The National Party of New Zealand recently released a discussion document on International Affairs. The publication focuses on ensuring New Zealand’s values are protected and argues that, though we are a small independent nation, our voice carries weight internationally, disproportionate to our size. It urges New Zealand to continue to engage vigorously, to promote values of democracy, freedom, tolerance and human rights, as well as safety and security. There is also a strong focus on trade – which is important for our small island nation heavily dependent on primary industries.
The aspiration to use ‘our voice’ to ‘authentically articulate our values’ is laudable. However, ‘walking the talk’, has not always been evident in the National government’s track record. In particular, the two factors – human rights and trade – have often been in conflict and New Zealand has at times chosen to prioritise trade over human rights. For example, pursuing trade with China while turning a blind eye to terrible human rights issues – including limits on free expression, incarcerating more than 1,000,000 Muslims in concentration camps, and the occupation of Tibet; or maintaining an embassy in Tehran and pushing for trade while whitewashing the execution of homosexuals (as John Key did in 2016) and ignoring Iran’s state sponsorship of terror.
The Discussion Document provides a sense that the National Party may be wanting to correct that imbalance by putting more emphasis on human rights than has, perhaps, been the case recently. The document acknowledges that there have been issues that may not have been given appropriate attention by the government:
“…Over recent years, there have been many examples of aggressive and violent actions by state and non-state actors around the world. New Zealand must uphold our values in confronting such aggression..”National Party Discussion Document
One area where there is a clear disconnect between the actions of the government and promoting New Zealand’s values of democracy, freedom, and human rights is when it comes to Israel. National leader, Simon Bridges, has already acknowledged that New Zealand (under a National-led government) “got it wrong” when we co-sponsored United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 with Venezuela, Senegal, and Malaysia. Furthermore, National MP and Chair of the NZ Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee, Simon O’Connor, has acknowledged that
“New Zealand is not playing a solid role speaking out against terrorist groups such as Hamas, but is quick to slam the likes of Israel. And we think that’s all a bit mixed up.”Simon O’Connor
This apparent double standard and imbalance is particularly egregious because Israel is a liberal democracy with a very similar system of government to New Zealand – a representative parliament and independent judiciary. One of the best ways to advance Kiwi values is to strengthen relationships with countries that already share those values.
There are a number of key steps that New Zealand could take to advance the values of democracy, freedom, human rights, and security that we share with Israel. This is even more important, given that a majority of Kiwis support Israel.
We’ve outlined concrete actions that could be taken to show the world that New Zealand values are what we purport them to be, below, and have related them to the appropriate questions posed in the Discussion Document.
- Condemn terror against Israel
The last New Zealand Minister to clearly condemn terror against Israel was Helen Clark in 2006 – she said “The message to Hamas and Hezbollah must be that confrontation and violence are destroying the prospects for a peace settlement in the Middle East.”
Despite more than 2,700 acts of terror from Gaza in the past year, including more than 700 rockets fired within 48 hours, in May, the New Zealand government has remained silent when it comes to terror attacks against Israel. Many other liberal democratic nations have clearly condemned the terror, making New Zealand’s silence even more deafening.
Rather than condemning terror, the New Zealand Prime Minister condemned Israel by answering a question on the Gaza riots in May 2018, saying “It is the right of any nation to defend their border, but this is a devastating one-sided loss of life.” This is but one example of things being “a bit mixed up”, as stated by Simon O’Connor.
When condemning Israel (and not Hamas), New Zealand leaders could recognise the restraint that Israel has shown in the face of ongoing terror attacks and riots orchestrated by Hamas and the extraordinary lengths the IDF takes to protect civilians on all sides. This would give an impression of a more even-handed response to violence, especially when not all the information is known. Often, it takes some time to understand that most of the injured or killed Palestinians are terrorists.
Remaining silent sends a signal that New Zealand is happy to tolerate hundreds of rockets indiscriminately fired into civilian areas from civilian areas, riots orchestrated by a terror group with the explicit purpose of “tear[ing] out their [Jewish] hearts from their bodies”, the glorification of martyrdom in school textbooks and children’s television programmes, and a “pay for slay” policy that diverts aid money to stipends for murder.
Simon O’Connor has taken a step toward clearly condemning terror by highlighting the double-standards of the government criticism. We hope New Zealand will join the other democracies and clearly condemn terror when it’s against Israel.
- Speak out against NZ taxpayer money going to terror and corruption
Over the past decade, New Zealand has given more than $13m to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). However, there has been no public condemnation of UNRWA’s egregious inefficiency, history of staff inciting and supporting terror, use of schools and other buildings as militant bases, or allegations of corruption.
The United States withdrew funding for UNRWA in 2018, labelling the organisation an “irredeemably flawed operation” and Switzerland’s foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis, said UNRWA is “part of the problem” because it fuels unrealistic hopes of return after 70 years and, therefore, keeps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive – yet New Zealand continues to provide funding as if there are no problems with the agency.
It has recently been announced that New Zealand has signed a three-year commitment, between 2019 and 2021, of $3m to support core UNRWA programmes. MFAT officials have repeated their dogma that “UNRWA is an important stabilizing force for peace in the region”.
This is of great concern, as UNRWA school textbooks have been found to display extreme anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments, UNRWA-affiliated social media incites terrorism and antisemitism, and UNRWA facilities have been used to store launching pad for rockets and as cover for terror tunnels. It is difficult to see how these activities can be construed as providing a “stabilizing force for peace” in the region. Nor is giving taxpayer dollars to UNRWA in line with the MFAT commitment to “making our aid effective and to delivering value for investment of taxpayer funds”.
The very least New Zealand can do is speak out against NZ taxpayer money going to terror and corruption. Looking for alternative pathways for delivering aid via NGOs is something that should also be considered. Moving Kiwi dollars away from the corrupt and terror-supporting UNRWA to other aid organisations would send a strong signal that New Zealand doesn’t tolerate terror or the perpetuation of conflict.
- Stand up to anti-Israel bias at the United Nations General Assembly
Each year, there are at least 20 resolutions at the UNGA that single out Israel, while it is usually the case that no other nation is condemned more than once.
The Australian Prime Minister made a speech in December, where he clearly identified the problem with the United Nations bias against Israel:
We regard the biased and unfair targeting of Israel in the UN General Assembly in particular as deeply unhelpful to efforts to build peace and stability. The UN General Assembly is now the place where Israel is bullied and where anti-Semitism is cloaked in language about human rights. It is where Israel is regularly accused of what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called the “five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide.”Scott Morrison
And Australia has voted against more anti-Israel resolutions to show they are standing up to the bias. However, when it comes to the disproportionate anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations, New Zealand has voted more in line with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and other despotic states (some of which don’t even formally recognise Israel as a nation state) than with traditional allies like Australia, Canada, and the United States.
While the United States voted against all the biased anti-Israel resolutions and Australia took a stand on at least half of the annual resolutions that single out Israel, New Zealand did not vote against any of them. New Zealand also “aided terror” by abstaining on a resolution in 2018 that then prevented the first ever resolution condemning Hamas in the United Nations.
If New Zealand wishes to be seen as an ‘honest broker’ and a country that values fairness and justice, we must stop encouraging the extreme anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.
- Sign the innovation agreement with Israel
The scope of bilateral trade between Israel and Australia is estimated at $2 billion annually. This is, in part, due to an innovation agreement and a commitment from the Australian government to grow the mutually beneficial relationship. A number of delegations of Kiwi business people have been to Israel, including an inaugural innovation mission and an AgTech group. The inaugural delegation was led by Spark CEO Simon Moutter and was close to signing a bilateral innovation agreement before Foreign Minister Murray McCully co-sponsored UNSC resolution 2334 at the end of 2016.
The fast-growing economic relationship between Israel and Australia is greatly helped by a sound diplomatic relationship between the two countries based on shared values of democracy and personal freedoms. There is a values-based logic in Australia’s close relationship with Israel beyond the financial bottom line; the same should exist between New Zealand and Israel. One step toward that is signing the innovation agreement.
- Base an ambassador in Jerusalem
The current New Zealand ambassador to Israel, Wendy Hinton, is based in Ankara (Turkey). She is also accredited to Jordan. Turkey and Jordan have diplomatic relations with Israel but they are not strong. Thus, having the New Zealand ambassador stationed in Turkey and also accredited to Jordan gives the appearance that Israel is not a valued ally.
It is also notable that Ms Hinton (and MFAT in general) has not publicly expressed support for Israel on its independence, as she did for Turkey and has not condemned terror against Israel (see point 1, above).
Putting a New Zealand ambassador in Jerusalem will send two strong signals: that the relationship is valued and important; and that New Zealand understands that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is important because it affirms that a sovereign state should have the right to determine the location of its own capital, it does not need to preclude negotiations over East Jerusalem (as West Jerusalem – where the Israeli houses of parliament are – was part of Israel in 1948).
- Acknowledge the serious problems with the JCPOA
Iran sponsors multiple terror groups and many of those attack Israel. There is also now “definitive proof” that Iran was deceiving the world regarding its nuclear program and that is why the United States exited the nuclear deal (JCPOA) and imposed sanctions on Iran.
Even without the new evidence, the nuclear deal with Iran is flawed for three primary reasons:
- The current deal has a sunset clause that means all restrictions would be lifted by 2030. In a 2015 interview, Barack Obama admitted that when the deal ends Iran could “have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.” Allowing for Iran to essentially be able to arm themselves with nuclear weapons in just over one decade is extremely dangerous.
- Iran has prevented IAEA inspectors from visiting their military sites. This could be a failure to meet some conditions of the current deal. The IAEA reports that Iran has been abiding by the agreement only apply to some of the nuclear facilities, so much better monitoring is required to give meaning to those reports.
- There were no provisions in the deal to prevent Iran from continuing to fund terror groups. In a 2016 interview, John Kerry admitted that some of the billions of dollars in sanctions relief would go to terrorist groups. It is almost certain that is the case and the people of Iran know it because in December, 2017, Iranian protesters chanted “leave Syria, think about us” and “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, I will give my life for Iran”. Iran funnelled the money away from infrastructure projects and instead funded military bases in Syria and supported terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
As it currently stands, the Iranian regime can have their cake and eat it too – they can develop nuclear weapons, fund terror, and trade without sanctions. The New Zealand government is proud of endorsing the Iran deal while sitting on the Security Council. There have been no concerns raised about the deal by New Zealand. This should change if New Zealand values are to be projected into the foreign affairs space.
- Designate Hezbollah and PFLP as terror groups
Hezbollah has been building terror tunnels into Israel and 130,000 short and medium range missiles and rockets are stockpiled under civilian houses on the mountain overlooking Israel. However, New Zealand only designates the “military wing” of Hezbollah as a terror group. This is a separation not recognised by the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, or other nations, including countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. More importantly, the separation of a “military wing” is also not acknowledged by the same Hizbollah leaders who threaten attacks.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is well known for pioneering armed aircraft-hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and took responsibility for the 2014 synagogue massacre in Jerusalem. The PFLP is designated as a Foreign Terrorist organisation by the US Department of State, European Union, Canada, and Australia. However, New Zealand does not recognise the group as a terror entity.
By designating both these groups as terror entities, New Zealand will be more in line with traditional allies and will be standing up for security, safety and human rights. If the New Zealand government is serious about standing with traditional allies, it needs to remember New Zealand’s historical support for and involvement in the establishment of the state of Israel. If the government truly wishes to protect the values of democracy and human rights, it should be standing with the only democracy in the Middle East, a country that fights daily to protect its citizens from extremists and terrorists.
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