NZ Government should stand up to MP bringing them down

NZ Labour backbencher Duncan Webb (centre) has been publicly advocating for BDS, while his party, led by PM Jacinda Ardern, remains silent.

New Zealand’s Labour Member for Christchurch Central Dr Duncan Webb is not only out of touch with his own party’s policy, he is out of touch with mainstream opinion around the world.

In May, the Israeli city of Tel Aviv hosted Eurovision, the world’s largest pop music contest.

Eurovision is characterised by its annual commitment to electronic beats, laser light shows, glitter and sequins.

Ahead of this year’s Israel-hosted edition, there were protesters who tried to darken the mood by making pop music political, but just like some of the more avant garde Eurovision contestants, they failed in spectacular fashion

Among those protesters was NZ backbencher Dr Webb, who decided the occasion of Eurovision was the right time to progress a campaign to delegitimise Israel, the world’s only Jewish state.

On May 1, notably the day set aside to mark the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust, Dr Webb tweeted a link to a petition trying to persuade Madonna not to perform during an interval at Eurovision 2019.

The Labour MP wrote: “Boycott Divestment & Sanctions is a form of non-violent protest. It is a concrete way to express a political view condemning the policies adopted by the Israeli govt (sic) towards Palestine. We need to ensure that free speech rights like this are not shut down.”

Dr Webb’s social media contribution was problematic and positioned his views in stark opposition to the official stance of the New Zealand Government and the Labour Party, which “supports a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and recognises that New Zealand has a growing trade and economic relationship with Israel”. It is surprising to us that no one in the New Zealand Government has seen fit to distance themselves from Dr Webb’s inflammatory remarks.

Contrary to Dr Webb’s characterisation, the BDS campaign is not a simple matter of free speech. BDS campaigners are not engaged in debating Israeli government policy, rather they seek to take punitive action against every Israeli citizens. The BDS campaign seeks to persuade people to reject all members of a national group – Israelis – regardless of their ethnic background or involvement in politics.

The highly problematic nature of BDS was recently recognised by the German parliament, which voted that the BDS campaign was antisemitic and reminiscent of Nazi-era calls to boycott Jews.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the German move, acknowledging BDS is antisemitic before adding “I salute Germany for taking stand.”

In Australia, which inexplicably is a Eurovision contestant, SBS, the host broadcaster faced calls from rogue MPs, like Dr Webb, to cancel its screening of the 2019 contest. Then-SBS managing director rejected these calls, arguing “the whole point of Eurovision is to forget politics … and unite communities and countries together in the spirit of song”.

Despite the best efforts of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) advocates, Eurovision went off without a hitch.

Beyond Eurovision, the BDS campaign has called for academic collaborations involving world-class Israeli researchers to be axed; it has called for customers to stop supporting businesses in Israel that employ Jews, Arabs, Christians and Druze, condemning all to the unemployment queue; and it has targeted entertainers, like Madonna, who travel to Israel with the simple objective to perform in front of diverse audiences. There is a certain irony in lauding freedom of expression while seeking to silence a singer and deprive a nation of a performance.

The objective of the BDS campaign is to delegitimise Israel in a bid to eventually dismantle the world’s only Jewish state. Its founders openly acknowledge that they oppose the existence of a Jewish state at all, and supporters reject activities that bring Israelis and Palestinians together for much-needed dialogue. And most BDS supporters aren’t interested in preventing trade or contact with people from countries with far more serious human rights records than Israel.

It is not a matter of freedom of speech, as Dr Webb argued, it is a matter of bigotry against the world’s only Jewish state.

His Eurovision call was also not the first time Dr Webb’s has endorsed the BDS campaign and acted in opposition to official support for a two-state peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

His previously promoted an unsuccessful petition for the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to divest from Israeli banks. He has also hosted a lunch for a participant of the anti-Israel “freedom flotilla”. The annual “flotilla” are internationally orchestrated attempts to breach the naval blockade Israel has in place with Gaza to protect the lives of Israeli families from Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists. A UN investigation led by former NZ Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, ruled the blockade legal because “Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza”.

Despite the Member for Christchurch Central’s best efforts, Madonna’s performance at the Eurovision final, while slightly off-key, went off with a pyrotechnic bang.

 

Dr Cumin is a co-director of the Israel Institute of New Zealand (IINZ) and Naomi Levin is a senior policy analyst with the Australian/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).