Updated: Canceled Noa concert blurs artistry and politics
(Editor’s note: At press time, space was not available to print a full statement from a local group in the Jewish community opposed to the Noa concert planned at Adat Shalom. The full letter is posted at the end of this story.)
A May 18 concert by internationally known Israeli singer/songwriter Achinoam Nini, known as Noa, was canceled last Thursday by Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills. In a letter to its membership, synagogue leadership cited security threats as the reason for its decision to cancel.
“We have been working closely with law enforcement and our security advisers and have concluded that, based on these threats, there was a high potential for disruption to the concert,” the letter states. “In keeping the safety of our community, our congregation and the performers as our highest priority, we have made the decision to cancel the concert.”
Adat Shalom Executive Director Alan Yost told the JN, “When we booked Noa, our sole intent was to provide Adat Shalom members as well as the Detroit Jewish community with an evening of quality entertainment by an internationally recognized Israeli entertainer. We knew she was clearly left-of-center in her political views. That wasn’t an issue because we were looking to provide an incredible performer.”
Yost says when Adat Shalom reached out to some Zionist organizations for help in promoting the concert, they declined to participate because of Noa’s political views. The JN was the media sponsor for the concert.
“We respected that,” Yost said, “and we decided to continue on. Then we began to receive a lot of phone calls from individuals voicing significant displeasure with Noa’s appearance based on her political views and her ‘anti-Israel’ posture.
“Synagogue officers had a couple of conversations with a couple of individuals to get a feel for what they were looking for. They were communicating that the only thing acceptable to them as individuals was to cancel the concert; if not, [there would be the] possibility of protests, demonstrations and disruptions of the concert. This was a constant theme.”
From the conversations, Yost says, there was nothing on the level of a bomb threat and no use of the word “violent,” but the synagogue officers were concerned.
The synagogue’s Facebook page was then hit with about “250 negative posts from local and international addresses — all with the same theme: Cancel the concert,” Yost said. Some posts accused Adat Shalom of being “traitors” to the State of Israel.
Synagogue leaders consulted with Gary Sikorski, communitywide security expert for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, and talked with Farmington Hills police.
Federation’s policy is to offer security assistance to partner agencies and community organizations that request it. An organization’s decision to maintain or cancel a future event remains exclusively up to them, said Ted Cohen, Federation’s chief marketing officer.
Chief Chuck Nebus of the Farmington Hills Police Department said Adat Shalom reached out to request a police detail to cover the concert and told police the singer was controversial and that they’d had some threats. Nebus said the department did not give advice or tell them to cancel.
When it was determined the potential for a disruption could not be prevented, but only responded to, the synagogue’s executive committee made the unanimous decision to cancel the concert, Yost says.
“Our paramount desire is always the safety of members and the concertgoers,” Yost said.
Itamar Ilsar of West Bloomfield is part of a local Jewish group — comprised largely of Israelis and some American Jews — that opposed Noa’s presence because of her dovish political views. Ilsar said they did not make threats of violence and attempted to engage in a respectful and open dialogue with synagogue leaders to get them to cancel the concert.
As news of the cancellation spread through the community, reactions varied. An initial brief JN post on its website and Facebook page last Friday prompted 7,000 page views as of press time and a long thread of comments. People voiced doubts about how serious the threats to the concert actually were, spoke of censorship and the right to free speech and debated Noa’s role as an Israeli musical treasure or an anti-Israel agitator.
This post was picked up by the Times of Israel, JTA, Haaretz and Yediot Achronot, Israel’s largest newspaper by circulation. On Monday, the Times of Israel posted a blog by Noa titled “The Day They Let the Bullies Win.” It was the top opinion piece among the blogs and a JTA story about the issue was the fourth most-shared story on the website.
Noa is part of the “peace camp” in Israel. She has been outspoken in support of a two-state solution and Israeli-Arab co-existence. She has also voiced support for Israeli NGOs critical of the Israel Defense Forces and Israel’s actions in the West Bank.
The internationally known musician has appeared in Michigan many times. A quick glance at the Detroit Jewish News Foundation’s Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History shows Noa has performed here at least six times since 1994, with the latest concert in 2013 in Ann Arbor. The Detroit Federation has sponsored her concerts as well as the Jewish Community Center — nearly always in conjunction with Israel Independence Day. In 2008, she headlined a concert with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for Israel’s 60th anniversary.
Adat Shalom’s letter states, “Concerts such as this are part of Adat Shalom’s ongoing commitment to providing cultural and educational events to our members and to the community and are not intended to reflect political viewpoints.”
In an emailed statement to the JN, Noa said, “It is needless to say my concerts are not political manifestos; they are a celebration of the diversity and beauty of modern Israeli culture. After seven concerts in Detroit and thousands the world over, this should be known. Furthermore, I am certain the Jewish community has multiple mechanisms for dealing with security threats, both tangible and imaginary.
“Artists have always shed light on the deepest and most complex human emotion; they should be given wings to fly and inspire. I pray Jewish communities the world over return to the core value of ‘love your brother as you love yourself,’ and help shed light on an ailing world, as they have done throughout history.”
Still, Noa has faced opposition before for her political views.
In 2009, she was asked to represent Israel in the annual Eurovision Song Contest. She performed with Israeli Arab Mira Awad, singing “There Must Be Another Way.” Some objected to the pairing. The women also performed together in East Lansing (2010) and Detroit (2012), the latter at a JCC event in West Bloomfield honoring Douglas Bloom, then JCC president, and his wife, Barbara.
In 2012, a Facebook petition headed by Israelis called for a boycott of her for participating in an alternative Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day) ceremony organized by Combatants for Peace, which brought together both Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the conflict. Noa participated in this year’s ceremony in late April.
In 2016, the Jewish National Fund of Canada withdrew sponsorship of a Noa concert scheduled by the Jewish Federation of Vancouver for Yom Ha’Atzmaut reportedly because of concerns she supported the BDS movement that advocates boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. The Federation stuck with the concert, saying they were convinced Noa did not support BDS. Israel’s embassy in Ottawa and consulate in Toronto helped with funding after JNF dropped out.
At the time, Noa released a statement on Facebook, writing, “I am absolutely and completely against the BDS. I see it as a hypocritical movement full of contradictions who will not bring peace to Israel nor help the Palestinians achieve their goals; very much on the contrary.”
In January 2017, Noa posted a Facebook message blasting President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jewish-American supporters of both. Writing “Trump is a modern-day Hitler” and a “racist madman,” she also wrote that Netanyahu is “just as racist, narcisitic (sic) paranoid and vulgar as Trump” and a “hollow, racist, corrupt little nothing …”
Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of The Forward, wrote in a 2016 opinion piece that Noa’s “political awakening occurred Nov. 4, 1995, when moments after she performed at a massive peace rally in Tel Aviv, a Jewish radical pointed a gun on that very stage and assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. She decided that night to speak out as fearlessly as she could to promote the late prime minister’s policies.”
Last Saturday, on her Facebook page, Noa posted a Shabbat message “as a gentle reminder to all our friends in Detroit and elsewhere” that features a 2016 video greeting from the late Israeli President Shimon Peres to Noa on the 25th anniversary of her career. He praises her music as “the best music in the land.”
Moved To Action
What sparked action to shut down the concert from the self-described “large group of Israelis and American Jews, both liberals and conservatives who support both sides of the political map in Israel,” was that many of them learned of the upcoming concert while at the communitywide Yom HaZikaron program April 30 that commemorated IDF soldiers who died protecting Israel.
In a letter he posted on Adat Shalom’s Facebook page and circulated widely, Itamar Ilsar wrote, “I don’t even know where to start. My vision is still a bit blurry after watching a show about Yom HaZikaron and it’s hard for me to focus. Maybe start from the obvious, or what should be obvious: Adat Shalom means a congregation of peace.
“If you seek peace, please don’t host this singer in your synagogue. If you’re a member, please do some reading and research before buying your tickets.
“While Israel is a very diverse society with plenty of views, it would be fair to say that the overwhelming majority of Israelis want peace. People like Ms. Nini, however, represent a very small fraction of the Israeli society, and those who hold views and opinions like hers are considered very controversial. Yes, even in Israel.
“She is among those who call for an ‘alternative’ Memorial Day in Israel. Yes, where those who murdered innocent Israelis will be mentioned and remembered WITH their victims.
“If you want peace, don’t go to see her.
“Ms. Nini just recently called Mr. Trump ‘Hitler.’ While I can understand that some don’t like him and think he’s racist, I still can’t understand the comparison. A shameful one!
“Ms. Nini supports those who call Israel an apartheid state.
“If you support Israel, don’t go to this show. People like her fuel up the anti-Israeli propaganda. Are you part of this?”
Ilsar says his post and others put up by the group he’s part of were removed quickly from Adat Shalom’s Facebook page, prompting him to feel his voice was silenced.
Under sunny skies at Sunday’s annual Walk/Run for Israel at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, some discussed the canceled concert.
Longtime Hadassah leader Annette Meskin said many people came to her asking if the protests came from Arabs because the source of the threats was not made clear in Adat Shalom’s letter.
“ZOA decided not to take a stand on this one,” said Kobi Erez, ZOA director. “Even though there are different opinions [about her], at this time, we need to connect as a community rather than be divided.”
Mark Phillips of Oak Park, treasurer of Ameinu, a progressive Zionist organization, said, “It’s scary if you get threats through email, phone and Facebook; I don’t blame Adat Shalom. But if you don’t like Noa and her politics, don’t go. Go stand outside with signs and protest; that is your right.
“When I heard why Noa’s concert was canceled, I said we have to find a way to bring her here under Ameinu’s auspices,” said Phillips, who added that those at the Ameinu table on Sunday requested the DJ to play some music by Noa. “We are not all conservative; there are progressives. She’s outspoken. A lot of artists are outspoken. In this day and age, to hear a progressive talking about Israel is very rare.”
Ed Chudnow of West Bloomfield said, “It is sad and unfortunate that this concert was canceled. Bringing Israeli culture to our community is positive and beneficial. Letting politics get in the way forgets the Hillel statement, ‘ahavat Yisrael’ or ‘love every Jew.’ We need to learn to transcend our differences for the sake of Torah.”
David Yaari of West Bloomfield served in the IDF in the 1980s. He understands that when it comes to the conversation about Israel, inclusiveness of different opinions is important. However, Israelis such as Noa, who have outwardly aligned themselves with groups critical of Israel like Breaking the Silence, he said, should have no audience in a community looking to invite in a performer to celebrate Israel’s independence.
“As an artist, she can do and say whatever she wants and she can have whatever opinion she wants,” Yaari said as he participated in the Walk for Israel. “But if you are against the IDF, you should not be chosen to represent Israel at a concert. Breaking the Silence goes all over the place telling people how horrible the Israeli Army is. To me, there is no silence to break. And without the Israeli Army, there would be no Israel.”
Sidney Beck of West Bloomfield said, “My feeling is that honorable people should be able to differentiate a person’s politics from their artistic abilities. There are many Jewish performers whose politics I don’t agree with, but I can still enjoy them. Canceling the concert was a mark against free speech. I don’t like Jane Fonda’s politics — and I served in Vietnam — but I do enjoy her movies. I can separate it.”
Keri Guten Cohen
Story Development Editor
Contributing Writers Don Cohen and Stacy Gittleman contributed to this report.
UPDATE: LETTER WRITTEN BY ITAMAR ILSAR on behalf of a local group opposed to the Noa concert planned at Adat Shalom.
In a letter sent May 2nd, 2017 to local Jewish community leaders including Adat Shalom leadership, I raised the issue that Achinoam Nini is a controversial artist who has been using her name recognition to promote her extremist political agenda. The majority of Israelis on both sides of the mainstream political spectrum consider her beliefs to be outside the bounds of acceptable discourse, hostile, and offensive.
While we believe that every person and artist is entitled to voice their opinion, Ms. Nini has blurred the lines between what is an acceptable matter of opinion and what is outright propaganda. In the past few years it has been impossible to separate between the immensely talented artist and the divisive message she is trying to spread about Israel. Ms. Nini repeatedly uses controversial actions and language; compares leaders she disagrees with to Nazis and racists; serves on the board of an organization that financially supports anti-Israel groups such as “Breaking the silence”, deliberately omitting a verse about Israel’s return to Jerusalem in 1967 while performing the iconic song “Jerusalem of Gold” just to name a few examples.
I further stated that we were certain that Adat Shalom members, clergy, and board of directors would never knowingly promote an anti-Zionist statement. We feel that a synagogue that supports Israel might not be the best choice of venue for such an artist. Our goal as a group was to voice our concern and potentially avoid a situation in which a Zionist synagogue within our Jewish community is perceived to make a political statement about Israel.
The Hebrew term for synagogue, Beit Knesset, means “house of gathering.” Outside of Israel, this has a greater and more sacred meaning; a place in which Jews can unite and build a community. A place that advocates for peace, unity and Jewish and human values. We think that a Zionist synagogue is not the place for a performer so divisive and controversial.
None of us made any threats of violence – it’s worth mentioning that while Adat Shalom deleted concerned messages we posted and blocked us from their Facebook page, we still attempted to engage in a respectful and open dialogue. We are a large group of Israelis and American Jews, both liberals and conservatives who support both sides of the political map in Israel. The Israelis among us all served in the IDF, as did some of our American friends.
Our friends include members of Adat Shalom and we all support at least one Zionist or Jewish cause.
Our goal was that we, as a community, could come together and resolve this situation and move forward united as one people. Our approach, actions and language throughout this process were respectful, polite and positive.
Israel’s President recently said “Despite our differences, we are one nation – a Jewish and democratic nation – with responsibility for each other and the right to demand tolerance from each other.”
We are hopeful that these chain of events will bring us together, unite us as one and make us stronger as a community.
Am Yisrael Chai!