NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs declines to combat online incitement


Officials at MFAT (the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) have been active in promoting the Christchurch Call while refusing to condemn violent extremist content posted online by an organisation that New Zealand funds, making a mockery of the initiative to eliminate violent incitement online.

On 25 September 2019, UN Watch published a report that exposed examples of terrorist incitement and antisemitism on the Facebook pages of staff at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), including the endorsement and glorification of murderous terrorists, condoning knife and car-ramming attacks, and portraying Adolf Hitler as a humanitarian.

This wasn’t the first time that UNRWA staff had been found to incite violence online – UN Watch had exposed staff (e.g., here, here, here, here and here). Furthermore, the textbooks UNRWA use to teach children promote violence and demonise Jews.

In response to questions from the Israel Institute of New Zealand, MFAT staff refused to condemn the incitement, saying:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is aware UNRWA is currently under investigation. The Ministry will be reviewing the findings of the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services report once the investigation is complete. We expect UNRWA to cooperate fully with the current investigation and report back on the investigation’s findings and recommendations. MFAT will then assess UNRWA’s response and provide advice to the Minister of Foreign Affairs regarding future funding. New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

However, the OIOS investigations are titled ‘Investigation report on an unauthorized investigation and abuse of authority by a staff member” and “Investigation report on non-cooperation with an authorized investigation by a staff member”. The investigations seem to only concern the most recent set of  “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses including “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

There is nothing in the report titles to suggest an investigation into UNRWA’s incitement to violence, ties with terrorists, or how its unique definition of a ‘refugee’ perpetuated the Arab-Israeli conflict. That would be in keeping with previous OIOS reports (in 2016 and 2017) that have not addressed these serious issues.

When the Israel Institute of New Zealand asked MFAT to clarify the scope of the OIOS investigation, their response was

The Ministry does not hold the information you requested about the scope of the investigation…New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

While MFAT said they were waiting for the investigations to complete before giving advice to the Minister about continued funding (which is approximately $1m each year), New Zealand representatives voted to extend UNRWA’s mandate until 2023 without any comment on the corruptions allegations or other issues that have plagued the organisation nor any comment on the incitement by staff that Kiwi taxpayers fund.

In early November, UN Secretary-General António Guterres released a statement saying that preliminary findings of the OIOS found no “fraud or misappropriation of operational funds.” but there were “managerial issues that need to be addressed”. Shortly after, the UNRWA Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, resigned.

This seemed to be enough for Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Belgium to reinstate their funding of the agency. Time will tell if New Zealand will continue to uncritically give to UNRWA or if it will at least live up to the principles of the Christchurch Call and condemn incitement by UNRWA staff.

Documents obtained by the Israel Institute of New Zealand under the Official Information Act have shown that officials within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not record meetings where concerns about UNRWA were raised and failed to brief Ministers about egregious issues.

Now, as Prime Minister Ardern is travelling the globe to garner support for the Christchurch Call, MFAT staff are refusing to condemn antisemitism and incitement to violence from an organisation that Kiwi taxpayers fund. If you want to email Ms Ardern to seek clarification on the government’s position, click here.