At the start of October, the Israel Institute of New Zealand (IINZ) exposed antisemitic material within a Facebook group of New Zealand based anti-Israel group Kia Ora Gaza. This included posts that compared Israel to Nazi Germany, comments that dehumanised Jews, and open support for terror against Israeli citizens.
IINZ has now found that four New Zealand members of parliament, including the Prime Minister, were part of the Facebook group where antisemitism was posted and tolerated.
This is concerning as being involved with antisemitic groups online was one of the first signs the UK Labour antisemitism crisis and part of the reason the UK Labour Party is being investigated by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Just like the initial reaction of the UK Labour party, the leader of Kia Ora Gaza, Roger Fowler, denied the material on his Facebook group page was antisemitic, though did admit to a “serious problem” of antisemitism within the “international & local solidarity movement” and that his moderators were “continuously try to eradicate this vile rubbish”.
The Israel Institute of New Zealand is aware that Kia Ora Gaza moderators have deleted comments and blocked people who post pro-Israel messages or challenge assertions made on the page. Yet the dozens of examples of antisemitism remain in the group.
The posts and comments prompted emphatic condemnation from Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon, who called the material IINZ exposed “abhorrent”. Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Prof Paul Hunt, was equally clear in a statement made to IINZ that the posts and comments crossed any reasonable line,
“Your [IINZ] article exposes utterly deplorable antisemitism… I am grateful to you for bringing your important article to my attention – and for calling out such appalling examples of antisemitism.”Prof Paul Hunt
The Human Rights Commission also endorsed the recent call of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion and Belief for all States to take a human rights-based approach to combat antisemitism and other forms of religious intolerance, and to better identify and document antisemitic hate crimes, saying “It’s up to all of us to stand up to racism, hate and antisemitism.”
The four MPs who are members of the Kia Ora Gaza Facebook group are Green MPs Marama Davidson, Golriz Ghahraman, and Gareth Hughes; and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The office of Ms Ardern responded to IINZ saying she was added without her knowledge and will remove herself from it.
We have established that until recently, Facebook users could sign other users up to groups without their consent – this is what has happened in this case, and is how the Prime Minister’s profile is listed as a member of the group. The Prime Minister did not proactively join the Facebook group you highlight. When she has the opportunity, she will be removing herself from this and other groups which she has unknowingly been signed-up to. Thank you again for raising the issue, which we weren’t aware of until your email.
…The Prime Minister has made clear on a number of occasions [that] she rejects all forms of racism and oppression, including antisemitism.Office of Prime Minister Ardern
According to Techadvisor, it is only recently that Facebook changed the rules that made it possible to add friends to a group without their consent. That means that Ms Ardern has a Facebook friend who is a member of Kia Ora Gaza. The Facebook rule update also, apparently, automatically removed members who had never accepted an invitation or visited the group’s page.
Nevertheless, Ms Ardern has not commented on the site herself and has clearly distanced herself from the group now and is standing up to antisemitism.
None of the Green party members responded to IINZ. Green co-leader, Marama Davidson, cannot claim to have nothing to do with the group, like Prime Minister Ardern, as she worked with KOG to join the “Woman’s Peace Flotilla” in 2016. Also aboard the ship was Ola Abed, co-creator of a video game designed for Palestinian children, in which extra points are awarded for headshots on Israeli soldiers; and Norsham Abu Bakr, an outed anti-Semite and friend to Hamas leadership, that has shared posts accusing Mossad of being behind the terror attacks in Nice and Munich.
The quick and unequivocal responses from both the Race Relations Commissioner and Human Rights Chief Commissioner are encouraging, as is the Prime Minister distancing herself from a hate group and making a stand against antisemitism. Hopefully, the Green Party MPs follow suit, rather than remain silent and contribute to the normalisation of antisemitism in New Zealand.