In June, The Israel Institute sought answers as to how an Immigration NZ ‘fact sheet’ was published with politicised distortions of history and a map that totally erased Israel.
Once the document was exposed, Immigration NZ was quick to offer an apology to the Israeli government and Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters, offered a ministerial apology for the “rather carelesss and shoddy mistake” necessary.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade chief executive, Chris Seed, told media there had been “follow-up” between his ministry and Immigration New Zealand, with a new verification procedure to be put in place before maps were placed online. But what was the process that led to such an egregious mistake?
The Israel Institute of New Zealand has obtained documents under the Official Information Act that show Immigration NZ staff intended to use caution. One day after there was a request for new “Refugee Quota Factsheets” for Pakistan and “Palestine”, an unnamed staff member wanted to be careful, writing “I think I’ll get on with the [Pakistan] factsheet for now and have a chat to [redacted] before I get started on the other. It’d be best to clarify it from the outset – as you can imagine the situation for Palestinians is fairly complicated!”
That was on 25 September 2017. Three weeks later, there was a draft ready but a valid question was raised about the terminology, with an unnamed staff member writing “I’m a bit unsure what title to use for Palestine – given that the legal status/recognition of the state is a contentious point I’m trying not to step on any toes!”
That warning was apparently ignored and the communications team returned a draft document on 28 November 2017 with “State of Palestine” in the title and the infamous map, along with all the other egregious distortions that were recently exposed.
Large portions of the text had been directly copied verbatim from UNRWA and NGO sources without question.
At last four more emails were exchanged with minor edits to the document before a final version was circulated on 04 Dec 2017. An email exchange one week later discusses “potentially making some changes to the wording…” but no discussion of the map and no changes were made until one year later.
Between 11 December 2018 and 17 Jan 2019 there were approximately one dozen emails released that discussed the document. Not one of them even mentioned the map or any material point in the text, that had only slightly been modified.
In response to concerns raised by The Israel Institute of New Zealand, Immigration NZ staff consulted MFAT, who responded quickly with
“We have gone through the document with our Middle East division and they have a number of deletions or edits to recommend. However given the serious issues surrounding use of “State of Palestine” nomenclature and the tone in some of the other language in the Fact Sheet, they recommend that it might be best for INZ to … [apologise] for the misunderstanding, [acknowledge] that the information was taken from the references websites, that it does not reflect government policy and has now been removed so that we can review and update it…”MFAT staff member
It is hard to understand how more than 20 emails reviewing a document could result in such fundamental errors to be made. Hopefully, the new verification process will prevent the need for a future apology and retraction, whether the mistake be made for Israel or any other country.