A tribute to Willem Meijs



Willem Meijs appears here with J-BIG co-founder Deborah Fink, putting his fine singing voice at the service of the Palestinian cause.

A Tribute from Naomi

It was with huge regret that I was unable to join Willem’s other loving family and friends to say farewell to the most genial and supportive of comrades at his funeral in the Netherlands on Monday March 27.

I’m pretty confident that Willem would have accepted my excuses – no doubt with a wink and an affectionate reprimand – if I had been able to communicate with him about the reason for my absence. For some weeks a number of us had been hard at work on a major project to expose attempts to demonise us all simply for trying to call Israel to account for its injustices against Palestinians. Sod’s law came into play, and this project was launched publicly on the very day in question, March 27, in London. News of it should have emerged during the gathering in Hoorn in Willem’s honour.

Not only did Willem devote himself to supporting his wife Sue Blackwell in her tireless campaigning efforts. He too put his shoulder to the wheel and applied his talents when called upon.

Most famously, he joined Sue and me and Deborah in performing Sue’s alternative wording for Beethoven’s great “Ode to Joy” as our highbrow contribution to protests at London’s celebrated Royal Albert Hall in September 2011. The occasion was a promenade concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, acting as a cultural ambassador for the state of Israel. This attracted protests outside the hall and also within, where more than 30 of us deployed ourselves with military precision.

Sue’s “Ode to Joy” rang out from high up in the choir stalls early in the concert, followed by other interruptions later on,  taking the BBC’s radio broadcast off the air the first time in the 75 year history of the Proms and making headline news around the world.

Separately we recorded ourselves singing in three-part harmony – Debbie the soprano, Sue and I altos and Willem the baritone.

It made me smile while preparing this message to hear his voice and see his name on the YouTube clip that he uploaded proudly after the event.

He and Debbie performed together again at later protest, in June 2013, braving unseasonably wet and windy weather to sing another one of Sue’s parodies to the tune of Nessum Dorma, outside a Park Lane hotel where European football’s governing body UEFA was meeting. This time the issue was UEFA’s decision to hold its under-21 men’s football final in Israel, in defiance of the Palestinian boycott.

It is desperately sad to have to say farewell to Willem long before he should have left us.



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