TEL AVIV – Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions activists in Spain will be tried in court for harassing Jewish-American singer Matisyahu and calling for his performance at an international reggae festival to be cancelled in August 2015, a Spanish court ruled.
A criminal complaint filed in Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, charges nine BDS activists with putting “pressure, coercion and threats” on the organizers of the annual Rototom Sunsplash reggae festival to cancel Matisyahu’s closing-night gig. The complaint was filed by the Legal Committee Against Discrimination, an association of human rights lawyers combating discrimination and anti-Semitism in Spain.
According to concert organizers, they were instructed by the Valencia and Catalonia BDS movements to demand that Matisyahu publicly denounce Israel and issue a statement of support for a Palestinian state.
Matisyahu refused to comply, saying he was the only performer being asked to make political declarations.
Following a media firestorm both in Spain and abroad, the festival organizers issued an apology to Matisyahu and re-invited him to perform. Three days of protests erupted in different cities in Spain in support of the singer.
The ex-Hasidic singer accepted their apology and announced that he would perform as scheduled at the festival, saying that he “always believed in the power of music to unite all people, regardless of religion, politics or geography.
“This was an excruciating decision, as I felt that my core, essential being was being used as a pawn for political convenience. It is my deep conviction however that acceptance and the ability for rebirth allow us to move forward,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Throughout his performance, which was beefed up with extra security as a result of hostilities from boycott-Israel activists in attendance, Matisyahu was harassed and heckled.
Facing charges of incitement to hatred and discrimination, the nine BDS leaders could face jail time if found guilty, the Jerusalem Post reported.
President of the Jewish Community of Madrid David Hatchwell referred to the defendants as “BDS militants” and anti-Semites.
“With this deplorable episode the BDS removed its mask: the goal of that movement is not a two-state solution or the improvement of the Palestinians’ lives. The real goal is to ostracize the Jews and criminalize defending a Jewish state and its right to exist. The objective is to deny the Jews their own vibrant and diverse democracy.”
“The BDS movement, like all anti-Semites, aims to condemn the Jews to the role of helpless victims that was sadly reserved to them through history,” he said in a statement.
“BDS militants are used to getting away with their racist goals and violent methods,” Hatchwell said. “No one holds them accountable for actions that, carried out against any other ethnic or religious minority, would be shocking and punishable. A civil society that can resort to the rule of law to protect itself from bullying and cowardly abuses, in both the social networks and the real world, demonstrates its maturity.”
The Jewish community leader expressed his hope that “this time the violent instigators of these anti-Semitic campaigns will suffer criminal sanctions for their actions.”
BDS activists have launched a counter-campaign called “Defend Human Rights.”
“We consider this a flagrant violation of our freedom of expression and an attempt to criminalize and suppress our democratic right to defend human rights at home and internationally,” they wrote.
The petition denies any ““threat and coercion” and “hate crimes” on the part of the BDS leaders. Instead, they insist, they employed “peaceful campaigning to convince the Rototom Sunsplash Festival to cancel the invitation of an artist based on his track record of defending war crimes and gross violations of human rights, incitement to racial hatred, denial of the existence of the Palestinian people, and documented connections to extremist and violent fundamentalist groups.”
“We consider the false accusations against us to be part of the much wider, well-funded campaign led by Israel and its lobby groups, to demonize or criminalize peaceful campaigning for Palestinian human rights, and in particular the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality,” they wrote.
The activists vowed to “expose the fabrications and lies thrown at us by Israel’s lobby and its supporters in the Spanish state and to mobilize our networks of grassroots support and solidarity.”