JERUSALEM — She might be the most recent proponent of a cultural boycott against Israel for its ongoing occupation of the West Bank, but New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde is also the first international artist to prompt a lawsuit for canceling her concert in the Jewish state.
On Wednesday, Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Center, announced it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of three Israeli teenagers — fans of the Grammy Award winner who had purchased tickets to her Tel Aviv concert — against two New Zealand-based activists linked to the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) Movement who it says persuaded Lorde to reconsider performing in Tel Aviv.
It is the latest pushback by Israelis against global BDS efforts, which aim to pressure Israel into complying with international law vis-à-vis its policies toward the Palestinians. Israel says the campaign is vindictive and unjust, actively promoting the country's demise and denying its basic right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
On Wednesday, Ireland's ambassador to Israel was summoned to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify legislation being proposed in her country calling for a boycott of trade with the settlements. And earlier this month, Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs said it would ban members of 20 international organizations affiliated with BDS from entering the country.
Shurat HaDin's lawsuit is based on a 2011 Israeli law allowing legal action to be taken against one “who knowingly publishes a public call for a boycott against the State of Israel.” Although the case will be heard in a Jerusalem court, the law applies to foreign citizens and the ruling is binding abroad, according to international legal treaties.
If successful, the two women in New Zealand, Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab, will be forced to pay damages to the three Israeli teenagers of as much as $5,000 each.
But the lawsuit is not about the money, said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of Shurat HaDin and the lead lawyer in the case.
The plaintiffs were reimbursed the cost of the tickets. Darshan-Leitner said the lawsuit is about the damages caused by the "high expectations of seeing their favorite artist perform and the big disappointment after the concert was canceled."
“It is also about making a statement that Israel will fight back from now on against those who call to boycott it,” she said. “Israeli citizens will not sit quietly against these calls. We want people to know that there is a price to pay for boycotting Israel.”
Darshan-Leitner said the law applies only to those who call for a boycott of Israel, and in this case, “the singer was not the bad person. She did not have bad intentions, she was just influenced by others, uneducated and leaned toward the argument from one side.”
The arguments presented to Lorde against performing in Israel were made in an open letter by Sachs and Abu-Shanab and published online in December, not long after concert promoters had announced the singer’s June 5 gig and began selling tickets.
In their letter on the New Zealand website the Spinoff, Sachs and Abu-Shanab identify themselves as “two young women based in Aotearoa, one Jewish, one Palestinian.”
“Since 1967, Israel has militarily occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza strip,” wrote the two women. “The occupation is considered an affront to international law and Israeli settlements in the area explicitly violate the Geneva Conventions.”
“In this context,” they wrote, “a performance in Israel sends the wrong message. Playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government, even if you make no comment on the political situation.”
Sachs and Abu-Shanab also posted a message to Lorde on Twitter with a link to their boycott letter.
Lorde tweeted a reply to Sachs and Abu-Shanab, saying: “Noted! Been speaking w[ith] many people about this and considering all options. Thank [yo]u for educating me i am learning all the time too.”
She subsequently canceled the Tel Aviv concert, calling her initial decision to perform in Israel a mistake. The concert promoters reimbursed fans who had purchased tickets.
In an interview with an Israeli website after Lorde announced her plans to skip the Tel Aviv performance, Sachs said she was surprised that her letter had such an impact.
“This reached much further than I imagined,” said Sachs, according to a report in the Times of Israel. “We asked Lorde to not break the boycott and to not support the occupation of Palestinian lands, the destruction of Palestinian lands, homes and lives and I am proud of her brave response that testifies that she has an open progressive mind, is concerned about social justice.”
On Wednesday, Sachs responded to the lawsuit on Twitter writing: "Israel the only "democracy" in the Middle East where New Zealanders get sued for exercising their freedom of speech..... in New Zealand."
Lorde joins a growing list of international artists who have faced controversy for performing in Israel. In July, rock band Radiohead went ahead with a performance in Tel Aviv despite pressure from BDS activists not to play because of the oppression faced by Palestinians. Award-winning British filmmaker Ken Loach tweeted: “Radiohead need to decide if they stand with the oppressed or the oppressor. The choice is simple.”
Lead singer Thom Yorke responded in a statement: “Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing its government.”