NZ Jewry – A small but proud community

IN the last two years, the New Zealand Jewish community has faced significant challenges, especially its government’s co-sponsorship of UN Security Council resolution 2334, and the singer Lorde cancelling her Tel Aviv concert in response to BDS pressure.

However, while small and remote, members of the community continue to be active in holding politicians and the media to account, building relationships and combating antisemitism in all its ugly forms.

The New Zealand Jewish community is remote and tiny. In the 2013 census, 6867 people identified as having a Jewish affiliation, out of a population of 4.5 million.

New Zealand’s co-sponsorship of UNSC resolution 2334 profoundly distressed its Jewish, Christian and broader communities. Among other things, the “anti-settlement resolution” labelled all of East Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall, as occupied Palestinian territory.

Less than a year later, the National (centre right) government was defeated by Labour, who came into power by entering into a coalition with New Zealand First, whose leader Winston Peters became Foreign Minister.

Before the election, Peters was an outspoken critic of resolution 2334, exposing that, in a breach of procedure, the resolution had not been approved by Cabinet. But the hope that with Peters in power, the government’s stance on Israel would be more favourable has not yet been realised, certainly in terms of the country’s voting at the UN.

Late last year New Zealand abstained from the UNGA resolution to determine whether its resolution condemning Hamas would require a two-thirds majority. The two-thirds majority resolution passed, meaning the resolution condemning Hamas (which New Zealand voted for) failed.

As for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, after the worst day of casualties on the Gaza border in May 2018, she condemned the “devastating, one-sided loss of life” and said it showed that concerns about the US embassy move were warranted. In contrast to many other leaders, she failed to issue a public statement after the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, saying in private correspondence it was Peters’ responsibility, who also failed to do so. She did, however, release a video statement for Chanukah, and other government ministers have attended other events, such as Chanukah and Yom Hashoah.

The Minister of Defence has just met with PM Netanyahu in Israel, who said, “We have very friendly relations with New Zealand. We’d like to make them even friendlier on all matters – economy, security and diplomacy.”

On another positive note, the National Party has sought to repair the damage of its co-sponsorship of resolution 2334, and its MP Alfred Ngaro has reincarnated the Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group. Ngaro, of Cook Islands descent, had a Jewish grandmother, and is a staunch ally.

Israel advocates continue to work on building cross-party relationships. The Auckland synagogue hosted a group of National and Labour MPs for Shabbat dinner last year.

The Green Party – whose MPs have accused Israel of genocide and apartheid – is New Zealand’s most openly anti-Israel party. Co-leader Marama Davison participated in a Gaza flotilla in 2016. However, a Labour MP – Duncan Webb – is the chief advocate in Parliament for BDS.

BDS activists in New Zealand had “success” when, at the end of 2017, they convinced the singer Lorde to cancel her show in Tel Aviv. One of the young women who wrote an open letter to Lorde imploring her to cancel is a Jewish anti-Zionist. Also last year, BDS activists disrupted screenings of a documentary about David Ben-Gurion, in one case planting ticking devices in the theatre, causing it to be evacuated. Currently, a group is urging a boycott and picket of the Jerusalem Quartet which is performing at a music festival.

Other examples of antisemitism included two leaflet drops last year in different cities – one promoting Holocaust denial, and another the idea that antisemitism is a “smear term used to intimidate anyone trying to tell the truth about Jews”. A singer speaking onstage at televised music awards last year ranted about Israel, before crying, “Death to all oppressors!”

There are ongoing outreach efforts with the Muslim community, which is smaller than Australia’s. However, in 2016 and 2017, videos emerged from Auckland mosques in which sheikhs made statements including that Jews are “the enemy of the Muslims”, denying the Holocaust and saying that Quds Day was established “to deal a powerful punch to the mouth of the cancerous tumour known as evil Israel”.

However, advocacy is improving. There have been some successes in holding the media to account and providing more balance, helped by pro-Israel blog Shalom.Kiwi, which is sometimes picked up by other sites and bloggers, and publication of op-eds and media releases and the use of social media.

There have also been other initiatives, including a rally and other celebrations for Israel’s 70th, and tree planting at schools to honour the New Zealanders who fell in the victorious Anzac battle at Beersheva.

Also noteworthy is the formation in 2017 of the Israel Institute of New Zealand by mostly non-Jewish Zionists. Among other things, the institute produces a popular video series I’m a Zionist, the inaugural video attracting 600,000 views in the first 10 days, and conducted a poll revealing that 55 per cent of Kiwis support Israel, compared to 15 per cent against. The institute has established itself as a robust, important voice on Israel.

There is also a growing relationship between the Jewish community and other groups, including churches and the Indian community. Last year Christian Zionists in 100 towns and cities blew shofars to celebrate Israel’s 70th.

There is also a special, strengthening bond with the Maori community, many of whom feel an affinity with the Jewish people, and look to Israel as an inspiration. This year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in Auckland was held at a university marae (meeting house) and began with Maori formalities. Last year Maori organised a special ceremony to honour the Israeli ambassador and Jewish leaders at a marae. The “whakapaha” was held to apologise for New Zealand’s actions in co-sponsoring resolution 2334 and to seek forgiveness.

Work continues to ensure NZ Jewry counters the challenges it faces, and that the country remains the safe and tolerant country it has traditionally been for this small but proud community.

JULIET MOSES is the spokesperson for the New Zealand Jewish Council.