Lorde Took a Stand for Palestinian Rights. Now an Israeli Organization Is Suing Her Fans.

Lawsuit against two New Zealand citizens is a test case for Israel’s draconian anti-BDS legislation.

Alex Kane February 12, 2018

Singer Lorde performs on the Coachella Stage during day 3 of the Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival (Weekend 1) at the Empire Polo Club on April 16, 2017 in Indio, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Coachella)

When the pop star Lorde made the deci­sion in Decem­ber 2017 to can­cel an upcom­ing con­cert in Israel, a pre­dictable back­lash gath­ered steam.

“No intimidation tactics can or will stifle this growing movement."

Social media invec­tive ensued. The New Zealand Jew­ish Coun­cil said Lorde had suc­cumbed to a small but loud group of extrem­ist bul­lies.” And right-wing celebri­ty Rab­bi Shmu­ley Boteach paid to print an adver­tise­ment in the Wash­ing­ton Post call­ing the singer a big­ot.”

Less expect­ed, how­ev­er, was a law­suit aimed at two Lorde fans in New Zealand who called on the pop star to boy­cott Israel over its human rights abus­es that harm Palestinians.

On Jan. 31, Shu­rat HaDin, an Israeli legal orga­ni­za­tion, announced it filed suit against Jus­tine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab, two New Zealand cit­i­zens who, in an open let­ter, plead­ed with Lorde to join the artis­tic boy­cott of Israel, can­cel your Israeli tour dates and make a stand.”

Shu­rat HaDin has close ties to the Mossad, the Israeli equiv­a­lent of the CIA. The group says the pair vio­lat­ed Israel’s 2011 law pro­hibit­ing advo­ca­cy of the boy­cott, divest­ment and sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment against Israel. The suit filed on behalf of three Israelis who had bought tick­ets is ask­ing for $13,000 in dam­ages for the emo­tion­al injury” caused by the concert’s can­cel­la­tion. (Shu­rat HaDin did not respond to a request for comment.)

The law­suit is a test case, as this is the first time the Israeli anti-BDS law has been invoked. How­ev­er, the lit­i­ga­tion has very lit­tle chance of going any­where in the Israeli court system.

In order to apply a law on an extrater­ri­to­r­i­al juris­dic­tion, you need to have that very clear in the law, and it’s not men­tioned in the anti-boy­cott law,” says Sawsan Zaher, an attor­ney at Adalah, a Pales­tin­ian-run legal cen­ter in Israel. You are not liable if you call for a boy­cott in an area, a ter­ri­to­ry, a coun­try that is not under the juris­dic­tion of the Israeli law.”

But even if the case fails, the law­suit is one more indi­ca­tor that Israel’s glob­al bat­tle to shut down the BDS move­ment, which Israeli offi­cials have labeled a strate­gic threat,” is esca­lat­ing. Israel and an array of allied orga­ni­za­tions have tak­en a mul­ti-pronged approach in their anti-BDS strat­e­gy, using leg­is­la­tion, online black­lists, trav­el bans and law­suits to crack down on the human rights movement.

BDS is a Pales­tin­ian-led glob­al cam­paign that calls for boy­cotting Israeli goods, divest­ing from cor­po­ra­tions that do busi­ness with Israel and impos­ing gov­ern­ment sanc­tions on the state. The movement’s three demands are: an end to Israel’s occu­pa­tion of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Gaza; equal­i­ty for Pales­tin­ian cit­i­zens of Israel; and the right of return for refugees expelled from Israel in 1948, when the state was founded.

Lorde’s boy­cott of Israel was per­haps the BDS movement’s most talked about vic­to­ry last year.

Explain­ing her deci­sion, Lorde wrote in a state­ment that her orig­i­nal move to book a con­cert in Tel Aviv was not the right call” and that she decid­ed to can­cel the show after hav­ing a lot of dis­cus­sions with peo­ple hold­ing many views.”

Her boy­cott cap­tured head­lines around the globe, and angered oppo­nents of the BDS movement.

The sym­bol­ism of a well-known pop star stand­ing up for what she believes in is threat­en­ing to those who want to pre­serve the sta­tus quo and squash those who stand up for human rights,” says Rahul Sak­se­na, a staff attor­ney at the group Pales­tine Legal, which mon­i­tors attacks on Pales­tin­ian rights advo­ca­cy in the Unit­ed States.

And it wasn’t only Israel that was miffed by the con­cert can­cel­la­tion. In late Jan­u­ary, Flori­da law­mak­ers cit­ed Lorde’s deci­sion to jus­ti­fy their push to strength­en a state law that bars state con­tracts worth $1 mil­lion or more from going to enti­ties that boy­cott Israel. (The law­mak­ers want the $1 mil­lion thresh­old pro­vi­sion dropped.)

Lorde is com­ing to Flori­da in April,” said State Rep. Randy Fine, the Repub­li­can spon­sor of the bill, at a Jan. 23 press con­fer­ence. That’s why it’s impor­tant for the leg­is­la­ture to take a stand to say it is not okay for a gov­ern­ment to con­duct busi­ness with groups that choose to have these dis­crim­i­na­to­ry and anti-Semit­ic positions.”

In Feb­ru­ary, Fine explic­it­ly called for the Mia­mi Sports and Exhi­bi­tion Author­i­ty and the Tam­pa Sports Author­i­ty to can­cel Lorde’s shows in those cities.

Beyond Lorde, the Israeli gov­ern­ment, Con­gress and U.S. state law­mak­ers are step­ping up their broad­er war on the boy­cott movement.

The Israeli gov­ern­ment has poured mil­lions of dol­lars into attempts to stop the move­ment, and in Jan­u­ary, announced it would ban 20 pro-BDS groups from trav­el­ing to Israel/​Palestine. This ban is sig­nif­i­cant, as Israel con­trols all entry points into Israel and the Pales­tin­ian territories.

Con­gress is con­sid­er­ing the Israel Anti-Boy­cott Act, which would impose fines or up to 20 years in prison for those advo­cat­ing the boy­cott of Israel. Groups like Shu­rat HaDin have filed mul­ti­ple legal com­plaints against orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing the Pres­by­ter­ian Church and the Unit­ed Elec­tri­cal, Radio, and Machine Work­ers of Amer­i­ca, that have called for boy­cotts of Israel.

In addi­tion, 24 states have anti-BDS laws on the books, most of which bar state con­tracts from going to com­pa­nies that boy­cott Israel. Some of these laws have required indi­vid­u­als to sign oaths stat­ing they would not boy­cott Israel before receiv­ing state money.

Pales­tin­ian rights advo­cates say these laws are uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, strik­ing at the heart of free speech in the Unit­ed States. In Jan­u­ary, a fed­er­al judge in Kansas agreed, and blocked a state law that required a pub­lic-school edu­ca­tor to cer­ti­fy she wouldn’t boy­cott Israel if she want­ed to train teachers.

These laws are a clear vio­la­tion of the First Amend­ment, at a time when we need to pro­tect those rights the most,” Pales­tine Legal’s Sak­se­na tells In These Times. Anti-BDS bills across this coun­try are clear­ly aimed at chill­ing people’s speech.”

But if the goal is to stop activists from call­ing for a boy­cott of Israel, these anti-BDS laws, and law­suits like the one against BDS advo­cates in New Zealand, are not working.

In response to the news that Shu­rat HaDin filed a law­suit against them, Sachs and Abu-Shanab, the authors of the let­ter to Lorde that called on her to renege on her Israel con­cert, vowed to keep work­ing for Pales­tin­ian rights.

No intim­i­da­tion tac­tics can or will sti­fle this grow­ing move­ment,” they wrote in an online state­ment. We won’t be told what to say. Instead of scar­ing us, these bul­ly­ing tac­tics only embold­en us and make it self-evi­dent that there is a right and wrong in this sit­u­a­tion. We are proud to stand for what is right.”

Alex Kane is a New York-based free­lance jour­nal­ist who writes on U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy in the Mid­dle East.
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