AIR New Zealand: Concerns over anti-Israel MPs
Mar 10, 2021 | Miriam Bell
Times of uncertainty and fear, such as we are living through in this COVID-ravaged world, have long been known to prompt growth in intolerance, racism and hatred.
And, as Jewish people around the world are well aware, a common manifestation of this is a rise in antisemitism.
New Zealand is not immune to any of this.
Not only did last year’s Shifting Jewry 2019 (Gen19) survey reveal that 44% of respondents thought antisemitism was a problem in New Zealand, but there’s growing concern among the Jewish community about the anti-Israel movement – as personified by some politicians on the Left.
Over the years, there have been various MPs who have taken biased pro-Palestinian views to worrying extremes.
Current Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson participated in a “peace flotilla” trying to break Israel’s blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza back in 2016. Former Green Party foreign affairs spokesperson Kennedy Graham constantly criticised the Government for not condemning Israel or offering greater support to the Palestinians on various matters.
However, more recently, there have been two MPs, one Labour, the other Green, who have been repeat offenders when it comes to fervent anti-Israel activity.
Labour MP for Christchurch Central Dr Duncan Webb has long been an outspoken proponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
In 2019, Webb claimed there was a “strong Zionist Jewish lobby” controlling US politics.
That same year, the NZ Jewish Council criticised him for his support of BDS. In a letter to leading figures in the Labour Party, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the Council said it saw widespread BDS activity overseas affecting Jews in many countries by increasing antisemitism, and expressed concern “that promotion of BDS here threatens the security of the New Zealand Jewish community.”
Such concerns haven’t stopped Webb’s activism. In early 2020 he lobbied to prevent the Wellington City Council adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, citing free speech concerns.
Recently, the Israel Institute of NZ reported that Webb is an active member of a Facebook group, Aotearoa Standing With Palestine, which regularly features antisemitic posts and comments, including Holocaust denial.
Meanwhile, the Green MP and current foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman has also become known for a series of anti-Israel outbursts.
In a 2019 tweet, she described Mary and Joseph, the mother and father of Jesus, as “Palestinian refugees”. That same year, she also accused Israel of genocide at an anti-Israel rally.
This year, she has shared a Jewish Voice for Peace post on her Instagram account accusing Israel of “medical apartheid” for not providing COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinians.
The Israel Institute said Ghahraman’s post was “disappointing” and that the comparison to apartheid was “disgusting”.
NZ Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses told Newshub that she has never accused any other MP of antisemitism, but Ghahraman repeatedly spreads disinformation and antisemitic tropes about Israel.
“If she wishes to criticise Israel, she has a duty, as an MP and someone who professes to be concerned about hate speech and the marginalisation of minority communities in Aotearoa, to do so on the basis of correct, contextualised information… The leaders of her party should intervene,” Moses added.
In addition to Webb and Ghahraman, there are several other MPs who are members of either the Aotearoa Standing With Palestine Facebook group or a similar rabidly anti-Israel Facebook group, Kia Ora Gaza.
Israel Institute of NZ director David Cumin said New Zealand MPs belonging to such groups and engaging with online hate groups mirrors some of the issues that the UK had when Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour party.
“An MP as prominent as Webb participating in an online group rife with vile antisemitism makes a mockery of the work done by the Labour Party post the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks and calls into question his fitness for the role as public servant,” Cumin said.
He added that the Israel Institute has written to Labour Party leaders about Webb being an active contributor to Aotearoa Standing With Palestine and to the Green Party co-leaders about the participation of some of their MPs.
To date, none of the party leaders has responded.
Cumin said there are myriad ways to support the Palestinians without having to associate with hate groups, “Likewise, there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Israel to be made without wading into conspiracy theories that reflect ancient tropes.”
But he noted that it was positive that New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission has said that it does “not condone, and are very concerned by, any alleged association of MPs with forums that express discrimination or racism and agree that antisemitism should not be allowed to grow in New Zealand politics.”
Cumin said he hopes the Commission will show leadership on this issue, as the British Equality and Human Rights Commission did with respect to the UK’s Labour party.