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Three teenage Israeli fans of the popstar Lorde have filed a lawsuit claiming thousands of pounds in “emotional injury” damages against two New-Zealand-based activists for allegedly convincing her to cancel a performance in Tel Aviv.

The case, filed by an Israeli legal rights group, appears to be the first use of a controversial law passed in 2011 that allows civil suits to be opened against those calling for a boycott against Israel.

The New Zealanders Justine Sachs, a Jew, and Nadia Abu-Shanab, who comes from a Palestinian family, wrote an open letter to Lorde last month in which they urged her to “take a stand” and “join the artistic boycott of Israel”.

The women said they were activists working for “an end to Israeli apartheid” and believed “an economic, intellectual and artistic boycott is an effective way of speaking out”.

“A performance in Israel sends the wrong message,” they wrote to the singer-songwriter. “Playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government, even if you make no comment on the political situation.”

Lorde replied to a tweet of the letter saying: “Noted! Been speaking [with] many people about this and considering all options. Thank u for educating me i am learning all the time too.” She cancelled her planned 2018 show less than a week later.

The Israeli law group Shurat HaDin filed the suit in Jerusalem on Tuesday for around £9,000 in damages for what it said was “emotional injury”.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the claim was the first to show a direct link between the call for a boycott and the “harm” caused.

“These girls [the teenagers] are ideologists. They are going into the army next year, and they feel very shamed and hurt by the allegations that the New Zealand activists blamed Israel for,” she said.

“They want to say on a personal and an international level, that those who boycott Israel or make a call to boycott Israel will be responsible and they have to pay,” she said, adding that agreements between the two states compelled New Zealand to enforce the ruling.

Responding to the suit, Sachs wrote on Twitter that the move was a “stupid stunt”.

justine 🌹
Israel the only “democracy” in the Middle East where New Zealanders get sued for exercising their freedom of speech… New Zealand

January 30, 2018
Later, the two activists said in a statement they had initially thought the claim of legal action was a hoax and had not yet received a summons or legal notice. They accused Israel of attempting to suppress its critics.

They wrote: “Today we’ve been overwhelmed with supportive messages from across New Zealand and the world. New Zealanders value fairness and being able to think for ourselves as a country. We won’t be told what to say. Instead of scaring us, these bullying tactics only embolden us and make it self-evident that there is a right and wrong in this situation.”

The Law for Prevention of Damage to State of Israel through Boycott was passed to counter the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, a global pressure campaign focusing on ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Critics warned that the law would stifle free expression, although it has not been used until now.