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When they canceled my Michigan show they let the bullies win

Cancelation of her performance in Detroit was a victory for a vocal, intolerant minority
File: Singer Achinoam Nini performs during a memorial ceremony for the late Yossi Sarid, on January 12, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
File: Singer Achinoam Nini performs during a memorial ceremony for the late Yossi Sarid, on January 12, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Dear friends,

Unexpectedly, I have found myself in the eye of yet another storm.

The board of directors at Congregation Adath Shalom in Farmington Hills, a Detroit suburb, where Gil Dor and I were booked to perform on May 18th, decided to suddenly cancel our concert, in breach of contract, less than two weeks before the event.

The cancellation came after a small group of right wing Israeli expats expressed objection to our performance, threatening to “demonstrate against and disrupt” the event were it to take place and shaming the community for daring to invite me. One man, after a long list of lies (that I am a BDS supporter, that I have spoken against the IDF and that I am an “enemy of the state”, a traitor, etc ), demanded that the entire board of the synagogue and everyone responsible for inviting me either resign or be fired immediately. He forgot to mention I am a Martian and have purple blood!

Could it be that the ‘offended’ became even more vocal after my performance in the moving Alternative Memorial Day Service organized by The Parents Circle and Combatants for Peace? The ceremony, in its 12th year, was attended by David Grossman and 4,300 other bereaved family members and friends from both sides of the fence, and held simultaneously in Tel Aviv and Beit Jala in the West Bank, connecting families across the border in shared sorrow and hope for peace.

Hope for peace is a very offensive concept to some people nowadays, some of them use the false argument that supporting peace is a political stand in order to silence voices such as ours. Others use blatant threats. It seems a group of them have moved to the Detroit area.

Slanderers swinging their keyboard fists are not a new phenomenon. One year ago, a similar clan tried to bring the cancellation of our Yom Ha’atzmaut concert in Vancouver, Canada. They used the same tactics and accusations, but the Vancouver JCC were not fooled. They knew the facts and called out the lies. They fought like lions, standing up bravely for freedom of speech, pluralism and our shared Jewish values . When some intimidated donors pulled out it looked like all was lost, until the funding needed was provided by none other than the Israeli Embassy itself, a badge of honor for our foreign ministry! The concert was a huge sold out celebration, an enormous victory for the community, for Israel and for Peace.

So what happened this time? This time, congregation Adath Shalom, which ironically have the word Peace in their name, caved in to a handful of bullies and canceled the concert, with claims of “security concerns,” thus providing the aggressors with a great victory, empowering them and paving the way for the next round of threats, lies, intimidation and violence. A tellingly dangerous sign of our times.

I have been performing in Detroit since 1994. I have had seven wonderful concerts in that good city, including an unforgettable sold out concert with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary. My views about peace and coexistence are very well known, since my performance at the fateful Peace Rally minutes before Yitzhak Rabin was murdered 23 years ago, and through endless involvement in peace-related projects and organizations over the years. I am a Zionist in the Ben Gurion and Rabin tradition and, like them, I believe in the Israeli declaration of Independence and the two-state solution. I am critical of my government but love my country, just as more than 150 million people in US today are critical of their government and love their country. Having said that, aside from mentioning the word ‘peace’ on stage, I never mix politics and music, and have never done so in the 27 years of my career. If the Adath Shalom people had any concerns on this matter, they could have mentioned them to me at any point during the many months since this concert was confirmed. I would have eased their worries completely.

But that did not happen.

As for security issues: I am certain the Jewish community is accustomed to dealing with such things, supported by Israeli security technology (best in the world) and the local security forces. I am also certain the community has a fair sense of which “threats” are tangible and which marginal (a demonstration is a threat?) or imaginary.

Or are we entering an era of ISIS-inspired Jewish terror, that I am not aware of? I should hope not.

What then, is at the core of all this?

We are living in an era of falsehoods and alternative facts, where white supremacy, racism, bigotry, misogyny, alt-right ideologies and xenophobia are experiencing a warped renaissance. We have seen these evil undercurrents, reminiscent of the darkest and most oppressive regimes in human history, and their protagonists, empowered enormously throughout the globe, and unfortunately, we understand they have seeped into and contaminated every corner of our lives.

Every sinister regime in history has targeted the artists, writers, philosophers and thinkers first, while eradicating freedom of speech, indoctrinating the population, squashing individualism and independence, shunning diversity and hunting those who represent it. These are the oldest tricks in the book for every self-respecting bad guy in history. The Jewish people should know about these things, as they have very often been their most unfortunate victims.

In today’s world, where a teenage boy suspected of homosexuality is thrown out of a ninth floor window by his own uncle in Chechnya, and a Palestinian youth is tied and burned alive in a forest near Jerusalem, the Jewish community in the “Land of the Free,” and everywhere, must decide where it stands.

We can fight for the values upon which our faith and nation were founded, cherish the diversity manifested in the epic Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai debates, exercise the critical thinking and complex reasoning perfected in the Gemara and in wise men’s writings through the ages, live by the light of the most progressive and illuminated of human values and stand by the side of the weak, the oppressed, the marginalized and the needy, with total empathy and deep humanity as our Torah commands….

Or, for the sake of preserving a very false “unity at all costs,” we can find ourselves being dragged by the hair by the extremists as in the time of the zealots that lead to the destruction of the Temple. This will lead to a reverse metamorphosis, driving us back into dark ghettos, to a life of fear and isolation, hunting and being hunted, and treating others as we would never wish to be treated ourselves, both externally and internally.

This is a critical moment in Jewish history.

Don’t stand on the sidelines.

[Editor’s note: The post has been updated to correct location of Congregation Adath Shalom, which is in Farmington Hills, a suburb of the Detroit, MI metropolitan area, and not in Detroit, as originally stated.]

About the Author
Noa (Achinaom Nini) is a singer/songwriter of Yemenite/Israeli/American origins.
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