Remember the Monty Python line: “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition”?
But that’s precisely what happened to the ex-Hasidic reggae star, Matisyahu.
The organizers of the Rototom Sunsplash music festival in Benicassim, Valencia, had demanded that Matisyahu sign a statement endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state. Matisyahu refused.
“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…Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform? ” Matisyahu said.
Remember: this is Spain. These are the folks who brought you the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion in 1492, and who are now inviting descendants of the expelled to return and regain the Spanish citizenship that was stripped from their ancestors.
Here is what happened. People condemned the festival for singling Matisyahu out as a Jew. Even the Spanish government protested.
So, the festival backtracked.
“Rototom Sunsplash rejects anti-Semitism and any form of discrimination towards the Jewish community,” read a statement from the festival. “We respect both their culture as religious beliefs and we sincerely apologize for what has occurred.”
Welcome to the cultural war against the Jews.
Don’t think that Matisyahu is alone.
Take Rabbi Bob Alper, whose “pulpit” is comedy.
Bob and his comic colleagues recently performed in Israel. They were supposed to perform together in Ramallah, in the heart of the Palestinian Authority, having already performed in (Palestinian) East Jerusalem.
Except, Bob wasn’t allowed to perform.
You see, the folks in Ramallah don’t like Israelis that much. The only Israelis they tend to see are soldiers.
But it’s worse than that. As Bob says:
When I told him [the producer of the event] I was not an Israeli (!), he responded that it didn’t matter, and that the only way the audience would like me would be if I started by, basically, renouncing Israel, Zionism, supporting the BDS movement, and placed myself somewhere to the left of Norman Finkelstein (his words, not my gloss) [Finkelstein is a prominent anti-Zionist academic]
When I said that what I do is try to humanize “the other” in both directions (as do Ahmed Ahmed and Mo Amer when we perform together), he said that is unacceptable, since it “normalizes” the current situation.
And people accuse Israel of apartheid?
In Ramallah, they have comedic apartheid.
OK — back to Spain and Matisyahu.
According to the late historian Benzion Netanyahu, the Spanish Inquisition was the beginning of modern racism. It was all about limpieza de sangre, the purity of blood.
The BDS people no longer care about the purity of blood.
For them, it’s about the purity of ideas.
Jews are free to be Jewish.
But they are not free to support Israel or its institutions in any way, because Zionism is an impure idea.
In sixth grade parlance, it gives you the cooties. No one will sit with you in the cafeteria.
Just as medieval Spanish Jews had to convert to Christianity, contemporary Jews must convert to anti-Zionism.
Back in early modern Europe, if Jews wanted to be acceptable in polite society, they had to cut off their payis (earlocks), forget their Yiddish, and ditch the customs and dress that would mark them as the Other.
Two hundred years later — today — if Jews want to be acceptable in “polite” (read: left-wing, academic, and European) society, they have to rid themselves of their otherness.
Which means, Zionism.
Matisyahu and Bob Alper did the Nancy Reagan bit: they just said “no.” They refused to separate their Jewish religious identity from their Jewish national identity.
The title of Matisyahu’s latest album is “Akedah” — Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac.
Matisyahu refused to sacrificially slaughter his Judaism on the Moriah of Euro-acceptability.
Matisyahu is, as they say, a rock star. He is a hero for young Jews. “You don’t like me as I am –a Jew who cares about Judaism, and a Jew who cares about his people, and a Jew who cares about his land? Tough.” Ultimately, his music won out.
And Rabbi Bob Alper? As sweet as they come. Totally non-political. As he put it: “I just wanted to make people laugh.”
But his cancelled gig in Ramallah is a wake up call.
We can remind the world and ourselves that shalom and salaam have the same Semitic root. We can laud musician David Broza’s efforts in making that happen. And we can certainly give Bob Alper a thumbs up for his outstretched hand, which, most of the time, has been accepted lovingly.
But, Ramallah. What does it say that in Ramallah, a Jewish and Zionist comedian is as welcome as, well, last week’s humus?
As Matisyahu would sing: One day….one day this will all be different. One day there will be wider co-existence. One day, Jews and Arabs in Ramallah will be able to sit and actually laugh together.
But at this precise moment, that day seems even further away.