Sinead O’Connor told Israel’s Itamar Ben Gvir his 'soul had failed' after death threat
Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, who died on Wednesday aged 56, wrote a letter to Itamar Ben Gvir, now Israel’s far-right national security minister, condemning him and his group for threatening to kill her.
The incident happened weeks after O’Connor cancelled a planned concert in Jerusalem in June 1997, organised by Palestinian and Israeli women to promote the idea of the city as a shared capital. The death threats were claimed by Jewish supremacist group the Ideological Front.
The Irish singer was one of the most famous names in music after her cover of Prince's Nothing Compares 2 U topped the charts worldwide in 1990. She became a Muslim in 2018 and changed her name to Shuhada Sadaqat.
Ben Gvir, who was then a leading member of the Ideological Front, had appeared on Israeli radio after the cancellation. O’Connor said in an open letter that he “gloated” about his “'success' in preventing my appearance”.
She added: "I have some things to say in response to your organisation's recent threat upon my life.
“I have always had the most passionate love for the Jewish people, and sorrow for what they have suffered throughout the centuries," she wrote, adding that she had studied Jewish traditions.
O’Connor recalled as a child watching TV on Christmas Eve and seeing "Israeli and Palestinian men beating each other in the streets of the very birthplace of their faiths.
"How can there be peace anywhere on Earth if there is not peace in Jerusalem?" she asked Ben Gvir.
The letter then quoted the Book of Exodus from the Old Testament: "If you will obey me faithfully and keep my covenant... You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
'Right-wing Jewish groups threatened to kill myself and my band. I’m not prepared to die for anyone else’s bullshit'
- Sinead O'Connor
O'Connor also told Ben Gvir to remember the Third and Sixth Commandments: "You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God" and "You shall not murder."
Her letter ended with a warning for Ben Gvir: "God does not reward those who bring terror to the children of the world. SO YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED IN NOTHING BUT YOUR SOUL'S FAILURE."
O’Connor’s planned appearance at the Sharing Jerusalem Two Capitals for Two States festival, which was supported by the British embassy, enraged right-wing Israelis who wanted to cement Israeli control over Jerusalem’s eastern neighbourhoods, which have been occupied by Israel since 1967.
Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem’s mayor at the time, called the festival a "provocation" and "anti-Israel propaganda". Olmert, who later became prime minister, has recently warned that Israel is descending into civil war because of highly controversial judicial reforms that are being pushed by Ben Gvir and his far-right coalition partners.
O’Connor would later say of the incident: “It was a gig that had been organised by a bunch of Palestinian and Israeli women to campaign for this idea of sharing the place basically, and right-wing Jewish groups threatened to kill myself and my band. I’m not prepared to die for anyone else’s bullshit, nor am I prepared to put my band at risk, so we didn’t go.”
Ben Gvir has risen to be one of Israel’s most recognisable - and controversial - politicians. He heads the far-right Jewish Power party and now wields considerable control as a minister overseeing police and other security forces in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
Supporter of the Palestinian cause
Even before the incident in 1997, O’Connor was a backer of the Palestinian cause and has been known to fly the Palestinian flag at her concerts.
She played two gigs at the Israeli resort city of Caesarea in 1995. During the visit she attracted controversy by getting in a scuffle with two photographers near Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
'Nobody with any sanity, including myself, would have anything but sympathy for the Palestinian plight'
- Sinead O'Connor
In 2014, she stopped planning another concert in Caesarea after heeding calls to respect the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for a cultural boycott of Israel in response to its occupation of Palestinian lands.
O’Connor had been negotiating to play the gig, demanding Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians from the occupied territories were able to attend and perform alongside her.
“That was a bit of a hot potato and not settled, when someone who had no business doing so sneakily released the information saying it was confirmed, which it never was,” she told Irish music and politics magazine Hot Press.
“At the same time, musicians are notoriously stupid/ignorant people and I didn’t realise - nor was I told by my booking agent or anyone else - that if I stepped foot there I would in fact be breaking this cultural boycott and may as well be shitting all over the Palestinian people.
"They were very well aware of the situation but they didn’t fill me in when they were trying to convince me for a year to do the gig.
“Anyway, the next thing I’m the subject of abuse from everybody left, right and centre because I’m somehow sanctioning what’s happening to the Palestinian people - which I’m not. I’m not going to go there because it’s a shithole, but in a way I feel sorry for the young people on each side of the situation who, because of a conflict that they did not cause, cannot have any type of normal life including music and musicians.”
O’Connor said that she has previously been accused of being a supporter of the Israeli authorities, but “nothing could be further from the truth”.
“Let’s just say that, on a human level, nobody with any sanity, including myself, would have anything but sympathy for the Palestinian plight. There’s not a sane person on earth who in any way sanctions what the fuck the Israeli authorities are doing,” she told Hot Press.
Speaking about the 1995 Caesarea concerts, she said: “There wasn’t a boycott and it wasn’t what you might call ‘a big deal’ and you weren’t fucking anyone over if you went. I actually hated the place so fucking much. I found it one of the most aggressive places I’ve ever been. I still have quite a scar from a photographer shoving his camera right into my chest.
“It’s the only place I’ve ever been that I never wanted to go back to. Consequentially for the last 25 years whenever anything about Israel came on the news, I’d literally turn it off. As far as I was concerned Israel did not exist. So I didn’t keep up at all with anything that was going on there. It’s just a bad word to me, ‘Israel’,” she added.
Converting to Islam
O’Connor had spoken about her appreciation for Jewish people and the Jewish faith.
When she converted to Islam, she said: “All scripture study leads to Islam. Which makes all other scriptures redundant.
"I started studying scriptures from different religions, trying to find the 'truth' about God… I never thought I would join a religion, but I left Islam until last because I had so much prejudice about Islam,” she told Irish television in 2019.
"But then when I started reading, and I read just chapter two alone of the Quran, and I realised, 'Oh my God, I am home',” she said. "I had been a Muslim all my life and didn't realise it.”