Thoughts on Matisyahu and BDS
Let’s get a few things straight here.
The people who most often issue Jewish litmus tests are the most up in arms about Matisyahu’s supposed Jewish litmus test. Don’t speakers at Hillel have to pass a pro-Israel litmus test? Don’t grantees of Federations have to pass a pro-Israel litmus test? Doesn’t Jeffrey Weisenfeld subject every speaker and honoree at CUNY to a pro-Israel litmus test? Did J Street not fail the Conference of President’s pro-Israel litmus test? Don’t Orthodox Jews constantly subject liberal Jews to tests of their Jewishness? And what about non-Jews? Don’t non-Jews also have to pass a pro-Israel litmus test? To teach? To run for office? To speak at the 92Y? And did we forget about the Knesset’s efforts to introduce a loyalty oath for Arab citizens of Israel? Who are you people fucking kidding with your chest beating about litmus tests when you cornered the fucking market on litmus paper? You can bet your ass if a Palestinian performer who was on record making even vague anti-Israel statements and keeping associations with Muslim extremists had been invited to perform, the Jewish community would be lining up to have his performance canceled.
Matisyahu wasn’t targeted because he’s Jewish. He was targeted because he’s a prominent pro-Israel figure who has publicly supported the IDF and denied Palestinian identity. Every time he opens up his mouth about Palestine, he shoves his foot into it by spouting off some Hasbara nonsense, and then reels it back and says, “But really I’m not political.” He has performed at Friends of the IDF fundraisers, the AIPAC convention, and for right-wing extremist Chloe Valdary’s pro-Israel campus organization. He also performed at a benefit for the OR Movement, an organization which intentionally seeks to displace Israeli bedouin to establish Jewish-only communities on the former sites of their villages. His spiritual mentor, Ephraim Rosenstein, to whom he attributes his spiritual regrounding, lives in occupied Hebron, praised Baruch Goldstein after the Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre, and raises money for an organization that provides legal aid to Israeli extremists charged with murdering Palestinians. He spent a decade as a Lubavitcher, a sect which idealizes “settling the land” as a religious obligation and whose main theological work, Tanya, begins by declaring non-Jews to be metaphysically inferior to Jews. He has expressed a desire to move to Israel. He has reportedly house hunted in Israel. And he had a top 40 song called “Jerusalem” which professes his love for Israel. If you can overlook all these facts and still insist that boycotting Matisyahu is an unjustified act of antisemitism, you’re as completely full of shit as he is.
I don’t think the organizers should have caved to the BDS movement, but mostly because I don’t find academic and cultural boycotts to be strategically effective in this context. People have a right to boycott whomever they want, however, and the organizers of a private festival have every right to take whomever they want off the bill. No one is entitled to a performance or a paycheck.
One night at a Beatbox Festival in NYC in the mid-2000’s, beatbox impresario Yuri Lane was performing a segment of his piece “From Tel Aviv to Ramallah,” a beatbox portrait of life in Israel and Palestine. According to Lane, Matisyahu pulled the cords out of the amp while he was performing because his message was “pro-Arab.” Never mind how many times Matisyahu forced female performers off stage because of “Kol Isha.” I myself wrote several articles for a certain publication I won’t name about Matisyahu’s transition from Orthodoxy to secularism. When that same publication wanted an interview with Matis a year later, he insisted all my articles be removed as a precondition of his interview. For this douchebag to whine to anyone about being silenced is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy.