Judge rules ‘artistic welfare’ of three Israeli teenagers was harmed by actions of Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab
12 October 2018 | Eleanor Ainge Roy | The Guardian
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 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”.
It remained unclear whether the claimants would be able to collect the cash. Legal experts said the judgement was not automatically enforceable under New Zealand law, and the chance of the women being compelled to pay damages was unlikely as they were not in Israel when they wrote the open letter and did not participate in the court process in any way.
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.
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.”
In a joint statement on Friday, Sachs and Abu-Shanab said they had been flooded with offers of financial assistance from around the world to help pay the damages, but had no intention of doing so. Instead, the women have started a crowdfunding page to raise funds for The Gaza Mental Health Foundation.
“Our advice from New Zealand legal experts has been clear: Israel has no right to police the political opinions of people across the world,” the statement read.
“They also continue to believe that this is a stunt of which the sole intention is to intimidate Israel’s critics … We’ve contacted the relevant people in our government in the hope they can make it clear that New Zealand will not stand by and allow Israel to attempt to bully its citizens.”
At the time that calls for the boycott began, Lorde said she had received an “overwhelming number of messages and letters” regarding the issue.
“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.
Lorde has been contacted for comment.