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Minneapolis activists demand “No Zionists in our venues,” protesting Matisyahu at First Avenue

By Gillian Rath

Protest against genocide defender Matisyahu at First Avenue. | Fight Back! News/Ashley Taylor - Gougé

Minneapolis, MN – On March 6, the Minnesota Anti-War Committee organized a protest outside the First Avenue nightclub, where pro-Israel musical act Matisyahu was performing.

Matisyahu is the stage name of Matthew Paul Miller, a white American reggae musician, best known for his 2005 hit King Without a Crown. Miller is known for his extreme pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian political views. In a 2012 interview, he said, “There was never a country called Palestine.” In 2015, Miller performed for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the notorious pro-Israel lobbying group. He has also performed for Friends of the IDF, which fundraises for Israel’s military occupation forces.

First Avenue is a beloved landmark of Minneapolis. It is a music venue that has hosted many musical favorites and historically has been a point of pride for many Minneapolis residents. For this reason, local activists and musicians felt it especially necessary to protest Matisyahu and First Avenue to make it clear that Zionists are not welcome here in Minneapolis and at our favorite venues.

In January, Miller posted footage of himself, draped in an Israeli flag, in Israel performing for the Golani Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Golani Brigade has played a major role in Israel’s massacres in Gaza that began in October.

Over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during that time, mostly women and children. The official death toll is thought to be a significant undercount, given the mass destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure. With Israel blocking aid shipments into Gaza, relief organizations estimate that a significant proportion of the population is experiencing disease outbreaks and on the brink of famine. In January, the International Court of Justice found that allegations of Israel committing genocide in Gaza were credible and ordered Israel to immediately stop killing Palestinians.

Layna Sherman Crandell from the MN Anti-War Committee explained, “Zionism requires prioritizing the majority rule of some lives over others, necessitating the dehumanization of Palestinians. Israel is not Judaism; it is fascistic terror. Matsiyahu and the Zionists cannot speak for me or for the Jewish people, and they will not silence the voices of Palestinians in their fight for freedom and liberation.”

In February, Matisyahu tour stops in Tucson and Santa Fe were canceled after boycott campaigns by Palestine solidarity groups. Miller took to social media in response, criticizing calls for a ceasefire, calling Gaza a “haven for terrorism” and justifying the killing of Palestinian civilians by calling them “human shields.” The Minneapolis protest was preceded by a petition for First Avenue to cancel the show, signed by over 1200 local bands and concertgoers, as well as a call to boycott Matisyahu’s appearance.

The MN Anti-War Committee has been facing heightened censorship on social media since their increased pro-Palestine content. On Wednesday March 6, the day of this action, Instagram removed the event post. Despite this, and even though First Avenue did not cancel the show, a crowd of close to 500 people showed up with the Anti-War Committee for a bannering and noise demo. Supporters showed up with a variety of noise-makers ranging from drums and saxophones to pots and pans. The crowd displayed a banner facing towards the venue that read “Matisyahu supports genocide” and chanted slogans such as “Matthew Miller, don’t come back! You’re nothing but a racist hack!”

Trent Fast from the MN Anti-War Committee stated, “It was invigorating to see our community come out and say that we won't blindly put First Ave on a pedestal just because they've been a staple in our city for so long. First Avenue chose to book Matisyahu – whose thinly veiled notions of peace are obviously coded in Zionist racism towards Palestinians. We called them out on it. I would venture to guess that First Avenue will think twice before booking Matisyahu again.”

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