Rabin murder gave Noa voice to spread his peace message
Jewish Telegraph, March, 2006
ACHINOAM Nini’s life changed dramatically on November 4, 1995. The Israeli singer — known around the world as Noa — had performed at a peace rally in support of the Oslo Accords at the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv.
But tragedy struck as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir at the end of the rally.
“As a young person I was just not aware of the situation that was going on in Israel at all,” 46-year-old Noa told me from Italy.
“I was just focused on my music and my career. But the turning point was the murder of Rabin.
“From that moment, I decided to dedicate more of my time and energy to finishing his job of trying to get people to understand that peace is the only way and a two-state solution is the only way.”
Noa added: “I don’t make political statements in order to be noticed by people; I make them from a very valued driven place in my heart.
“Sometimes people relate to me because of it, sometimes I’m shunned because of it.”
Shunned is a polite way to describe her treatment by JNF in Canada.
Noa had been invited to perform at an Israel Independence Day celebration in Vancouver, but JNF pulled its sponsorship of the event over her appearance.
But, as we reported last week, Israel’s embassy in Ottawa and consulate in Toronto stepped in to ensure her appearance at the event on May 11.
JNF CEO Josh Cooper said in a statement: “The entertainer that has been hired does not reflect, nor correspond to the mandate and values of the Jewish National Fund of Canada.”
But Noa told me: “I don’t take these things personally.
“It angers me, but I don’t feel hurt by them because I understand that it is not really about me.
“There is a huge battle going on for the soul of Israel and there are two sides. There are some who believe Israel should be going in one direction and others who feel it should be going in another.
“I believe in the direction related to work being done by the New Israel Fund, another organisation striding for a democratic, open society with equal rights for all.
“Others don’t see it that way. These forces pull in opposite directions and I get caught in the crossfire because I’m outspoken about my views and, unfortunately, not many artists are.”
The mother-of-three added: “I’m pleased about the intervention of the Israeli embassy and their support for this performance.
“It shows there are many voices in Israel, not just one, and we should be supporting those voices who call for a democratic state with respect for all citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish.”
She claimed that JNF Canada’s decision was to appease some of their right-wing donors.
“They have become a political organisation — which they should not be,” Noa said.
“Keren Kayemet Le’Israel (KKL) has expressed its objection to JNF Canada’s actions.”
Noa strenuously denies she is anti-Israel. As she pointed out: “I support the country, but I don’t support its government.
“The present government and its policies are very problematic and I’m a critic of these policies — the ones that are anti-democratic.
“It is my duty to call out when I feel that my country is going in a direction that I can’t reconcile with.”
She added: “I spend most of my time making music, touring and raising my three children.
“But when things cross my path that I think I have a role to play, a statement to make and an ability to change people’s points of view, be it through musical collaborations with Arab artists from around the world, demonstrations, blogs, articles and interviews, then I do that.”
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that music is Noa’s career.
She was born in the Israeli city of Bat Yam to a Yemeni-Jewish family, but the family moved to New York City when she was two. She returned to Israel at 16 and spent her IDF service in the military entertainment troupe.
She studied music at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon, where she met her long-time collaborator Gil Dor.
The pair released their debut Israeli album in 1993 before Noa landed a worldwide deal with Geffen Records, leading to the release of Noa in 1994.
Her latest album, Love Medicine, was released last year.
“Some people focus on my political statements and some focus on the music,” she said.
“I was never Madonna. I was never filling stadiums. There are a certain amount of people interested in my music and some of them are interested in some of the things I have to say.
“A large part of my public is extremely supportive of my work for human rights and feel it is a coherent part of how they see me and themselves.”
In 2009, Noa — who is married to pediatrician Asher Barak — represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow with Arab-Israeli singer Mira Awad.
They finished in 16th place with the song There Must Be Another Way, but Noa still regards the experience as a success.
“Our message reached millions of people throughout the world,” she told me.
“Even though we received objections from extremists on both sides, right and left, the vast majority of moderates, people who want to live together and try to understand each other and live and not die, were positive about our message.
“To the credit of Israel, they agreed to all my conditions — as I was the one chosen to represent Israel.
“The conditions were that I travel together with Mira, write my own song, have it translated into Arabic and Hebrew, and sing it in Arabic, Hebrew and English.”
Noa wasn’t surprised by the backlash against her and Mira.
She explained: “There is no way of avoiding trouble. I don’t know anyone who has anything interesting or significant in this world in any field where there have not been objections to their actions.
“If you are going to do something courageous, there will be people who don’t like it.
“I’m proud of the objections because that means we were doing something important. We were marking another path that people hadn’t thought of before.
“We received an enormous amount of support, a large part from young Arab people who sent us emails and through Facebook.”
The story received worldwide attention with TV coverage on BBC Iraq and al Jazeera, along with articles in newspapers such as the New York Times.
“It made a huge impact, more important than the few loudmouths who objected,” Noa said. “We were sending out a message of hope. We weren’t trying to beautify the situation. It is definitely not a beautiful situation.
“We are trying to say that when people work together and reach out to each other, anything is possible and there must be another way that is not violent, hatred or wall building.”
No matter what Noa does with her career, the tragic events of November 4, 1995 will always be on her mind.
“I had performed for Rabin many times,” she said. “I knew him and his family. I sang at a lot of events after his assassination including in Oslo and at the White House with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
“I was close to the family when Leah passed away. I had met her and sang for her.”
She added: “I think about Rabin a lot and quote him often.
“One of his quotes was ‘We have to fight terror as if there were no peace talks, and we have to pursue peace as if there were no terror’. That’s one of the things that has shaped my philosophies and actions. I admired his courage and his personal integrity.”
Noa is currently touring Europe, arriving in the UK later this month for two shows.
She plays two shows at London’s Arts Theatre on March 20 before heading north for a gig at the Academy 2 in Manchester the following night.
Two days before the London show, she will be appearing at the capital’s Jewish community centre, JW3, for an ‘In Conversation With’ event.
What can audiences expect from her concerts?
“A wonderful show,” Noa laughed. “It’s a very acoustic performance, just Gil and myself — but we produce an enormous variety of sounds.
“Gil is a versatile guitarist and genius. He’s been my musical collaborator for 25 years now. I also play percussion.”
She continued: “The songs will be in English, Hebrew and a little Yemenite.
“The show will be a little bit of a personal journey. Through the songs, a story will unfold which I hope will engross the audience and give them something to think very deeply about.”
With anti-Israel sentiments on the rise, Noa reported that she has faced abuse at shows.
She described an incident at the Barbican in London when “I was singing with my eyes closed and two guys jumped on stage and started shouting ‘Free Palestine’.
“I was very jolted by that. It was emotionally shattering. I managed to continue the concert, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.
“People yell out other things at me. I’ve been attacked by BDS supporters, who have demonstrated outside my concerts. They have no tolerance with anyone associated with the State of Israel or who does not shun the State of Israel.
“I can criticise policies, I can criticise governments, but I am not going to burn my passport for it. For them that is unacceptable, so they have given me some trouble.
“It’s ridiculous because, as I try to say to them, I have been working indefatigably for peace over the years, for a two-state solution, for the rights of the Palestinian people, so I don’t understand what they are trying to achieve by trying to shut my mouth if they believe in peace.”
She added: “BDS has become anti-Israel, not pro-Palestinian. It’s tragic because I respect the rights of Palestinians to live side by side with Israel — not at the expense of Israel, but alongside — and if that means a compromise, it means a compromise on all sides.
“Palestinians must give up their dreams of a whole Palestine and the annihilation of Israel and Israelis must give up their dreams of a whole Israel including the ‘occupied territories’.
“It’s possible. There are enough partners for this idea. I’ve been working towards that so I find it difficult to understand why they are boycotting me.”
On a lighter note, Noa explained how her moniker came about.
“The idea came from Paul Berger, the head of Sony UK.
“Noa is his daughter’s name. My name is a complicated Hebrew name, so he suggested Noa as it is in the middle of Achinoam.
“I only embraced it when I read the biblical story around Noa, one of the daughters of Zelophehad. Achinoam means ‘sister of peace’ and is also a biblical character, but when I learned that Noa was the first feminist in the bible, I could stand beside that.
“Noa also stands for ‘Not Only Achinoam’, which is reflective of my own philosophy. I recognise the team around me. It is not about anyone’s ego. It’s higher than that.”
She described Israel as an “incredibly courageous place” and praised its high-tech and film industries.
Noa also praised the country’s jazz scene and Israeli music which goes “under the radar”.
She revealed that she had been in talks with Kobi Farhi, lead singer of Israeli rock band Orphaned Land, about a collaboration, “but it never came to fruition”.