Chicago Progressives Cancel Matisyahu’s Concert

March 13, 2024

Award winning Jewish musician reports that despite “no threats of violence,” an “opaque decision” outside of his control was made to call off event in a city marked by increasing anti-Semitism

Matisyahu, an award winning musician well known as much for his unique fusion of hip-hop, rock, and reggae as for his deeply ingrained Jewish heritage, was set to play in Chicago at the House of Blues, against a backdrop of rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions on Friday, March 8. However, after a string of controversial incidents that rocked the city, it appears the venue and/or city called off the event. 

Posting on X, Matisyahu intimated the decision was not his to make, nor were there any threats of violence against him or his band. 

“While the true details surrounding this decision remain opaque, and while the responsible parties all point fingers at one another over the decision; I can assure you there have been no threats of violence received by our security team who have been vigilant in knowing what is happening in each city,” the artist tweeted as part of a longer statement.

While Matisyahu sings songs about “peace, love and G-d for everyone,” according to one Chicago area fan “who has seen him play in two other venues”, his detractors latch on to one reason to cancel him: He is Jewish.

This graphic appeared on LinkedIn the night Matisyahu was scheduled to perform at House of Blues.

Progressive anti-Semitism in Chicago 

The cancellation of Matisyahu's sold out concert in Chicago is a startling pockmark on the city's increasingly divisive socio-political scene, representing a disturbing display of ideological zeal in which acts of anti-Semitism are tacitly or overtly accepted (or even encouraged) by progressive politicians, community leaders, and educators. 

This incident not only highlights the widening gaps within Chicago, but it also shines a bright light on progressive activism that has taken over Chicago public discourse and policy.

Under this model, sanctioned by Mayor Brandon Johnson and driven by Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) aldermen (and taught at the CTU in CPS), Jews are treated as “oppressors” in the Critical Race Theory oppressed/oppressor binary, and as such, can never be victims of racism or oppression. 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) Chicago chapter’s endorsement of the paragliders who attacked Israel on October 7 highlight this belief structure. BLM supporters in Chicago (which include the CTU, which featured BLM content and policy statements as part of Black History Month programming) believe Hamas, a terrorist organization, was justified in its acts, calling it an “act of liberation.”

“Jews should read the tea leaves: Just leave” 

The fact that Matisyahu’s show was canceled means Chicago has sided with the people who are attacking Israel and this BLM contingent. Sadly, this did not happen as an isolated episode; rather, it is a part of a larger story about rising tensions and choosing sides in a convoluted international conflict.

The ensuing vote by the City of Chicago on a ceasefire resolution only served to fan the flames and exposed a great deal of division among the populace and its officials, many of whom are actively celebrating the murder of over a thousand Jewish and international civilians.

Furthermore, according to one Jewish community leader, “questions have been raised concerning the city's commitment to fostering a safe and inviting environment for all of its residents, particularly the Jewish community, in light of Mayor Johnson's lack of action or condemnation of the growing number of pro-Hamas marches in Chicago.”

“This quiet constitutes an implicit endorsement of anti-Semitism and threats of physical violence against Jews,” this leader suggests. 

The moral divide on this issue has spread to other institutions including CTU. The Chicago Teachers Union has also “picked sides” in the conflict, further alienating Jewish children and families. 

And herein lies a big problem for Mayor Johnson.

In Chicago, there are 319,600 Jewish adults and children living in 178,000+ Jewish households. Serving more than 500,000 residents of Chicago of all racial and religious backgrounds, the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago is the biggest social services organization in the area, funding Jewish and non-Jewish philanthropic services. According to fiscal 2021 data, the JUF has an operational budget of almost $280 million and funds dozens of social services agencies. 

How long will Jewish families tolerate having their concerts canceled, ridiculous city motions calling for a cease-fire granted, or lack of any public support for the safety of members of the Jewish community? How long will it be before a Hamas-styled attack occurs in Chicago due to the city’s "sanctuary" status and Biden "open door" policies?

As a community leader tells Contrarian: “History tells us how this will end for the Jewish community. Jews should read the tea leaves and just leave to protect themselves and their families.” 

The migration is real

Even before Chicago politicians and leaders started overtly endorsing anti-Semitism and violence against Jews after October 7, the data suggests patterns of Jewish migration indicate a movement away from major cities such as New York and Chicago and toward regions in the South, Southwest, and West.

Given this development, one should ask: Is Mayor Johnson really able to continue treating members of the Jewish community in such a deplorable way and expect the community to remain? 

Whether or not the mayor's position played a role in the cancellation of Matisyahu's concert, it is a powerful representation of the difficulties the Jewish community in Chicago faces. It is also a reflection of a larger tendency in selective activism, which favors some stories and narratives over others, frequently at the price of harmony and comprehension.

Critics contend that these acts and inactions on the part of local authorities and groups show a worrisome readiness to ignore or even support divisive strategies and language as long as they serve certain political or ideological objectives. The decision to cancel Matisyahu's concert is significant not only because of one particular occurrence but also because of the socio-political climate that now exists in Chicago.

Regarding the cancellation, one ticket holder said, "I feel like they are winning if they have the power to cancel."

“A city that loses its Jews loses everything” 

While it is more important than ever to take a more inclusive and balanced approach to action and leadership as Chicago works through these difficult issues, Mayor Johnson, is “too weak of a mayor, to even begin to address it even if he himself is not anti-Semitic,” a local Jewish philanthropist suggests. 

He adds: “Moreover, the largely Communist (DSA) City Council appears incapable of understanding the intellectual nuances of the situation in the Middle East let alone differentiating and critically evaluating the various ‘narratives’.”

“In addition to endangering the social fabric, the selective support of causes and the division it fosters also call into question the values of justice and equality that many of these movements purport to uphold,” the donor suggests.  

“If a black jazz musician had his concert canceled based on threats from a white racist group, it would be worldwide front-page news, but because Jews are acceptable to cancel or attack now in progressive cities obsessed with ‘equity’ because each and everyone is an 'oppressor,' this is a non-story in the mainstream media.” 

“But the implications are critical for the Jewish community to understand regardless of the double-standard: The postponement of the Matisyahu concert should serve as a wake-up call to Jews that Chicago does not welcome them anymore. Never mind the fact that a city that loses its Jews, loses everything.”

In the meantime, to Chicago politicians and community leaders, he suggests: “You may have won this battle but at what cost? Matisyahu will create economic benefits wherever he tours (except Chicago), and more Jews will increasingly leave the city as evidence piles up that we are being officially treated as second class citizens — or worse. Ask yourself Mayor Johnson: Who will be left to fund your people’s revolution.”

In these times, Matisyahu’s words may comfort some. 
We leave you with the lyrics to his most popular song "One Day".
Sometimes I lay under the moon
And thank God I'm breathing
Then I pray don't take me soon
'Cause I am here for a reason
Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it'll all turn around because...
All my life I've been waiting
I've been praying for
For the people to say
That we don't wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day 
It's not about win or lose
'Cause we all lose
When they feed on the souls of the innocent
Blood-drenched pavement
Keep on moving though the waters stay raging
In this maze you can lose your way (your way)
It might drive you crazy but don't let it faze you, no way (no way)
Sometimes in my tears I drown (I drown)
But I never let it get me down (get me down)
So when negativity surrounds (surrounds)
I know some day it'll all turn around because...
All my life I've been waiting for
I've been praying for
For the people to say
That we don't wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day
One day this all will change
Treat people the same
Stop with the violence
Down with the hate
One day we'll all be free
And proud to be
Under the same sun
Singing songs of freedom like One day

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