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Activists ordered to pay $12,000 damages over Lorde’s cancelled Israel show

Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab, who wrote an open letter urging Lorde to cancel her Tel Aviv concert, were sued under a controversial anti-boycott law

In December last year, two New Zealand writers penned an open letter to Lorde urging her to cancel an upcoming Tel Aviv concert. After Lorde cancelled the date, news emerged that three Israelis were planning to sue the writers under a controversial anti-boycott law. Now, the two activists who wrote the open letter are being ordered to pay over $12,000 in damages, according to the Associated Press.

Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab, who have Jewish and Palestinian heritage respectively, published an article in The Spinoff calling for Lorde to cancel the June 2018 performance. Lorde responded to the authors in a tweet: “Noted! Been speaking (with) many people about this and considering all options. Thank u for educating me i am learning all the time too.” Lorde cancelled her show a few days later, with her decision praised by Palestinian organisations but criticised by pro-Israel groups.

Three teenage Israeli ticketholders subsequently filed the suit under the 2011 ‘Law for Prevention of Damage to State of Israel through Boycott’, which allows people in Israel to sue those who initiate a boycott against the state, regardless of their nationality, and allows courts to impose damages against the defendants. Abu-Shanab and Sachs penned a statement at the time, saying they had “not received any summons or other formal notice” of the lawsuit, calling it a “hoax”.

The ruling is believed to be the first time the 2011 law has been applied. The lawyer representing the ticketholders, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Shurat HaDin advocacy group, argued that Lorde’s response to the activists on Twitter showed a link between their letter and her cancellation. The Israeli ticketholders claimed their “artistic welfare” was damaged because of the cancellation. Darshan-Leitner said that the “precedent-setting” decision sends a message that “no one can boycott Israel without paying for it”.

It’s not clear how the ticketholders would be able to collect the cash from Sachs and Abu-Shanab, though Darshan-Leitner said she would use “international treaties” and target the women’s bank accounts, either in New Zealand or if they travel abroad. A spokesperson for the New Zealand ministry of foreign affairs said it would be up to the New Zealand courts to decide whether this was enforceable.

Sachs and Abu-Shanab said in a joint statement that they have received offers of financial assistance from around the world to help pay the damages, but have no plans plan to take it. Instead, they’ve started a crowdfunding page to raise money 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.”

Read our article on why artists cancel concerts in Israel.