Matisyahu cancelation over security, claims venue


Jewish reggae artist Matisyahu’s two performances last week were canceled by the venue over security concerns and not antisemitism as the singer had alleged, the venues told The Jerusalem Post on Friday.

Rialto Theater executive director Cathy Rivers said that the decision to cancel a “beloved performer’s” performance in Tucson on February 15 was an “extraordinarily hard decision.”

Theater director speaks out

“As a member of the Jewish community myself, a female business leader, and a longstanding community partner in Tucson, I am deeply saddened and offended by the public’s accusations of antisemitism as the cause for the Matisyahu concert cancelation,” said Rivers. “This would have been Matisyahu’s eighth performance at the Rialto Theatre since 2009. The Rialto was made aware that Matis[yahu]’s team had security concerns as early as Monday ahead of his Meow Wolf show in Santa Fe. With security being a concern for the tour amid online threats of protests from his detractors, The Rialto opted to increase staff security for the concert, and the Tucson Police Department was alerted.”

Staff began to call to inform them they would not be coming to work, fearing for their own safety. Matisyahu had sought to hire armed guards from a local private security firm, but Rivers said that the theatre had a longstanding policy prohibiting firearms. With short staff and both workers and Matisyahu concerned over security, Rivers said that she made the decision to cancel the event. Both the employees and Matisyahu were paid for the canceled performance.

“There was no intention to distance or unalign ourselves with Matisyahu as a performer. This was not done to hurt the artist who we have happily hosted for 13 previous years,” said Rivers, adding that the damage to their reputation could not be overemphasized. “To learn that my decision to de-escalate a perceived security risk to a performer, our staff, and our customers was met with vitriol by our own community is heartbreaking.”

Anti-Israel protester involvement 

One of the local organizers of the protests against Matisyahu, the Tucson Coalition for Palestine, on Saturday condemned the theater for remaining “aligned with him [Matisyahu] despite concerns from countless community activists and their own workers.”

Palestinian flags fly as U.S. Jewish musician Matisyahu performs on stage during the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, August 23, 2015. The Spanish reggae festival, bowing to an international outcry, on Wednesday reversed its decision to cancel an invitation to Matisyahu because he had faile (credit: HEINO KALIS / REUTERS)

The coalition said that because Matisyahu sought armed guards and because his fans had begun a “harassment campaign” against the protesters, the theatre “endangered our community members who continue to combat the normalization of Zionism among the genocidal campaign in Gaza.”

Meow Wolf also said that they did not have adequate staff to manage the crowd for Matisyahu’s sold-out performance in Sante Fe and that they had to prioritize the safety of staff and guests. Their House of Eternal Return venue was reportedly in the process of refunding tickets to the February 14 concert.

“Meow Wolf believes in free expression, respectful discourse, and the power of art to bring people together. We do not tolerate Antisemitism, Islamophobia, hate, racism, discrimination or violence of any kind,” said the entertainment company.

How has Matisyahu responded?

Matisyahu had responded to the cancelations of his two shows by saying that it was misinformation to tell the fans that the show was canceled due to security concerns, when the only issue was staff unwilling to work at the show. The artists said that he had offered to supplement these staff shortages, but refused.

“They do this because they are either antisemitic or have confused their empathy for the Palestinian people with hatred for someone like me who holds empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Matisyahu said in social media posts on Friday. “It truly is a sad day when dialogue with those you disagree with is abandoned for hate-mongering and silencing artistic expression.”


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