Matisyahu’s triumph

Matisyahu’s triumph

Column for Jewish News August 28 2015 by Jenni Frazer

As we hurtle towards September and all that it entails, it is heartening to know that there are some bargains to be had.

As Jewish News readers know, for a paltry £3 there has been the opportunity to make your voice heard in the Labour leadership race and in the party’s nominations for London mayor.

But for an even paltrier 59 pence you could do a mitzvah: download Matisyahu’s song Jerusalem and shoot him to the top of the UK charts.

Matisyahu, of course, has been in the news for much of the month when first the Spanish music festival Rototom Sunsplash seriously uninvited him from performing because of pressure from the BDS crowd, and then hastily thought better of it – reinviting him and weaselly claiming, you guessed it, pressure from the BDS crowd which had “prevented the organisers from thinking lucidly.” Harvey Goldsmith, doyen of festival organisers in this country, must be rolling around on the floor in hysterics. Rototom Sunsplash don’t seem capable of organising a kiddush in a stiebl, much less a festival.

I must admit I wasn’t sure whether Matisyahu should actually accept the renewed invitation. Part of me wondered whether he shouldn’t tell them to stick it where the Sun Don’t Splash. But I also thought, no, why shouldn’t he go and perform? And, indeed, he duly did, as originally advertised, to – almost– universal acclaim. There were still Palestinian flags waved by the usual suspects in the audience, but not many.

The Matisyahu case is fascinating because it seems to confirm what many of the anti-BDS campaigners have been saying for a long time: that much of the boycott is driven by an intrinsic hatred of Jews, rather than Israel.

Matisyahu wasn’t just asked not to perform. He was told, as a Jewish American who has never brought politics into his public persona, that he might be allowed to go on stage if he issued a statement in favour of Palestinian statehood. Of course, nobody else on the 250-strong festival bill was asked to make such a statement. He was being asked, in other words, to prove that he was “a good Jew”, the kind with a conscience, the kind who happily put their names to an open letter condemning those who aren’t terribly happy about Jeremy Corbyn’s choice of friends.

We have, of course, been down this road before. You only have to look at the row – just a year ago – over the UK Jewish Film Festival and its aborted screenings at the Tricycle Cinema, an invitation rescinded because of sponsorship from the Israeli embassy. On that occasion, too, Jews were asked to behave nicely. They could have their film festival, they were told, if they would reject the Israeli funding – the Tricycle would even make up the funding shortfall from elsewhere.

Fortunately the Film Festival refused to play nicely and the Tricycle backed down. Speaking personally, I haven’t set foot over the Tricycle’s doorstep since.

Let’s look at another, even more egregious example of what the BDS crowd has been getting up to: the banning of a documentary film at a cinema festival in Norway.

Roy Zafrani – who, admittedly, has the temerity to be Israeli and is thus already beyond the pale – made a short documentary called The Other Dreamers. The Human Rights Human Wrongs Festival in Oslo, which focuses on political documentaries, told Zafrani that his film, which is about disabled children in a centre in Tel Aviv, was not acceptable.

Ketil Magnussen, founder of the HRHW parent organisation, the Oslo Documentary Cinema, said: “We support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel”. Unless Zafrani’s films were about the “illegal occupation,” the blockade of Gaza, or discrimination against Palestinians, they would not be shown. So it couldn’t be clearer: anything which shows Israel in a positive light – “bad Jews” again – is unacceptable – while anything relating to its inherently evil side will be given due consideration.

In the wee small hours, when he’s buying a pint of milk in Morrisons in Islington, I wonder if Labour leader hopeful Jeremy Corbyn divides us into good Jews and bad Jews. He could, at one stroke, redeem himself to potential Jewish voters by condemning what happened to Matisyahu and Roy Zafrani as pure and simple antisemitism. But that would take guts and a determination to dissociate himself from the loonier elements of his support base.

So it’s unlikely to happen. Better, in my opinion, for us to tackle the BDS crowd directly and show them up for what they are. Now, where’s my 59 pence for that download?

  • 25 September, 2015