Why Israel should fear New Zealand

New Zealand has a long history of activism with a global impact. (via Facebook)

Human rights defenders are urging members of the UN Security Council to adopt sanctions to give teeth to the resolution they passed last month demanding that Israel halt the construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

In a letter to their leaders this week, Shawan Jabarin, the director of the legal advocacy and human rights group Al-Haq, commended New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela for sponsoring UN Security Council Resolution 2334.

But Jabarin urged them to use the resolution as “an opportunity to move beyond mere statements to concrete and effective actions, including the imposition of sanctions against Israel for its continued violations of international law.” This would include banning the importation of Israeli settlement products into their territories.

Pitfalls

While praising the resolution for confirming the illegality of Israeli settlements, Al-Haq notes that it “falls short in several respects.”

“Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights do not begin or end with the construction and expansion of the illegal settlement enterprise,” Jabarin writes, noting decades of Israeli violations including, “collective punishment, extrajudicial killing, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and administrative detention.”

He urges members of the Security Council to cooperate with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which is currently conducting a preliminary examination of numerous war crimes allegations, including during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza.

Al-Haq legal staff have faced threats and harassment believed to be related to their work on the preliminary examination.

Jabarin also notes that the recent resolution “merely reiterates the Security Council’s previous demand that Israel cease all settlement activities,” but unlike earlier resolutions does not explicitly demand the dismantling of all existing settlements.

Echoing a warning given by this writer about the weaknesses of the resolution before it was passed, Jabarin adds: “the absence of such a call in the most recent resolution may be interpreted by interested parties as de facto legitimization of the existing settlement enterprise.”

Similarly, Jabarin writes that Al-Haq is “troubled” by the resolution’s references to various international peace initiatives that “equalize the roles and actions of Israel, the occupying power, and Palestinians, the occupied protected population.”

But regardless of what the text states, any bite the resolution has will come from actions by countries around the world.

“Declaration of war”

Israel has lashed out angrily against every member of the UN Security Council, but reserved particular vitriol for the four states that sponsored the resolution.

The Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported that in the hours before the Security Council vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “let loose with sharp threats” in a phone call to New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully.

“If you continue to promote this resolution, from our point of view it will be a declaration of war,” Netanyahu reportedly said. “It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences. We’ll recall our ambassador to Jerusalem.”

McCully refused to back down.

These events have continued to reverberate in New Zealand.

Earlier this week, McCully’s Auckland district office was vandalized with graffiti calling him a “traitor” and a “Jew hater.”

McCully called the vandalism “regrettable,” but defended the decision to back the resolution.

“It is very difficult to get past the fact that it is long-standing New Zealand policy to support the two-state solution, to condemn incitement and violence, and to call for a halt to the settlements process,” McCully told The New Zealand Herald.

“We hope that a normal friendly relationship with Israel will resume soon,” the foreign minister stated.

Small country, big impact

But supporters of Palestinian rights think a normal relationship is precisely what is not needed.

Writing this week in the The New Zealand Herald, the country’s biggest daily, Janfrie Wakim urged that “New Zealand, as the Western country most identified with UNSC 2334, needs to show Israel there is a cost” if it continues to ignore world opinion and violate Palestinian rights.

Wakim, spokesperson for the New Zealand Palestine Solidarity Network, proposes that the country could refuse to accept imports or Israeli visitors from the occupied West Bank and could ditch the cooperation agreement signed last year between Israel and the New Zealand Film Commission.

“We can put a stop to a range of economic and academic collaboration between Israel and New Zealand,” Wakim adds.

With a population of under five million, New Zealand has a history of standing up to bigger powers.

Precisely because it is small, its politicians are more accessible and arguably more receptive to public campaigns. And if New Zealand shifts its policy, that could in turn influence the actions of other governments.

So activists in New Zealand may want to preempt any backlash by urging their government now to declare publicly – as have Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, the European Union and the United States – that boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activism is a free speech right.

In the 1980s, New Zealand angered the United States by declaring itself a “nuclear-free zone,” effectively banning visits to its ports by US navy ships – a policy that came about due to popular pressure on the government.

In the 1970s, 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 can arguably claim credit for turning 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 2004, New Zealand even imposed diplomatic sanctions and jailed two Israeli agents over efforts to steal New Zealand passports, likely for use in clandestine operations or assassinations.

Among the measures she proposes, Wakim urges the government of recently appointed Prime Minister Bill English to instruct the New Zealand state pension fund, called the Superannuation Fund, to follow the lead of financial institutions in other countries by divesting from Israeli banks that finance settlements.

In 2012, the Superannuation Fund divested from several Israeli firms involved in the construction of settlements.

“And [Foreign Minister] Murray McCully can tell Netanyahu we don’t like countries declaring war on New Zealand for pointing out what international law is,” Wakim concludes. “He could tell him Netanyahu doesn’t need to send his recalled ambassador back to New Zealand until Israel behaves.”

Given the precedents, Israel has good reason to be worried when the New Zealand public stirs.

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Comments

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Good article, but that wasn't a white's only tour, and at the time New Zealand itself was also extremely racist, ignoring Maori land rights, denying there was a genocide, and omitting Maori culture from both education and mainstream media.

Ali Abunimah's picture

Thanks for the comment. It’s very important to recall the past and ongoing Maori struggle. I learned more about it during my visit to New Zealand in 2016, and I have much more to learn. For those interested, this is a recent BBC interview with Naida Glavish, the Maori telephone operator who in the early 1980s broke the rules by greeting callers with “kia ora.” It was two years after her stand that the Maori language gained official recognition. That’s just one part of a much bigger history, of course. I have removed the reference to Springboks being whites only, and will look further into that.

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Admittedly there was only one non-white player in the entire squad, Errol Tobias, but South African rugby had begun to open its doors to the non-white majority by that time, and Tobias blazed a trail for others to follow. So there wasn't a 'whites only' selection policy at that time, technically-speaking. You are right that this was a major turning point for South Africa. I think they were genuinely shocked by this reaction to the tour from their major rivals in what the whites regarded as their national sport. And a few years later a court injunction actually prevented New Zealand's All Blacks from making a return tour to the republic, although an unofficial tour still went ahead. Instead the Kiwis helped arrange and stage the inaugural Rugby World Cup, a spectacular success from which South Africa were excluded, even though they would have been among the favourites. Within a few years Apartheid was crumbling to dust, and undoubtedly that was no coincidence. Of course, Israel had been among the Apartheid regime's most faithful supporters, and the comparisons between the two are certainly apt - except that in Israel the discrimination and persecution continues.

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if you want NZ to help re Israel, then don't play divide and conquer over whites and Maori. They need to be united and if you insist on involving yourself in this that don't concern you, you may lose support from the NZers that can help you, and keep out of the business of the Spingboks too. Concern yourself with Israel

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Your understanding of NZ is shallow.

Sure, nz isn't perfect in terms of race relations. There is an ongoing battle. But it isn't anywhere near as terrible as Israel. This is mostly because of the relative success of indigenous armed resistance to colonisation.

Regarding the "omission of Maori language from education and mainstream media": I learnt some Maori language basics at school. There is a Maori language tv channel the exists because of government funding.

Despite colonial war crimes and atrocities here, there wasn't an attempt at genocide. The one historical report that claims there was, was funded by the government. Do you can't really say that the government denies genocide.

Sure, nz is racist as hell. Even though Maori is an official language here and my passport says that I'm from "New Zealand Aotearoa", and that even many white politicians address parliament in the Maori language...

But that doesn't mean that we are obliged to not take a moral stand on israels war crimes or apartheid.

In fact, our own reckoning with the horrors of colonialism demands we take a stand.

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Hurray for Murray!

Hope he will not bow to cowardly intimidation and blackmail with which he is confronted for his support of UN resolution 2334. He stands on the right side of history for justice and respect of international Law.

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It makes other nations go against their own policies, and keep supporting an occupation and illegal settlements. They whine and throw tantrums, despite having the upper hand in that conflict, and cry victim even after their deadly weapons have killed thousands of civilians. It is time the Western nations refused to be complicit in it's crimes. Good for New Zealand!

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Sage, I am unable to cite my comment on this point in another newsletter.
Among others, read Niels Peter Lemche, THE ISRAELITES IN HISTORY
AND TRADITION, p. 87.

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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and no one should be afraid of threats, and stand up to bullies. They get their minions to write graffiti, write ugly hasbara comments, whine about anti-semitism, and always acts like a petulant kid when things do not go their way. We see this in the US very often.

Stand up for human rights and do the right thing for the Palestinians. AFTER ALL ISRAEL IS THE CULPRIT THAT IS BREAKING INTERNATIONAL LAWS, NOT NEW ZEALAND. Israel is going against international laws and MUST be held accountable.

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In 1972 the Australian government placed a ban on sporting tours involving South African teams. This was retained by the following governments both Liberal and Labor. Australia became an important player in moves to isolate South Africa so long as race remained part of its selection policy.

However current Australian governments are unable to see past their own self interest and recognise apartheid in Israel

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Australia is also home of one of the most downtrodden indigenous communities in the world. So any accusations of discrimination against the native Palestinians by them would inevitably be a glass houses situation - much more so than in the case of New Zealand. Credit to the governments who cut sporting ties with South Africa, but even in cricket was there anything to compare with that epic rugby rivalry between the Springboks and All Blacks. That and the Olympic ban were the ones that really hurt them.

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The probability is that is was the real prospect of investment in SA drying up that forced the hand of the SA government. The sporting boycotts had their role, they are visible to the general people in a way that the slow down of inflows of investment funds are not. But why the beef around whether it was rugby or cricket boycotts that were the more important?

And just what is wrong with throwing stones at glass houses? There should be more of it as far as I am concerned; given that we all have the keen eye for the many faults of others while our own can remain completely out of focus, I say throw all the stones you can with all the vigour you can muster up. Some just may ricochet back and cause us to see things in our own backyard a bit differently. Hypocrisy is much maligned and sometimes hangs around to bite us in the bum.

European colonization in Australia did great damage to the indigenous. But Australia no longer has statute law discrimination against Aboriginal peoples though it is true that all markers of well-being like education, health, income, etc show that Aboriginal people still suffer, especially those in remote areas. Still, I doubt that 'downtrodden' is an accurate description; and even if it were, would that make any Australian support of Palestinian rights unwelcome?

Australia is not NZ which does maintain a feisty foreign policy, even under a Conservative government. It is only under a Labor government that Australia has ever defied the USA re Israel. (2012 when Australia abstained rather than vote no to Palestinian observer status at UN) Can't we just take a moment to welcome the stance of NZ and hope that it does reflect UK thinking and will influence other Western governments in the future, including Australia?

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Good comments. Just to clarify, my remark about glass houses was an attempt to get inside the Australian government's head; not a representation of my own perspective.

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Bloody good show, Murray! Israel has a great deal to learn from New Zealand's 150 years of experience (including the mistakes) in relations between settlers and indigenous people. Being like Kiwis of all shades and backgrounds is something Netanyahu and his ilk can only dream of, and the sooner they start trying, the better.

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