why should Spanish tax-payers fund measures to that end?"
The Spanish government denied that it had subsidized the events.
Meanwhile, Spanish BDS activists continue their efforts to prevent Israeli artists from performing at Spanish music festivals, and vice versa.
In May 2015, BDS Catalonia sought to have three Israeli bands ejected from the Primavera Sound music festival in Barcelona. According to the group:
"Primavera Sound enjoys the backing of the Israeli Embassy in Spain, which makes the festival an accomplice of the policies contrary to International Law and Human Rights the Zionist State has been implementing in Palestine since 1948. The Israeli Embassy's support for the festival is a cultural smokescreen for colonization and apartheid in Palestine."
Also in May, BDS Catalonia succeeded in dissuading the Catalan singer Marinah from performing at music festivals in the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Tel Aviv.
In April, BDS activists called for the boycott a concert in Alicante featuring Spanish singer Joaquín Sabina, because Sabina rejected their previous demands that he cancel performances in Israel in 2012 and 2014.
In January 2015, BDS activists called on María Juncal, a Spanish flamenco dancer, to cancel her performance at the Eilat Chamber Music Festival.
In July 2014, anti-Israel activists called on the organizers of the Vitoria Jazz Festival, an annual jazz festival held in the Basque Country, to prevent the Israeli singer Noa from performing at the event. Her performance went ahead as planned, but was interrupted by shouts of "Israeli genocide" and "Free Palestine."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.