A recent petition from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) demanded an end to small annual university prizes funded by the Israeli Embassy. The Israeli Ambassador funds two annual prizes, worth a total of $750 NZD, at Victoria University of Wellington. These are the only New Zealand scholarships funded by Israel. VUW Shalom Student’s Association successfully petitioned Victoria to keep these prizes.

The Israel Institute of New Zealand (IINZ) can reveal these were the only petitions or protests at any of New Zealand’s eight Universities relating to scholarships funded by foreign nations in the past five years. During the same period, many of the world’s most notorious abusers of human rights funded hundreds of vastly more lucrative scholarships and prizes at New Zealand universities. These nations include Saudi Arabia, China, Myanmar, and others.

The number of foreign-funded scholarships of prizes awarded at NZ Universities displayed by funding country.

Data obtained under the Official Information Act outlines foreign-funded scholarships at New Zealand universities. Due to inherent ambiguities, confounding factors, and the variance in depth of responses received it is likely that there are more foreign-funded scholarships at New Zealand tertiary institutions. Nonetheless, the data obtained is revealing.

In the five years to 2019, nearly five hundred New Zealand university scholarships were funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a non-democracy that routinely conducts brutal mass, public executions; it has executed multiple children; women in Saudi Arabia have essentially no rights whatsoever; there is no freedom of religion, and adopting a new faith may be punished by death. Last year, Saudi Arabia brutally murdered a journalist – Jamal Khashoggi – in its Turkish embassy. Yet there were no petitions about Saudi scholarships or prizes awarded in New Zealand universities.

Malaysia funded nearly three hundred scholarships. In recent years, Malaysia has also allowed child rapists to escape punishment by marrying the child that they had raped. There were no protests about scholarships or prizes at New Zealand universities that were funded by the Malaysian government.

More than one hundred scholarships were funded by Oman, a nation that continues to enslave migrants. A similar number were funded by Kuwait, where in 2017 a Polish man was detained and abused for two weeks for looking “too feminine”. There were no protests about Omani or Kuwaiti scholarships or prizes awarded to New Zealand universities.

China continues to imprison approximately one million Uighur Muslims in “re-education” camps. China has been destroying the Chinese Uighur community for the better part of a decade. The Chinese Government is also currently violently suppressing democratic protests in Hong Kong, it continues to oppress and occupy Tibet, and commits a myriad of other human rights abuses.

The Chinese Government funded at least eight scholarships at Massey University alone. In addition to those on such scholarships, there are far more Chinese students at Massey and other New Zealand universities. Massey in particular markets itself extensively in China. Massey Professor Steve Elers, in a recent opinion piece, stated that of Massey’s 5,331 international students, 3,722 (69.8%) were born in China.

In the same article, Professor Elers asked “Are we prepared to risk our fourth largest export earner, $5billion and 50,000 jobs, for the sake of “free speech” in the form of posters?”, in an apparent defense of Massey administrator removing pro-Hong Kong protest posters, including those placed on Student’s Association-owned poster boards; the Hong Kong students who posted them had obtained prior permission from the Association. This is even more concerning considering the ‘alarming’ influence of China over some UK universities that has recently been exposed.

Massey also enjoy substantial scholarship income from Saudi Arabia. Massey’s willingness to accept money from Saudi Arabia calls into question it’s claim that “safety” of “rainbow” students prompted them to banish Speak Up For Women from their campus. If Massey’s concern for the wellbeing of LGBTQI people was as strong as they claim, it is odd for them to accept vast sums from one of the worlds’ most prolific murderers of gay men and boys.

Yet there have been no protests or petitions to limit the Saudi Arabian or Chinese Government’s sponsorship scholarships or prizes at Massey or any other New Zealand University.

The only such petition or protest opposition was against Israel’s two prizes, the annual value of which is equivalent to 144 Big Macs.

Israel is not perfect; no nation is. However, when compared to Saudi Arabia, China, or the other nations discussed herein, Israel’s imperfections are extraordinarily minor.

Whatever criticisms can be made of Israel, it’s undeniable that its human rights record in comparison to the other nations discussed herein is exemplary.

Considering executions alone, China executes thousands of people each year. In 2017, following very questionable trials, Kuwait executed seven people in one day; five more people than Israel has put to death in its entire seventy-one-year history. The last Israeli execution was the 1962 hanging of Adolf Eichmann, the “architect” of The Holocaust. His sentence was carried out following a fair trial.

The SJP petition objecting to a comparatively minuscule scholarship and the wider Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement completely ignore the extraordinarily serious human rights abuses of other nations. Instead, they focus their efforts on Israel alone.

This monomaniacal opprobrium is not only blind to some of the worst human rights abusers that provide funding to New Zealand tertiary institutes, but it also comes at the expense of actual and egregious human rights abuses by the Arab Palestinian leaders in the areas they rule over. Students for Justice in Palestine completely ignore suppression of freedoms, extrajudicial punishment, and apartheid policies within Gaza and the Palestinian Authority-governed areas.

Such singling out of Israel and the application of double standards to the Jewish nation is racist. In May, the German Bundestag voted overwhelmingly to declare BDS antisemitic. The German Parliament noted that the BDS movement’s ‘Don’t Buy’ stickers “arouse associations [with] the Nazi slogan ‘Don’t buy from Jews'” and were “reminiscent of the most horrific phase in German history”. The SJP petition against only Israel’s scholarship, and the wider SJP/BDS movement both here and abroad, should be viewed and condemned similarly.

It is great that Victoria University refused to entertain the racism of SJP. Yet one must wonder, especially in light of it’s recent repeated acquiescence to Thug’s Vetoes and admission that it apparently values money over both freedom of speech and its academic duties to act as a critic and conscience of society, would Massey University have acted similarly?

This article was contributed by Dr Jim Schofield.