27 April 2017

Farewell Comrade Willem Johannes Meijs 12th April 1941—21st March 2017

Willem Meijs - A friend and fighter for Palestine and a better world

On 21st March, Willem Meijs, the husband of my dear friend Sue Blackwell, passed away in a hospice in the Dutch town of Hoorn.  Six days later I made my first foreign trip since having a liver transplant 18 months ago to pay my respects to Willem.  A decade ago I had broken off my holiday in Normandy to go to their wedding.  The time seemed to pass too quickly.

Willem was first and foremost an activist in the wider Palestine solidarity movement and a fighter for the oppressed and downtrodden of this world.  Sue, who initiated the academic boycott in Britain, found a partner who shared her passion for justice.  Willem was also great company.
Willem was  the heart and soul of our alternative choir at the Albert Hall some years ago when an alternative performance was given to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the Proms.  For the first time ever Radio 3 took the Proms off air rather than allow its listeners to hear peoples’ outrage at the visit of Israel’s musical ambassadors.

At the reception held afterwards I said a few words and read out a tribute from Debbie Fink, a member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, who was unable to be at the funeral.  Also below is a tribute from Naomi Wimborne-Iddrissi, who was also unable to attend.

From Debbie Fink, of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods:

I am sorry not to be here with you all today.

I knew Willem for over ten years through Sue and their involvement in the Palestine Solidarity movement. I have many fond memories of him. Sue & Willem treated me like family, particularly when I stayed with them in Hoorn in 2012 after their fifth wedding anniversary and in Clare, Suffolk, their other home, in 2015. They were very hospitable and took me on sightseeing tours in both places and we shared many tasty meals.

They also stayed at my place, one notable occasion being after we had disrupted the Israel Philarmonic Orchestra as part of the uninvited choir at the Royal Albert Hall, with Sue's parody of Ode to Joy- Ode to Boycott. We had each carried a letter in spelling 'Free Palestine'. Apparently Willem held his letter up the wrong way! We stayed up most of the night, watching Sue send off news releases, & went out for a hearty brunch the next day.
Willem on a demonstration in Amsterdam on 3rd January 2009 against the bombing of Gaza in Operation Cast Lead
Prior to this historical occasion, we recorded a longer version of 'Ode to Boycott' in my flat to be posted on YouTube: Willem singing the tenor line, Sue & Naomi sharing the alto line and myself on soprano.

This was not the only recording we made in my flat. A few years later, Willem and I recorded another parody of Sue's: 'End Apartheid', to the tune of 'Nessum Dorma' by Puccini which we had sung at a demonstration against UEFA, pleading that the finals would not be staged in Israel.

I also spent time with them in their house in Southall and on Boycott Israel Network conferences. At one of these, Willem wrote out the words to 'On the Street where you live' which he had played a recording of him singing, as I was planning to sing it to a man I liked! He called it 'The stalking song from My Fair Lady'.

Sue and Willem were a double act. I will miss his humour, his voice and contribution to the Palestine solidarity movement.
A fond farewell - from Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
I must apologise most humbly for not being with Sue and Willem’s other loving family and friends to say farewell to the most genial and supportive of comrades.

I’m pretty confident that Willem would have accepted my excuses – no doubt with a wink and an affectionate reprimand - if I were able to communicate with him about the reason for my absence. For some weeks now, a number of us have 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 has come into play, and this project is being launched publicly on this very day, March 27, in London. News of it should emerge while you are all gathered in Hoorn in Willem’s honour.

Not only did Willem devote himself to supporting Sue in her tireless campaigning efforts. He too put his shoulder to the wheel and applied his talents when called upon.
This was taken at the Boycott Israel Network Conference 2011 where the protest at the Prom against the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was re-enacted
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 tenor.

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.
This was taken at the Boycott Israel Network Conference 2011 where the protest at the Prom against the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was re-enacted
He and Debbie performed together again at another protest, in June 2013, braving unseasonably wet and windy weather to sing another one of Sue’s parodies to the tune of NessumDorma, 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.
Willem and Debbie performing outside a Park Lane hotel where UEFA was meeting. 
It is desperately sad to have to say farewell to Willem long before he should have left us.

Ik ben ontzettend trots om hem als  vriend te kunnen noemen.

Veel liefs,


Below are a series of photos that were taken after the funeral in Willem's home town of Hoorn

Hoorn's harbour

Hoorn's harbour

statues sitting on harbour wall

Sue and her daughter Jazwinder
Dennis and Tony Greenstein 

Dennis from Cambridge PSC, Sue and Jaz

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