AIR New Zealand: Turning Green?
Nov 1, 2010 | Miriam Bell
Following the success, and increased importance, of the Australian Greens in the recent Australian federal election, it seems timely to review the experience with New Zealand’s Green Party over recent years and especially its stance towards Israel and the Jewish community.
The New Zealand Green Party has had a presence in parliament since 1999 – although it has never played a part in any of the various coalition governments since that time. The party consistently polls above the five percent threshold necessary for parties to enter parliament, and it currently has nine MPs in the 122 seat House of Representatives.
Ecological wisdom, social responsibility, appropriate decision making, and non-violence are the party’s four guiding principles. In practice, however, as the biggest of the country’s minor political parties, the Greens feel the need to comment on most issues in the news. In the case of the party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Keith Locke, that involves regularly commenting, and issuing statements, on the situation in Israel and the Palestinian areas.
Former New Zealand Jewish Chronicle editor Mike Regan says he remembers being part of a Jewish community delegation which met with Locke. Regan notes he was courteous enough but he was not interested in our message at all, recalls Regan. “There was no doubt in my mind that his view of the Middle East was pro-Palestinian and there was little, if anything, that Israel could do to redeem itself.”
Regan adds that Locke alone appeared to speak for the Green party on the issue, because he never received comment on the issue from anyone else in the party. He had few dealings with the Greens during his time as editor of the Chronicle, he says, “apart from one notable episode: The Greens were the only party in parliament to request that we cease sending them the Chronicle. The reason they gave was that they didn’t have time to read it and we should save our forests.”
David Zwartz, who is chairperson of the Wellington Regional Jewish Council, backs up Regan’s view of Locke. He had a 2002 meeting with Locke which resulted in a “fruitless conversation” on the topic of Israel. “Locke’s view then (and since) was that only Israel was to blame for the lack of peace in the Israel-Palestinian or Israel-Arab conflict, and he wasn’t interested in learning about any aggression or peacemaking failure from the Palestinian/Arab side.”
Locke has regularly issued media releases criticising Israel and been a regular speaker at anti-Israel rallies in both Auckland and Wellington, says Zwartz. “For instance, most recently, he was at an anti-Israel rally in Auckland on June 5 and protesting outside the newly-reopened Israeli Embassy in Wellington on June 2.”
Locke, who expressed support for Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge while acting as editor of the now-defunct New Zealand Socialist Action newspaper, is from a family of prominent political activists. He is also a long-time associate of another well-known Kiwi political activist – John Minto. Along with his Unite union colleague and fellow columnist Matt McCarten, Minto makes frequent, extreme, pro-Palestinian comments on issues relating to Israel.
An extreme sort of anti-Israel prejudice seems to predominate among the type of die-hard Left activists (i.e.: Locke, Minto and McCarten) who do form a part of the Green Party. This is significant given that, if the Right-leaning ACT party implodes as is looking increasingly likely, the Greens may well end up playing an important part in any government that is formed following the scheduled 2011 election.
Meanwhile, another example of the type of anti-Israeli prejudice which characterises elements of the Greens can be found in the recently-formed Kia Ora Gaza group, currently part of an international land and sea convoy trying to sail to Gaza supposedly to deliver humanitarian aid. Although it should be noted that the group has not been publicly endorsed by Locke or the Green party, the leader of the group, Roger Fowler, also has ties to the Unite union from which Locke and Minto emerged.
David Zwartz’s view of the Kia Ora Gaza group is that they are a political group masquerading as a humanitarian mission. “I believe the NZ$100,000 they solicited in donations from the New Zealand public has been wasted on giving the group an exciting [overseas trip] while driving thousands of kilometres to deliver aid that could be given more economically and efficiently through the International Red Cross. I also believe that the money would be more useful if it had been donated to Pakistan flood relief.”
Israeli Ambassador to New Zealand Shemi Tzur says the group is being misled by the organisers if they think they are on an humanitarian mission. “Humanitarian aid enters Gaza freely and does not need the headline-seeking actions of the Kia Ora Gaza group.” He says their action, in fact, displays “hostile intent by helping Hamas, an internationally recognised terrorist organisation, try to open a maritime route to Gaza for weapons and terrorists.”
Tzur suggested that the Kia Ora Gaza group should avoid an unnecessary confrontation by delivering their supplies to Gaza via the Israeli port of Ashdod or the Egyptian port of El Arish. He also suggested that “Kiwis of good will” might want to express their support for “someone in Gaza truly needing humanitarian assistance – abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.”