Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

AIR New Zealand: Ms Davidson goes to sea

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Miriam Bell

 

It's become an annual spectacle. Every year a "freedom flotilla" aimed at breaching the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza - and provoking a response from Israel - sets sail. In an indication of the real purposes of the flotilla, the annual event now tends to feature a collection of "prominent" people from around the world and not even bother to pretend to be bringing any aid to Gaza.

This year's "Women's Boat" contained a New Zealand Green Party MP, Marama Davidson. Davidson, a relatively new MP, has a background in grassroots activism and, as such, is well-versed in gaining coverage for her political campaigns.

Given the flotilla ends the same way each year - with interception of the boat by the Israeli Defence Forces and the deportation of the participants - Davidson would have known what the likely outcome of her "mission" was going to be.

For this reason, the pre-recorded video that was released of her accusing the "Israeli oppression forces" of kidnapping and taking the women hostage, seems to have been a fairly cynical attempt at leveraging maximum publicity from the situation. Nonethless, many New Zealanders, were still apparently shocked by Davidson's "detention".

The most notable example of this came in an episode of a Radio New Zealand (RNZ) show, "The Panel" (Oct. 7). On the episode in question, Israel's treatment of the "Women's Boat" was discussed by guests including Iranian-born Golnaz Bassam-Tabar, a PR manager, and journalist Ruwani Perera, who took part in the flotilla last year.

According to a run-down on ShalomKiwi, the episode became a "litany of unchallenged lies in a one-sided discussion". Many false statements about the situation and about Israel were made, without balance being provided. For example, Bassam-Tabar described the blockade as an illegal "siege" which was blocking aid and food supplies - yet Sir Geoffrey Palmer's UN report found the blockade was "a necessary step for Israel to take in order to protect its people and to defend itself" and the blockade never extended to food.

The show did prompt a series of responses aimed at countering the narrative presented by the pro-Palestinian advocates like Bassam Tabar and Roger Fowler, spokesperson for Kia Ora Gaza, the group which sponsored Davidson trip, who was also interviewed.

The New Zealand Jewish Council's David Cumin pointed to the Palmer report in a RNZ interview, noting that, given its finding that the blockade was legal, describing it as an "illegal siege" was simply inaccurate.

Further, the language of both Davidson and Bassam-Tabar about Gaza generally was designed to provoke, Cumin said. For example, to speak of the blockade as being part of "Israel's guise of security" was wrong as it is a legitimate security measure. "It needs to be kept in mind that there is a real security situation there [for the citizens of Israel] which makes the situation complex."

Auckland University of Technology history professor Paul Moon went even further than Cumin, condemning the Gaza flotilla as "a ship of fools" and said Davidson seemed to have very little understanding of the geopolitical situation in the region.

In views expressed on RNZ and elsewhere, Moon said not only did the entire event have the appearance of a cheap media stunt, in addition, the protesters had deliberately breached the Oslo Accords, international maritime law, and domestic Israeli law.

"The whole protest has the air of a schoolyard prank about it and the protesters' alarmist language does not conceal the failure of their venture."

Moon concluded, "The actions of Davidson and her colleagues have been an embarrassment to Parliament, and have exposed her and her party's very weak understanding of the history of the region."

It should be noted that Davidson did not have the support of most of her fellow New Zealand Parliamentarians.

Prime Minister John Key told media that he was not surprised by the way the situation unfolded, and pointed to Department of Foreign Affairs advice against trying to enter Gaza.

The PM also said it would be better if MPs did not take part in such protests, but added that his view was likely to fall on "fairly deaf ears" when it came to the Greens; "It's less than a perfect look, but she would have been well and truly aware of that."

Corrections Minister Judith Collins was even blunter. Talking to TV3 morning news host Paul Henry, she simply said: "For goodness sake, she's paid to do the job here, and this is a stunt. Give her points for being able to get huge media attention and do a stunt, but that's actually what it is."

Unfortunately, Davidson's stunt worked - to the extent that a large contingent of New Zealanders have been exposed to, and bought into, Davidson's biased and inaccurate version of the situation between Israel and the Palestinians of Gaza.

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