When reggae star Matisyahu took the stage at the Rototom Sunsplash Festival in Spain in August 2015, he faced a much different audience than he had in previous performances. He was confronted by a sea of Palestinian flags and extended middle fingers. Angry protesters chanted “Naziyahu!” and hurled a storm of shoes at the singer. Throughout the performance, the security team gritted their teeth nervously. Yet Matisyahu played on, as cheers eventually drowned out the negative words.  But how did this all start?

                                             Source: Haaretz.com

A few days before the concert, the festival directors, under pressure from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), canceled Matisyahu’s performance, citing his refusal to publicly support “the Palestinians’ right to a state.”  Matisyahu, whose real name is Matthew Miller, is an American, not Israeli. BDS targeted him because he is Jewish.

Why would Matisyahu be brought into a conflict for a country not even his own? This blurring of the lines between protesting Israeli politics and holding Jews at-large responsible is a frequent technique by the BDS movement – and it backfired. In the words of Matisyahu: “Jews and non Jews spoke up about the injustice of the only publicly recognized Jew on the festival line-up being called out to promote a political agenda.” The outcry overwhelmed the initial call to protest, and even the Spanish government called for the artist’s reinstatement. The festival reinvited Matisyahu, who still faced staunch opposition and disruption from BDS supporters during his performance. Yet, he played on, calling all in the audience to let “music be your flag.”

Matisyahu’s troubling experience with BDS  inspired his collaborative work with Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz, entitled “Dodgin’ Bullets,” which was released on July 15th. According to the artist, the track is “…not just a political statement geared [towards supporters of] the BDS movement or the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but one of an existential and spiritual revolution, whereby one is able to dodge the bullets meant to knock you off your true life’s mission as a human being on this planet: to love with all of your heart, soul, and might!!! And to turn bullets of hatred into the music of the soul.” 

The BDS movement, which promotes an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, has a history of pressuring Israeli and non-Israeli artists to condemn Israel’s actions concerning Palestinians (including pop-star Pharrell and rock artist Bruce Springsteen, to name only a couple).

                        Matisyahu and Kosha Dillz (source: billboard.com)

In the past, Matisyahu has performed at events run by CAMERA-supported groups (for example, “Declare your Freedom” by Tulane University Students Supporting Israel), and has even brought his amazing voice to the United Nations. Kosha Dillz has also partnered with CAMERA-supported groups, including a concert hosted by the 49ers for Israel at California State University Long Beach.  Check out the music video for Dodgin’ Bullets below!

Matisyahu sings at the UN. Source: onlysimchas.com                     Matisyahu sings at the UN. Source: onlysimchas.com

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Andrew Steinberg.

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