A year ago, I wrote an article headlined, “Why Israel should fear New Zealand.”
I argued that New Zealand is a small country, but could have a big impact on the situation in Palestine as it has done on the world stage in the past.
I pointed out that in the 1980s, New Zealand angered the United States by declaring itself a “nuclear-free zone” – a policy that came about due to popular pressure on the government.
A decade earlier, New Zealand, along with Australia, took France to the International Court of Justice over the latter’s nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific. New Zealand sued France again after French spies bombed the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor in 1985, killing photographer and anti-nuclear campaigner Fernando Pereira.
And New Zealand campaigners helped turn the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa into an international phenomenon with their mass protests and disruptions of the 1981 tour by the Springbok rugby team.
In the year since, New Zealand politicians, like virtually all their Western counterparts, have groveled to Israel. Gerry Brownlee, foreign minister in the conservative government that lost office in October, went cap in hand to Benjamin Netanyahu last June, pleading with the Israeli prime minister to let “the Israeli-New Zealand relationship to get back on track.”
Winston Peters, the foreign minister in the new Labour-led coalition, heads the right-wing nationalist New Zealand First party.
Peters had been a critic of New Zealand’s decision to back the Security Council resolution, fueling Israeli expectations that his appointment would herald a more sympathetic hearing in Wellington.
However in the run-up to last month’s UN General Assembly vote condemning Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made clear her country would not be bullied.
New Zealand joined the overwhelming majority of nations that defied Trump’s threats and backed the resolution critical of the United States and Israel.
But it was never politicians I was counting on to do what veteran New Zealand Palestinian rights campaigner Janfrie Wakim had called for after the UN Security Council vote on settlements: to “show Israel there is a cost” if it continues to ignore world opinion and violate Palestinian rights.
A year after the Security Council vote, New Zealand surprised Israel again. But this time it wasn’t the politicians.
Once again, Israel’s diplomatic and propaganda machinery aimed its fire towards the South Pacific. Tel Aviv’s ambassador to Wellington invited the singer to a “friendly” meeting to discuss what the Israeli foreign ministry termed the “hate agenda” of BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
The Zionist Federation of New Zealand accused Lorde of caving in to “those who wish to see the destruction of Israel.”
But surely the most rancid attack came this week from Shmuley Boteach, the self-styled “America’s rabbi” who took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post accusing Lorde of joining a “global anti-Semitic boycott of Israel.”
The ad claims that “New Zealand’s growing prejudice against the Jewish state seems to be trickling down to its youth.”
“Let’s boycott the boycotters and tell Lorde and her fellow bigots that Jew-hatred has no place in the 21st century,” the ad declares.
But such vicious attacks are likely to repel rather than attract support for Israel.
As The New Zealand Herald reported Tuesday, the New Zealand Jewish Council – one of the country’s Israel lobby groups – was forced to distance itself from Boteach’s ad.
But on 26 December, the council’s spokesperson Juliet Moses had herself attacked Lorde in terms only slightly less hyperbolic than Boteach.
In an article for a pro-Israel website, Moses claimed that the singer had “given a nod to hatred and hypocrisy,” succumbed to pressure from a “fanatical fringe” and “taken a bow to a small group of noisy bullies” by cancelling her concert in Tel Aviv.
Just like Boteach’s ad, the New Zealand Jewish Council spokesperson accused Lorde of hypocrisy for supposedly ignoring human rights abuses in Russia and Syria.
What changed? Israel apologists in New Zealand are surely starting to recognize that their vitriol against Lorde is getting little traction.
Between Moses’ attack on Lorde and Boteach’s, The New Zealand Herald had made its own remarkable intervention.
In a 28 December editorial the country’s newspaper of record pushed back strongly against the Zionist Federation of New Zealand, calling the lobby group’s criticisms of Lorde “rubbish.”
“It is perfectly possible to oppose Jewish settlements on the West Bank, as indeed many Jews do, in Israel and outside, without being guilty of bigotry and prejudice,” the Herald stated. “The suggestion Israel should not be singled out when countries such as Russia are guilty of something similar is an argument New Zealanders often heard from defenders of South Africa in the apartheid era.”
“Sporting and cultural boycotts and campaigns for business disinvestment and international sanctions against Israel are a way of reminding public opinion in Israel the world needs Israel to keep striving for peace in its region,” the newspaper argued, effectively endorsing BDS. “Cultural figures such as Lorde are in a privileged position to give that message and New Zealand can be proud of her for doing so.”
A year since the Security Council vote, Israel should indeed still fear New Zealand.
But for people everywhere who support justice and peace, the example from that country of fewer than five million once again standing up to global powers is something to celebrate and inspire us.