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Canceled Lorde Concert Prompts First Use of Israel’s Anti-Boycott Law

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January 31, 2018

A lawsuit filed in Israel seeks damages from two activists in New Zealand, blaming them for the singer Lorde’s decision to cancel a planned concert in Tel Aviv. It appears to be the first use of a controversial Israeli law against calling for boycotts of Israel or the territory it controls.

The defendants — one of Palestinian descent, and the other Jewish — drew attention in December when they published an open letter to Lorde, a fellow New Zealander, which was one of many calls for her to reconsider a scheduled performance in Israel next summer. Days later, she called off the concert.

The suit, filed on Tuesday, demands 45,000 Israeli shekels, or about $13,200, on behalf of three Israeli teenagers who had bought tickets for the concert. It demands payment not from the singer, but from the authors of the open letter, Nadia Abu-Shanab and Justine Sachs.

In 2011, the Israeli Knesset passed a law allowing civil litigation by anyone who can claim economic harm from a boycott against Israel, any of its institutions, or an area under Israeli control. The law drew fierce criticism from Israeli civil liberties groups, who called it a violation of free speech rights, but in 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the bulk of it.

Both advocates and opponents of the measure say the suit over Lorde’s cancellation is the first action filed under the law. If it succeeds, it could have broad implications for the growing movement in the United States, Europe and elsewhere to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, primarily in protest against its settlement and security practices in the West Bank. The movement is known as B.D.S.

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The plaintiffs “were hurt by the show’s cancellation. They are fans of the singer, went immediately to purchase tickets as soon as they heard she is coming to Israel — they were very enthusiastic, had planned on going together,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the lawyer who filed the suit, said in an interview. For the teenagers, she said, “There is also the national side to the lawsuit. As citizens of this country, as citizens who will next year serve this country in the military or civil service, they were hurt from the B.D.S. movement.”

Ms. Darshan-Leitner leads a group, Shurat HaDin, that sues Israel’s enemies and critics, with mixed results.

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Adam Keller, a spokesman for Gush Shalom, a group that has unsuccessfully challenged the law, said he was not sure that an Israeli court would accept the idea that “being deprived of the pleasure of listening to your favorite singer would be considered damage.”

“There is also a serious question to whether Israeli law can even apply to people in another country,” he said. “Only on things that are considered universal laws, like genocide or piracy, is that normally accepted.”

Any attempt to enforce a judgment in such a case, he said, could quickly become a diplomatic problem for Israel.

One of the defendants in the Lorde case, Ms. Sachs, wrote on Twitter that when she first learned of the suit, she thought it might not be true. Later, she wrote, she learned that it was “a stupid stunt.”

Opponents of the law said they were surprised that it had not been invoked earlier, considering that advocacy of anti-Israel boycotts is not rare.

Israel is not the only nation with anti-boycott laws. Since the 1970s, American laws enacted specifically with Israel in mind have prohibited companies from taking part in boycotts of any nation, unless the boycotts are sanctioned by the United States government. In France, advocacy of anti-Israel boycotts can be considered a hate crime.