VANCOUVER – The Jewish National Fund of Canada has withdrawn its support for an upcoming Yom Ha’atzmaut performance in Vancouver by left-wing Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, who is being accused of supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against the Jewish state.
In a statement, JNF Canada CEO Josh Cooper said his organization is taking a one-year hiatus from its tradition of co-sponsoring the Yom Ha’atzmaut event with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver (JFGV), “due to the views of the entertainment booked for this year’s celebration. The entertainer that has been hired does not reflect nor correspond to the mandate and values of the Jewish National Fund of Canada.”
Last June, the JNF’s U.S. branch co-sponsored a concert with the local Jewish federation in Cincinnati featuring Nini and Israeli-Arab singer Mira Awad.
When asked where specifically Nini – known as Noa – diverged from JNF Canada’s mandate, Cooper said: “JNF/KKL has offices in 48 countries. While we all work together in Israel, we operate independent of each other in our respective countries.”
Nini – who has voiced support in the past for B’Tselem, a group that monitors human rights in the West Bank, and Breaking the Silence, which is critical of IDF actions in the territory – steadfastly denies supporting the BDS movement.
Her upcoming Vancouver appearance is drawing some strong reactions.
An online petition titled “Stop Achinoam Nini from performing at our Yom Haatzmaut celebration” had 231 signatures as of last week.
And on Feb. 18, Richmond, B.C., realtor Arnold Shuchat expressed his “complete opposition to the decision to engage the controversial artist” in an open letter to the federation’s board of directors and its CEO Ezra Shanken.
“The purpose of a Jewish community event should be to marshal and unify our community as opposed to fragment it,” Shuchat wrote on his Facebook page. “It had to be obvious to any reasonable person who might have investigated her political positions that she would be a polarizing figure to many in the community. This decision is a regressive and irresponsible one and should be reversed as quickly as possible to prevent damage to both the reputation and fundraising ability of our federation.”
Shuchat’s letter was reposted by a group called Vancouver United with Israel. Its only online presence is a Facebook page that as of Feb. 18 had almost 400 likes, up from 35 earlier this month when the Jerusalem Post ran a story on how it denounced the federation for inviting Nini. The Post later removed the story from its website after Nini’s management issued a statement denying her support for BDS.
Cynthia Ramsay, publisher of the Jewish Independent, a Jewish weekly in Vancouver, said she’s received several letters and emails about Nini. “Every person who’s tried to get me to run a letter or has CCed me on an email to federation has the exact – and I mean exact – same two points: she supports B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, and she’s anti-Israel or pro-BDS,” Ramsay said.
“No one has provided any evidence… to support their [BDS] allegations, some of which are even nastier and also with zero proof. Because of the wording of most people’s emails/letters, I think it’s a chain reaction. Everyone’s just repeating what they’ve heard from someone else without doing any research of their own,” Ramsay said.
“I think it would be very sad if federation withdrew its invitation or if Nini declined it because of the controversy it’s causing, which I think is unmerited.”
Shuchat told The CJN that the issue isn’t about BDS. “This has been very divisive, because [Nini is] very controversial, she’ll offend a lot of people and it was very foreseeable that this would happen. She’s polarizing, so it was a dumb decision to invite her… Federation should cancel the engagement and focus on building a cohesive community.”
In a statement, the JFGV said it was “disappointed” by the JNF’s decision. “JNF has been a valued sponsor our Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration for many years, and we look forward to welcoming them back next year.”