Opinion: Lorde has announced a concert in Tel Aviv for June. Jewish New Zealander Justine Sachs and Palestinian New Zealander Nadia Abu-Shanab make the case for her to reconsider.
We’re writing to you about your planned performance in Israel. We’re two young women based in Aotearoa, one Jewish, one Palestinian. We write this with the knowledge we might be imposing on some Vogels-fuelled downtime here, but we feel strongly about this and we’d really appreciate it if you would take a few minutes to hear us out.
Our names are Justine and Nadia. Justine is part of Dayenu. Dayenu is a group of young New Zealand Jews against the occupation of Palestine. ‘Dayenu’ is a popular holiday song, sung during Passover. It translates roughly to “it would have been enough for us”. The driving principle of Dayenu is saying “enough” to Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.
Nadia is a Palestinian New Zealander. Her family live under occupation in the West Bank. Today her dad is a teacher in a well known New Zealand school, but was born in a cave (yes a cave, this shit be biblical) on family land north of Hebron. This land was the lifeblood of her family, until with the help of the Israeli state, Israeli settlers moved in. They stole the land and razed olive groves to the ground. Her family experience daily humiliation, violence and brutality at the hands of Israel.
The two of us work together (with others) for peace and justice in the Middle East and an end to Israeli apartheid. People often will say that the Israel-Palestine debacle is melodrama that dates back millennia. Thing is, like with a lot of situations of oppression, it’s actually quite straightforward once you start hearing about what’s really happening.
Since 1967, Israel has militarily occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza strip. The occupation is considered an affront to international law and Israeli settlements in the area explicitly violate the Geneva Convention. The military occupation of Palestinian territories has resulted in an apartheid state. Palestinians living in the occupied territories do not enjoy the same rights Israeli citizens enjoy, they are denied freedom of movement and often basic services and necessities.
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.
Israel’s violations are so brutal, Nelson Mandela’s own grandson, Mandla Mandela, said: “The settlements I saw here [in the West Bank] reminded me of what we had suffered in South Africa because we also were surrounded by many settlements and were not allowed to move from one place to another freely. Palestinians are being subjected to the worst version of apartheid.” He added, “Israel is the worst apartheid regime” and called for the continued support of the boycott movement.
The weeks prior to your tour announcement have been a difficult time for Palestinians. Particularly after the Trump administration’s decision to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since the 6th of December Israel has killed 11 Palestinians, injured 3000 and detained 350. The dead include Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, a 29-year-old wheelchair user and Palestinian activist. Ibrahim was killed during a protest. Ibrahim, a double amputee, lost his legs in 2008 during an Israeli airstrike. Now, the Israeli military has also taken his life. The detained includes, numerous women and children, such as 16-year old girl and activist Ahed Tamimi. Ahed is now in jail, she was arrested during an Israeli military dawn raid on her home.
In this context, 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. Such an effect cannot be undone by even the best intention and the best music. As Elvis Costello put it when he canceled his show in Israel, “there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.” We know this isn’t you.
As fans of yours, we know that you’re an empathetic artist who is committed to the empowerment of women, the LGBTIQ community and people of colour. We’ve watched as you’ve used your platform to draw attention to institutional racism, sexism and white privilege. You’ve talked about the need to “stay informed and stay outraged” about the intolerant and discriminatory policies of the Trump administration. We only ask you do the same with the Israeli government.
Israel might seem like a world away from New Zealand but that shouldn’t stop us from speaking out and being on the right side of history. In 1981 New Zealanders took to the streets to protest the Springbok tour and South African apartheid. It’s remembered proudly now, so it’s easy to forget that at the time this stuff was seriously fraught. Many argued the politics of apartheid shouldn’t be brought into sport. People will say the same about music.
We’re not just writing to appeal to the past. We’re writing this because we know you agree that our part in movements for justice and equality shouldn’t just be a memory that gathers dust. 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. In 2017, Lorde, reignite the spirit of 1981 and show the world that New Zealanders are the progressive forward-thinking people we say we are. Please join the artistic boycott of Israel, cancel your Israeli tour dates and make a stand. Your voice will join many others and together we can and will make a difference.
Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab
Nadia Abu-Shanab is a teacher, unionist, Palestine activist based in Wellington. Justine Sachs is a Jewish freelance writer, activist and grad student living in Auckland. She co-founded Dayenu: New Zealand Jews Against Occupation in 2015.
Read a counterview from a member of the New Zealand Jewish community here