Achinoam Nini performs for a full house at the Chan Centre on Yom Ha’atzmaut, May 11. (photo from cjnews.com)
Despite the controversy in the months leading up to her Yom Ha’atzmaut performance at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on May 11, Noa’s concert attracted a full house and every one of the 1,185 seats was sold.
“After all the harrowing events leading up to this concert, I am so thrilled to be here and truly grateful to the Jewish Federation [of Greater Vancouver] for not folding and the Israeli ambassador for supporting!” the Israeli singer, whose full name is Achinoam Nini, posted on her Facebook page soon after she touched down in the city.
Performing barefoot throughout, the singer thanked the audience, Federation staff and the Vancouver Jewish community repeatedly during her show “for sticking up for me.”
In February, the Jewish National Fund of Canada, an annual sponsor of Vancouver’s community Yom Ha’atzmaut concerts, withdrew its support, saying it would take a one-year hiatus “due to the views of the entertainment booked for this year’s celebration.”
The organization’s chief executive officer, Josh Cooper, said “the entertainer that has been hired does not reflect nor correspond to the mandate and values of JNF of Canada.” Its decision followed an article in the Jerusalem Post, later retracted, that claimed Vancouver Jews were “outraged” over Nini’s performance and alleged that she supports the boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. She has repeatedly denied the allegation.
After JNF Canada withdrew, the Israeli embassy and the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto stepped in as sponsors. Irit Stopper, deputy consul general in Toronto, represented the state of Israel at the event. It was also attended by Linda Kislowicz, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs and Burnaby-Lougheed NDP MLA Jane Shin.
Outside the Chan Centre, Michael Brosgart, president of the Jewish Defence League in British Columbia, stood with a handful of supporters and a few placards declaring “Terrorists are obstacles to peace; Biblical Zionists are not.”
A folding table held pictures of an Israeli couple murdered by Palestinian terrorists, and Brosgart distributed material to bystanders. The pages contained excerpts from letters expressing objections to Nini’s performance from community member Frances Belzberg and Israel Defence Forces Lt.-Col. Eyal Platek, as well as links to articles about the singer.
“Noa is supporting the most divisive groups in Israel – B’tselem, Breaking the Silence, BDS and JStreet,” Brosgart said. “Unfortunately, Jewish Federation and the Israeli embassy, because they’re funding this, are supporting her. We think this is rotting the Jewish community.”
On JDL’s Facebook page Brosgart elaborated. “This performance will be extremely divisive, distasteful, disrespectful and does not represent the views and interests of the community. Especially at the time we need unity the most. This is not about free speech. Nini can sing her sh—y songs anywhere she wants. However, this is Israel’s Independence Day. To bring an anti-Israel, terror-sympathizing, enemy-strengthening performer on this day is to spit in the face of all who have lost loved ones defending the nation of Israel.”
One Israeli who attended the concert but asked not to be named said she disliked that Nini “does not separate her political views from her artistry. I’m sorry the selection committee didn’t do more research before they chose her, but I think they learned a lesson,” the woman said.
After seeing the Facebook responses of Israelis in Vancouver opposed to the performance, she decided to attend nevertheless. She added that, once Nini was invited to Vancouver, “I think it was the best thing to keep her here instead of canceling the performance.”
The kosher restaurant Shuk Eat & Play hosted an alternative Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration dinner for 110 attendees the same night.
“I heard Noa’s political sayings and I didn’t appreciate it,” said Shuk owner Alon Volodarsky. “So, some people who didn’t like her suggested we hold this dinner for those community members who still wanted to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut but didn’t want to attend the concert.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. This article was originally published in the Canadian Jewish News.