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Spanish music festival reacts to backlash, re-invites U.S. Jewish singer to perform

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 28, 2009 file photo, recording artist Matisyahu poses for a portrait in New York. Organizers of an international reggae festival in Spain have canceled a concert by the Jewish American singer Matisyahu after he declined to state his position regarding a Palestinian state. Rototom Sunsplash festival organizers said on their Facebook page they canceled the Aug. 22, 2015 concert because the singer declined "to declare himself regarding the war and in particular the right of the Palestinian people to have their own state." (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen, File)

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 28, 2009 file photo, recording artist Matisyahu poses for a portrait in New York. Organizers of an international reggae festival in Spain have canceled a concert by the Jewish American singer Matisyahu after he declined to state his position regarding a Palestinian state. Rototom Sunsplash festival organizers said on their Facebook page they canceled the Aug. 22, 2015 concert because the singer declined "to declare himself regarding the war and in particular the right of the Palestinian people to have their own state." (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen, File)

Organizers of an international reggae festival in Spain have backtracked and apologized for canceling a concert by the Jewish American singer Matisyahu after a barrage from criticism from around the world.

Matisyahu, whose given name is Matthew Miller, was dropped from the festival lineup earlier this week after he declined to state his position regarding a Palestinian state. He was the only performer to do so.

Rototom Sunsplash festival said it publicly apologizes for canceling the concert and invites Matisyahu to play as originally planned this weekend. In a statement, organizers said they recognized that their mistake was the result of pressure by a local branch of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which campaigned against the singer’s participation.

It wasn't immediately clear if Matisyahu will accept the new invitation.

The change comes after the president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Ronald Lauder, wrote to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, calling on him to condemn the cancellation, adding that the "scandalous behavior" of the Rototom Sunsplash organizers demanded firm action.

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The Spanish government also criticized the festival's decision.

The WJC and the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain hailed the reversal Wednesday and thanked the organizers.

In a statement posted on the WJC site, Lauder said, “The organizers have done the honorable thing and apologized. However, this affair leaves us with a sour taste in our mouths. It was yet another example of how anti-Jewish attitudes, dressed up as vicious and unfair criticism of Israel, are still widespread.”

In the letter sent Tuesday, the WJC said the decision's "anti-Semitic overtones are not in Spain's best interests," adding that the Jewish community in Spain and worldwide were deeply troubled by the incident.

The organization had suggested Spain should consider recuperating public funding for the festival, being held this week in eastern Spain.

Spain's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday the government understood the Jewish communities' unease, adding that Spain opposed boycott campaigns against Israel. It reiterated its support for a Palestinian state through negotiations.

Festival organizers originally said they canceled the Aug. 22 concert because Matisyahu refused to state his position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the issue of a Palestinian state. They had said the festival has always supported the Palestinian people's rights and denied that the decision was a result of a pro-Palestinian group's campaign.

But in the statement Wednesday, it recognized that the group's pressure tactics had prevented them from seeing the situation clearly.

It said the festival rejects anti-Semitism and respects the Jewish community.

On his Facebook page, Matisyahu said Monday that the festival organizers were pressured by the pro-Palestinian group and wanted him "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. My music speaks for itself, and I do not insert politics into my music," he said.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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