Protest sign reading Make Higher Ground Apartheid Free

Vermonters Protest Matisyahu at Higher Ground over Gaza Genocide

Tonight, roughly fifty people gathered outside Higher Ground’s venue in South Burlington to protest the performance of Matisyahu there.

Matisyahu, the stage name of Matthew Paul Miller, is a reggae hip-hop singer based in Brooklyn whose career and popularity peaked in the mid-2000s. A longtime Zionist, he has been an outspoken supporter of the Israeli state and its military campaign in Gaza since the October 7 Hamas attack, through social media, interviews, and at performances. He also performed at the controversial Washington, D.C. March for Israel in November.

The picket was organized by the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation, Jewish Voice for Peace VT/NH, and other groups. The Coalition’s Action Network page shows twelve hundred messages have been sent to Higher Ground management urging them to drop the show.

“I think Burlington is a microcosm of the entire country right now, really, in the sense that all of our politicians, all our institutions, our university administrations and media are very Zionist,” said Jason, a member of UVM Students for Justice in Palestine, “but everybody else, especially the young people, aren’t falling for that shit anymore, and that’s why we’ve had so much traction.”

In addition to holding signs for the waning rush hour traffic, some handed out informational flyers to those at the other end of the parking lot standing in line to attend the performance. A few activists set up a projector, displaying “Tonight Matisyahu sings for genocide” across the exterior wall of the venue.

Matisyahu has garnered local protests at many points across his U.S. tour. Just last night, Pro-Palestinian activists held a protest of his concert at the State Theatre in Portland after sending in hundreds of letters urging the venue to drop the show. Earlier stops in his tour were canceled, including the House of Blues in Chicago, the Rialto Theater in Tucson, Arizona, and Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

According to UVM Students for Justice in Palestine, more than one hundred Vermont bands, musicians and venues have signed onto a statement against Higher Ground hosting Matisyahu. The statement reads, in part:

Last year, Higher Ground quickly stopped serving Citizen Cider after the brewery’s allegations of sexual harassment and toxic work environment. If Higher Ground is willing to stand against interpersonal violence here, but not against Palestinian genocide, they send a clear message that Palestinians are not seen as human. Higher Ground must follow the suit of venues in Santa Fe, Tucson, and Chicago and immediately cancel Matisyahu’s show.

We the undersigned Burlington & Vermont-based bands and musicians fully condemn
Higher Ground's decision to host anti-Palestinian artist Matisyahu, and call upon the venue to immediately cancel the show scheduled for March 14th.
Matisyahu's open and aggressive support of the genocidal Israeli Occupation Forces
(IOF) is well-documented and reprehensible. In January, Matisyahu gave a live performance to a crowd of IF soldiers from the Golani Brigade, a unit long known for their brutality and more recently known for the several instances of soldiers posing with women's underwear looted from Palestinian homes. Prior to this, Matisyahu has actively funded the IOF through benefit shows at
Israel lobby events.
At the time of this letter, the IOF has killed at least 31,000 Palestinians. - including 12,000+ children - by the absolute lowest of estimates. Beyond rulings and condemnations from international bodies and governments, we as human beings have seen with our own eyes the horrors taking place: entorced starvation, daily massacres of civilians, children shot by snipers in the streets, targeting of journalists and medics, people crushed by tanks and bulldozers, openly genocidal rhetoric from Israeli leaders and soldiers alike, and bombs dropped on schools, hospitals, libraries, mosques, refugee camps. There is simply too much to list.
As musicians, we have an unmistakable role as cultural workers in fighting injustice.
Right now, we are witnessing the most well-documented, live-streamed genocide in history. We must make it clear that fascism is unwelcome in the music community, in Burlington, and everywhere else.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said of the Vietnam war: "There comes a time when silence is betrayal." We will not be silent as our Palestinian siblings in Vermont and beyond witness the annihilation of their people enabled by people in our own communities.
Last year, Higher Ground quickly stopped serving Citizen Cider after the brewery's allegations of sexual harassment and toxic work environment. If Higher Ground is willing to stand against interpersonal violence here, but not against Palestinian genocide, they send a clear message that Palestinians are not seen as human. Higher Ground must follow the suit of venues in Santa Fe, Tucson, and Chicago and immediately cancel Matisyahu's show.
Failing this, we call upon Higher Ground workers to withhold any labor from this show.
The full statement.

Higher Ground did not respond to requests for comment.

The International Court of Justice determined in late January that it is “plausible” that the Israeli military is committing genocide in Gaza. The death toll in Gaza since October now stands north of 30,000, as Israeli forces prepare a long-feared ground invasion of Rafah. Last Saturday, in an interview with MSNBC, President Biden reiterated his position that there were no “red lines” for Israel’s actions that would spur him to cut off the flow of U.S. military weapons and ammunition.

As Vermonters speak out in South Burlington, activists and artists are doing the same in Austin, Texas. More than eighty music acts and speakers have pulled out of this year’s SXSW conference, which runs through this weekend. The U.S. Army and a number of weapons manufacturers supporting the Israeli military are major SXSW sponsors this year.

One of those manufacturers, Collins Aerospace, was picketed here in Vermont at their Vergennes facility in January.

After his U.S. tour concludes, Matisyahu will perform in Israel in early April, his second trip there this year. His first visit, in January, had all his travel expenses paid by the Israeli airline El Al and the right-wing Zionist organization Maccabee Task Force. (Maccabee Task Force, co-founded by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, funds college campus groups in the U.S. and is one of the largest financial contributors to the far right YouTube channel PragerU.) While there, Matisyahu performed for the Golani Brigade, an elite military unit long associated with crimes against Palestinians.

During Matisyahu’s April trip, he will receive, according to the Jerusalem Post, a “special prize” for his “efforts to advocate for Israel since the beginning of the Gaza war,” presented by Diaspora Affairs Minister and Likud Party Knesset member Amichai Chickli.

Chickli himself has been in the news this week, calling director Jonathan Glazer an “idiot” and “auto-antisemitic” over remarks he made at the Academy Awards. Glazer won Best International Feature for his Holocaust film The Zone of Interest at Monday’s ceremony. Glazer’s remarks delivered on stage were:

“All our choices we made to reflect and confront us in the present. Not to say ‘look what they did then’ — rather, ‘look what we do now.’ Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst. It shaped all of our past and present. Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza — all the victims of this dehumanization, how do we resist?”

As people waved Palestinian flags along Williston Road and passing cars honked in support, Sophie Cassel of Jewish Voice for Peace spoke to the assembled crowd: “As a Jewish person, it is not antisemitic to critique Israel, it is not antisemitic to critique someone who performs for people who are actively committing war crimes.”

Matisyahu has six stops left on his current tour: Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury, MA; Paradise Rock Club in Boston, MA; 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.; the National in Richmond, VA; Brooklyn Bowl Philly in Philadelphia, PA; and Brooklyn Steel in Brooklyn, NY.

Support The Rake Vermont

Our journalism can't happen without your support.

Become a Patron!

Related Articles

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.