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Fame and celebrity

Israel fines New Zealand teenagers US$11,695 for urging Lorde concert boycott

They wrote to the musician urging her to cancel a concert in Tel Aviv, and after she did, Israeli claimants said the letter had assisted in damaging their ‘artistic welfare’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 10:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 10:25am

An Israel court has ordered two New Zealand women to pay damages for harming the “artistic welfare” of three Israeli teenagers after the pop star Lorde cancelled a planned performance in Tel Aviv.

Judge Mirit Fohrer ruled that Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab of New Zealand must pay damages to Israeli teenagers Shoshana Steinbach, Ayelet Wertzel and Ahuva Frogel totalling more than NZ$18,000 (US$11,695) for writing a letter urging the singer to cancel her concert in Tel Aviv, The Jerusalem Post reports.

It is believed to be the first effective use of a 2011 Israeli law allowing civil lawsuits of anyone who encourages a boycott of Israel.

The Israeli teenagers claimed their “artistic welfare” was damaged because of the cancellation and that they suffered “damage to their good name as Israelis and Jews”.

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It remained unclear whether the claimants would be able to collect the cash.

A spokesperson for the New Zealand ministry of foreign affairs said it would be up to the courts of New Zealand to decide whether the claim for damages was enforceable.

This decision makes it clear that anyone who calls for a boycott against the state of Israel could find themselves liable for damages
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner

“Whether a foreign judgment is enforceable in New Zealand will be governed by the laws of New Zealand and is a question for the Courts of New Zealand to determine.”

In December 2017 the Grammy winning New Zealand pop star Lorde cancelled her planned June 2018 concert in Tel Aviv after a social media campaign sparked by an open letter from Sachs and Abu-Shanab.

The lawsuit argued that Lorde’s response on Twitter after receiving the letter showed her decision was directly influenced by the New Zealand women’s plea.

“I have had a lot of discussions with people holding many views, and I think the right decision at this time is to cancel the show,” Lorde wrote at the time, adding: “I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one.”

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of the Shurat HaDin NGO, who filed the suit called the ruling “precedent-setting”.

“This decision makes it clear that anyone who calls for a boycott against the state of Israel could find themselves liable for damages and need to pay compensation to those hurt by the boycott call, if they’re in Israel or outside it,” Darshan-Leitner told The Jerusalem Post.

“We will enforce this ruling in New Zealand and go after their bank accounts until it has been fully realised.”

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At the time, Lorde said she had received an “overwhelming number of messages and letters” regarding the issue.

“Dear Lorde … we’re two young women based in Aotearoa, one Jewish, one Palestinian,” wrote Sachs and Abu-Shanab in their open letter.

“Today, millions of people stand opposed to the Israeli government’s policies of oppression, ethnic cleansing, human rights violations, occupation and apartheid. As part of this struggle, we believe that an economic, intellectual and artistic boycott is an effective way of speaking out against these crimes. This worked very effectively against apartheid in South Africa, and we hope it can work again.

“We can play an important role in challenging injustice today. We urge you to act in the spirit of progressive New Zealanders who came before you and continue their legacy.”

The cultural boycott of Israel through the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement launched in 2005 and has gathered momentum in recent years even if its economic impact remains negligible.

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS, said: “Inspired by the cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, BDS expects and appeals to conscientious artists to refrain from performing in Israel or taking part in events that are sponsored by Israel or by entities that are complicit in Israel’s egregious human rights violations until it meets its obligations under international law.”

Lorde, Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab have been contacted for comment.