Lorde performing live last year. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

An Israeli rights group is suing two New Zealanders over an open letter they penned and published online urging pop star Lorde to cancel a performance in Israel in protest at the country's human rights record.

The legal action appeared to be the first filed in accordance with a controversial anti-boycott law passed in 2011 designed to encourage civil lawsuits.

Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab wrote the open letter to Lorde, in which they encouraged the Royals singer to "join the artistic boycott of Israel".

Lorde, whose real name is Ella Yelich-O'Connor, cancelled the show a few days later after responding directly to the letter. She said: "Noted! Been speaking [with] many people about this and considering all options.

"Thank [you] for educating me. I am learning all the time too."

Israeli rights group Shurat HaDin filed the lawsuit in Jerusalem on Tuesday (20 January) on behalf of three Lorde fans who were hoping to attend the concert. It is claiming roughly $16,000 (£11,300) in damages.

The suit claims that Sachs and Abu-Shanab knew their letter could trigger a boycott, making them liable for action under the 2011 law.

"This lawsuit is an effort to give real consequences to those who selectively target Israel and seek to impose an unjust and illegal boycott against the Jewish state," Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer and the group's head, said.

"They must be held to compensate Israeli citizens for the moral and emotional injury and the indignity caused by their discriminatory actions."

Lorde is one of a number of artists who have boycotted Israel over the years. They include musicians Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Massive Attack and Faithless plus filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Ken Loach.

Loach famously clashed with British band Radiohead over a gig they played in Israel last summer. "Radiohead need to decide if they stand with the oppressed or the oppressor. The choice is simple," he said.

Frontman Thom Yorke responded: "Playing in a country isn't the same as endorsing its government. We don't endorse [Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu any more than Trump."