A slight sense of unease over admirable Ardern

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: AP/Vincent Thian

COMMENT

Despite New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemning the Christchurch massacre and showing strong support for the Muslim community, she has remained quiet this week after a prominent Muslim leader accused Mossad and Zionist businesses as being behind the attacks, writes Sophie Deutsch.

IN the aftermath of the Christchurch mosques massacre, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stands as a beacon of hope and a true force to be reckoned with.

Amid collective mourning on an international scale, Ardern has responded to the tragedy with great strength and empathy – her expression of solidarity most powerfully reflected when she donned a black hijab to console the grieving, conveying her heartfelt compassion with an underlying sentiment that all people of faith should remain free to practise their religion openly without fearing discrimination, bigotry or violence.

But more than these outward displays of solidarity, Ardern has followed her thoughts and prayers with hard-hitting action. At a media conference the day after the attacks, the Prime Minister flagged changes to the country’s gun control legislation. “While work has been done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun licence and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now: our gun laws will change,” she said.

The following Thursday, Ardern announced an immediate nationwide ban on assault rifles and military-style semi-automatics, with a possible Howard-style buyback firearms policy.

Contrast Arden’s swift action-focused response with US President Donald Trump’s lack thereof following the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting last year. Sending the stock standard response of ‘thoughts and prayers’ to the Pittsburgh community, Trump then made no bold attempts to clamp down on America’s gun licensing.

An opinion piece published in Haaretz, penned by professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, Ronald Linden, who also lives in Squirrel Hill where the fateful attack took place, reveals an overwhelming attitude of disenchantment. “The sentiments behind the worst antisemitic atrocity in American history have been legitimised and weaponised by cowardly, unprincipled political leaders who will now fall all over themselves to send their thoughts and prayers,” wrote Linden. “Keep those facile words.”

Time and time again well-intended wishes are rendered rather meaningless when an opportunity for action and change exists, but such opportunity fails to be acted on.

Just as New Zealand has turned to Australia as a source of inspiration to reform its gun control laws, perhaps the US could take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book. While a nationwide firearms buyback is unlikely to prove successful in the US – where a uniquely proud gun culture appears to prevail over human safety and common dignity – not to mention the virtual impossibility of implementing a buyback scheme on a significantly larger geographical scale – gun lobbyists could learn a thing or two from Ardern’s determination, political resolve and moral clarity.

In striving to protect those at risk of being vilified, targeted or persecuted at the hands of neo-Nazis, Ardern powerfully conveys this sentiment through embodying traditionally “feminine” traits we are not typically accustomed to seeing in our world leaders. Being vulnerable and compassionate, yet strong-willed and tough, can co-exist harmoniously and even enrich each other.

But while Ardern’s proactive, compassionate approach is to be commended – and the changes being instituted in New Zealand will help to protect Muslims, Jews, Christians and all believers in a free democracy – her track record as Prime Minister is not without its blemishes. In May last year, Ardern condemned Israel’s “disproportionate force” in Gaza, but did not condemn Hamas for its actions, nor its investment in terrorism, New Zealand’s Israeli embassy said at the time.

Speaking to The AJN earlier this week, spokesperson for the New Zealand Jewish Council Juliet Moses remarked, “Her comment about the devastating one-sided loss of life after the worst day on the Gaza–Israel border last year was a poor choice of words … I don’t think she fully understood the nature of the threat to Israel.”

Given her background as a leader from the left side of politics and the former head of the international socialist movement, Ardern is probably not inclined to look upon Israel particularly favourably, says Moses. “She’s not antisemitic though,” insists Moses. “When she was MP I met with her and she was pretty sympathetic to Jewish concerns.” Ardern nonetheless remained noticeably quiet after the Pittsburgh attack, when countries including Australia, France and Holland to name just a few, and even Iran and Turkey, issued statements of condemnation or solidarity, but on the small, island country in the southwest Pacific, there fell a deafening silence.

Adding insult to injury and returning to the current issue at hand, Ardern, in contrast to the Jewish and broader community, has failed to condemn the chairman of an Auckland mosque, Ahmed Bhamji, for recently suggesting Mossad was behind the Christchurch attack.

At a rally in Auckland on Saturday, Bhamji said he had a strong suspicion “Zionist business houses” and Mossad provided funding to Australian gunman Brenton Tarrant, enabling the murder of 50 innocent lives and injuring dozens more.

Bhamji announced to the crowd, “I will not mince my words. I stand here and I say I have a very very strong suspicion that there is some group behind him and I am not afraid to say I feel Mossad is behind this.”

A frenzy of outrage has followed suit. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission tweeted, “Prejudice against Jewish people has no place in New Zealand. We must condemn racism, hate and anti-semitism whenever we see it,” and Roy Lodge took to the social media platform too. “This is disgusting – I do hope the prime minister of NZ shows leadership to strongly denounce this too”.

Lodge’s plea, one of many, seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Ardern, thus far, has said nothing on the issue.

“Where is @jacindaardern to stand up to anti-Semitism? She is so vocal on this issue except when it comes to the Jews. Very, very disappointing.” tweeted @adirshiffman, and @thedailymoff similarly queried, “Where is the Great Redeemer’s (Ardern) push back.”

Ardern’s questionable approach to issues concerning the Jewish people and Israel leaves me feeling uneasy, but does not make her initially outstanding response to the Christchurch massacre any less admirable.

I would hope, were a similar tragedy against Jews to occur on New Zealand soil, that Ardern would respond with the same level of compassion, decency and humanity she has extended to the Muslim community. My instinct tells me she probably would, but with her swift crackdown on violent manifestations of extremism, I’m hopeful that my suspicions will never be put to the test.

Sophie Deutsch is The AJN‘s NSW arts editor.