Let’s talk about Nini …
Screenshot of Noa’s official website, where she shows that she retains a sense of humor towards the press: “Believe half of what you hear and nothing of what you read! :)”
Internationally known, award-winning Israeli singer and songwriter Achinoam Nini – who has served in the Israel Defence Forces, who has been a goodwill ambassador for Israel and who has been honored for her peace work – has been invited to headline the Vancouver Jewish community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations this year. Apparently, this is a controversial choice for some in our community.
Nini (widely known as Noa) is clear about her political views and, so far, her critics have come up with the following to explain their upset at her invitation. She hates – a strong word, but it applies in this case from what we’ve read – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. She rejected an award from one artists organization and resigned from another because they honored someone she thought was too right-wing. She may have written in a since-deleted Facebook post that she supported B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence and New Israel Fund for their work supporting peace. In 2012, she expressed hope that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas could help bring peace to the region. Also in 2012, she took part in an alternative Remembrance Day event organized by Combatants for Peace, which describes itself as “a group of Palestinians and Israelis who have taken an active part in the cycle of violence in our region: Israeli soldiers serving in the IDF and Palestinians as combatants fighting to free their country, Palestine, from the Israeli occupation.” The ceremony mourned Palestinians and Israelis who had been killed in the conflict.
One of her critics has compiled a curious mix of her posts to supposedly show why she is an inappropriate choice to perform, including: “We believe in two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side, supporting, protecting and nurturing each other…. We believe in three simple steps: recognize each other, apologize to each other and share the little we have.” We, too, believe in two states for two peoples, and in reconciliation.
With plenty of Vancouverites apparently scouring the internet for “evidence” against her, there may be more to come. Nini’s political views are not above criticism. Nobody’s are. But she stands behind her opinions, acts on her beliefs, and is very clear about who she supports – some people might be surprised that B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence are not among those listed on her website as groups she endorses – and who she doesn’t support. Unlike some of her local critics, who are hiding behind the anonymity of social media and don’t put their names and reputations behind their opinions, Nini owns her views. Whether or not you agree with her, that’s worth respect.
Should we be inviting someone with whom we don’t all agree to headline our Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremonies? What about someone who criticizes the Israeli government?
We who love and support Israel understand that holding a large community-wide celebration once a year feels good and offers a sense of solidarity. But what kind of Jewish community is it that doesn’t brook differences in opinion? Such uniformity certainly does not reflect one of Israel’s – and Judaism’s – greatest attributes and secrets to continuity: openness to debate and discussion.
Skipping over what Judaism says about character assassination, the harm that can be done with words, the fact that lashon hara is worse than theft because money can be repaid but the destruction of a person’s reputation can never be completely mended, is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed when making out a Yom Ha’atzmaut invitation list?
As we argued in this space last week, it is our view that boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) is a movement steeped in racism (though not everyone who supports BDS is an antisemite, of course). Rightly, Canada, the United Kingdom and other democratic countries formally condemn BDS. If we were to draw a red line not to be crossed, support for BDS might qualify as a deciding factor in whether or not to bring an artist to perform at a Yom Ha’atzmaut – or any – event. It also might not.
Despite what the emails in your inbox might say, Nini has explicitly said that she is against BDS. At most, she might associate with groups that might have supporters that also support BDS – groups that are legal in Israel and part of the vital discourse there.
In a democracy, all voices that don’t incite hatred against an identifiable group are to be, if not welcomed, at least tolerated. This includes those who believe that Nini should not sing for Vancouverites on Yom Ha’atzmaut this year. However, the right to speak is not predicated on being right. This applies to Nini as well as her detractors.
Some people are demanding that the invitation for Nini to perform at our Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations be rescinded. If successful, it won’t matter much to Israel’s future, or to Nini’s. We should not overinflate our self-importance. But such an act – a boycott of Nini – would certainly affect our community’s future. It would be a signal of intolerance, of closed-mindedness and an unwillingness to brook the very presence of a Jew, an Israeli, a veteran of the IDF and a great singer, simply because some disagree with her politics – and, worse, that we rely on innuendo and rumor to make our decisions. How solid a foundation is that upon which to build our community? What lesson would that teach our children? This is what we talk about when we talk about Achinoam Nini.