Matisyahu and the same old “rightful” bullies

My Facebook newsfeed has been buzzing with Matisyahu news over the past week. It´s still 1492 in Spain, read one status. BDS singling out Matisyahu because he is Jewish is a new low, said another Facebook friend. F*** them anyways : Jerusalem is for the Zionists, stated my ever expressive cousin.

By now, most readers will have learned of the shameful capitulation, and consequent controversial and rather decaffeinated apology of the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, Spain. This reggae festival, which supposedly promotes a message of peace and tolerance, cancelled the American singer´s performance following “pressure, coertion and threats” by the local BDS branch. After days of open letters of support in Spanish and foreign newspapers, condemnations by both the US and Israel embassies, and universal words expressing appall and shame, the festival issued an apology and decided to invite the American star back. This prompted a new wave of Facebook controversial posts: should Matisyahu accept their apologies and perform? Or was it too late for apologies? Yes, he should perform — wrapped in an Israeli flag. No way!! F*** BDS and coward organisers, they don´t deserve his music and his art. Hell yeah, but dedicate the show to the Jews in Judea and Samaria.


Me: Black rock T-shirt. Two single dreadlocks worn over my left shoulder (the best I could do with naturally extra-straight hair). My best friend: Neon pink hair, ear full of rings. Both: a hundred bracelets, some of them are leather, some others have studs. Military boots. Both: excited is not the word, we have been counting the days. One of our favourite rock bands — The Inmates * — is coming to perform in this small, stifling town where nothing interesting ever happens — or so you think when you´re 14 and your curfew is at 1 am. Which is pretty much when people start going out in Spain. The bad news: there is no way we’ll be allowed to make it to the concert. Too late. Too far. The good news: this band we love is signing CDs in the only shop that sells this kind of music in our hometown. Really close to my place. In the afternoon!

The shop opens its doors and the long line starts moving. The singer is even hotter than in pics. The shop manager knows me and my friend and jokes with us — shame we´ll have to give the gig a miss! He loves the band and can’t believe his luck. He got to pick them up and bring them to the shop. They are so approachable. The shop is buzzing, full of leather jackets, military boots, a couple of mohawks. It feels great to be part of the vibe when you´re a bored teenager.

My heart races while I say hi to a few people. Me and my friend — silly, naïve girls, military boots or not — keep giggling. Oh, when later we get to tell everyone that we´ve met The Inmates. Not only do we love their powerful, fast-paced songs, but their lyrics have opened our eyes to so many injustices. Before I know it, it´s my turn and I can´t believe I´m facing the singer who has been shouting in my room so many times. I hand him my CD.

— It´s great you came to Almería! The fans will give it all tonight, you´ll see.

— Yeah, really hope so. So, what´s your name?

I tell him. It´s a bit unusual. I smile.

— I can spell it for you.

He smiles and I notice the lines in his eyes. He´s older than I thought.

— What a weird name, he laughs. It doesn´t sound Spanish. Where is it from?

– It´s Jewish, I say. His expression changes and he looks at my CD. He lifts his gaze and I hear him ask:

– Pero, ¿judío facha? ¿o judío no facha?

Jewish, but Jewish — fascist? Or Jewish — non-fascist?


Apart from a couple of (rather rude) jokes, I wasn´t very active in the Matisyahu Facebook discussion. Not that I wasn´t appalled and worried that the actions of what some of us like to believe is a handful of loud anti-Semitic arses had reached so far this time. Not that I was not elated when the organisers issued a public apology. It was just that the words kept ringing in my ears for those few days. In a very different setting, it had happened again, 18 years later. In spite of our very different ages, backgrounds, nationalities and, of course, musical abilities, Matisyahu had also been asked by a bunch of my fellow Spaniards — the really peaceful, tolerant and solidary ones, they´ll tell you — the same question: You´re Jewish, you´re being accused. Are you really a Zionist? ¿Eres un judío facha, o no facha? Because unless you publically state that you are embarrassed of being Jewish and of Israel, you will never be one of us. One of the really peaceful, tolerant and solidary ones.


I wish I could tell you that I told that singer to f*** off. That he would not dare ask a similar question to any fans of any other religion or culture (A Muslim name? Muslim terrorist? Or Muslim non-terrorist? A Syrian name? Syrian IS? Or Syrian anti-IS?). That, as someone who could almost be his daughter, I had been singled out, and intimidated, for being the only Jew in the shop (and pretty much in the whole town). That he was the real fascist, despite his ripped leather jacket, despite his animal-loving lyrics, despite his cries against right-wing policies. But instead, I dropped my eyes, my smile evaporated, and in the shock that made me realise that I would never belong there, I managed to reply a feeble: Nada de facha, por supuesto. I´m not fascist at all, of course.

I don´t know where that old CD is.  I never listened to that band again. I know they are still quite successful — in a certain sense, on their own level. A few years ago I read a post denouncing that some of their lyrics were now blatantly and openly anti-Semitic. It upset me but it didn´t surprise me. The seed was there, until it became cool and almost de rigueur in some circles to let it out.

So when this morning I saw the video of a larger-than-life, magnificent Matisyahu proudly singing Jerusalem in Spain, in the face of several huge, disdainful Palestinian flags and a bunch of BDS activists, any doubts I had as whether he should have performed dissipated.

He succeeded — more than ever. In every sense — musically, personally, politically, peacefully. On the highest level. For him, it was a clear, loud, on-your-face yet very classy victory over BDS. For many of us, it meant that we belong here. In Spain. In a rock concert. In a festival that supposedly promotes peace.  Everywhere.

It´s the coward, hypocritical, anti-Semitic bullies that don´t belong here.

In fact, they don´t belong anywhere.

* The band´s name has been changed as to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. However, in the case of those familiar with the Spanish hard-rock scene, a few names will surely (and sadly) come to mind.

About the Author
Born in Spain, Mazal Oaknin established herself in London in 2007, where she teaches at University College London. Since then, her head has been bubbling with stories, ideas and jokes, and she can't wait to get them off her chest on this blog.
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