Election series: The 52nd NZ government’s dismal record on Israel


At the time of the 2017 election, New Zealand’s relationship with Israel was at an all time low, as a result of the actions of National’s Murray McCully who, in December 2016, put New Zealand forward as a co-sponsor of the anti-Israel UN resolution 2334, along with Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela. The Israeli ambassador was recalled and the rift between our countries only ended after New Zealand PM Bill English sent a letter to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in June 2017 stating,

I regret the damage done to Israel-New Zealand relations as a result of New Zealand proposing Resolution 2344 at the Security Council.

We held hope, in our post-election outlook in 2017, that with NZ First as part of the coalition government an opportunity existed for New Zealand to ‘recalibrate its relations with Israel’. This was based on the fact that Winston Peters was the only MP to have pursued the issue of New Zealand’s sponsoring of UN Resolution 2334 in parliament. The perception that Peters supported Israel led a number of voters who were long time National supporters to change parties and vote for New Zealand First.

While Jacinda Ardern had spent time in Israel when she was president of the International Union of Socialist Youth, she had not at that point made any public comment on Israel. However, when she was asked directly whether she supported the actions of Murray McCully in co-sponsoring anti-Israel resolution 2334, she stated that her only concern was that there should have been ‘more of a process around it’. Ardern clearly implied support for McCully’s actions. 

So how has the current government fared in its actions towards Israel? 

The most positive development in the past three years at a governmental level was the signing of an agreement on Cooperation in Technological Innovation, Research and Development. This agreement – begun and largely negotiated by the previous Ministers – is expected to provide “opportunities for both countries’ knowledge intensive firms to share technologies and know-how, to improve commercialisation pathways for their products” and to “forge a partnership with Israel that will connect New Zealand firms with world-leading technologies”. This is indeed a welcome development and New Zealand stands to gain much from this opportunity. 

However, a perusal of this government’s actions towards Israel suggests a problematic relationship to terrorism, when said terrorism is directed against the Jewish state. The Ardern government has repeatedly failed to condemn terrorism, financially supports a group closely associated with terrorism and has refused to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group. Its stance on Israel is all the more ironic and hypocritical in light of its response to the one recent act of terrorism on New Zealand soil. 

In addition, the Government has continued the pattern of imbalance and bias in its voting record at the UN, in spite of the fact that it claims to have a ‘balanced approach’ to Israel. Finally, the actions of some government ministers and officials have raised further doubt over the government mantra about maintaining a ‘balanced’ and ‘even handed’ approach to Israel. 

NZ’s relationship to terrorism – aiding and abetting

In May 2018 Hamas orchestrated a so-called “Great March of Return” in order to infiltrate Israel’s border en masse. The protests over the six week period saw crowds of over 35,000 congregating at the borders and included violents acts such as rolling burning tires towards the fence and using them as smoke screens, throwing Molotov cocktails at troops, launching grenades and incendiary devices over the fence, firing of weapons, pipe bombs and improvised explosive devices.

Hamas chairman, Ismail Haniyeh vowed: ‘We shall never, never, never recognise Israel… …the resistance does not merely refuse to surrender its weapons, but is even developing them’.

Senior Hamas Official Mahmoud Al-Zahhar stated, ‘This is not peaceful resistance, it is supported by our weapons’.

Jacinda Ardern’s only public comment on the violence, directed at Israel, was a condemnation of the “one-sided loss of life” – the vast majority of whom were Hamas militants.

This disturbing trend continued. While leaders and representatives of many countries condemned ongoing Hamas terrorism and recognised Israel’s right to defend its borders, New Zealand’s ministers and representatives remained silent. 

In March 2019, a review found that Palestinians had, in one year, launched 1,233 rockets from Gaza, hurled 94 explosive devices and 600 Molotov cocktails across the security fence and committed 152 acts of arson against Israeli forces, and still New Zealand failed to clearly condemn terrorism directed against Israel. 

And in a demonstration of softness on terrorism, NZ failed to take the opportunity to ensure that Hamas’ terrorism was condemned at the UN. While it voted to condemn Hamas, it also abstained from the Kuwait-driven vote to impose the two-thirds majority hurdle. Hence the resolution failed to pass by only 3 votes. UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer, rightly pointed out that New Zealand’s ‘vile abstention’ ultimately ‘aided terror’.

In addition, IINZ has repeatedly urged the government to recognize the fact that there is no distinction between the ‘military and political wings’ of Hezbollah, the terror organisation supported by Iran. Currently, New Zealand has only designated the military wing as a terrorist entity, which allows a loophole for Kiwis to materially support global terror. The Israel Institute of New Zealand has pointed out in the past, that as New Zealand’s Prime Minister seeks to lead the world in the fight against terrorism, with initiatives like the Christchurch Call, there should be no argument that an organisation that promotes and engages in terrorism and sees its organisation as one indivisible unit, should be banned.

Sadly, a comparison of the government’s response to one act of terrorism on New Zealand soil, to its failure to condemn thousands of acts of terrorism against Israel, reeks of double standards and hypocrisy. 

NZ falls in line with antisemitic bias at the UN

It is widely acknowledged that the United Nations is a place where Jew-hatred flourishes and where an irrational fixation on demonising Israel persists. There are 193 member states of the United Nations. Of these, 125 – the Non-aligned movement, which includes the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – are inherently anti-Israel and anti-democratic. It is little wonder that there are disproportionately more resolutions passed against Israel than any other country (by a ratio of 20:1) when countries like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela dictate the agenda.

Sadly, New Zealand has played a role in propping up the antisemitic organs of the UN and supporting anti-Israel resolutions.

To understand the New Zealand motivation for not opposing this clear bias at the UN, The Israel Institute of New Zealand obtained, under the Official Information Act, advice given by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials on UNGA voting for 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. The Israel Institute of New Zealand has summarised the advice given and commented on each of the nineteen reoccurring resolutions

In response to the Israel Institute of New Zealand commentary, Foreign Minister Winston Peters wrote “New Zealand maintains a consistent and balanced position on the nineteen Middle East-related resolutions that are voted in the United Nations General Assembly…”

However, it is hard to see how the rhetoric of ‘balance’ is manifest in reality. In 2017 and 2018, New Zealand abstained on four of the nineteen recurring anti-Israel resolutions and voted against none. In contrast, Australia voted against six in 2017 and nine in 2018; Canada voted against 17 in both years; and the USA voted against 17 in 2017 and all 19 in 2018. This shows countries can change their voting pattern if they choose and highlights a difference in thinking between New Zealand and traditional allies.

New Zealand’s record of supporting anti-Israel resolutions show the claims of balance, evenhandedness, and being an “honest broker” to be false. Rather, New Zealand has consistently followed the automatic majority at the UN in disproportionately condemning Israel, rather than finding an independent voice.

NZ’s unquestioning support of UNRWA

IINZ has challenged New Zealand’s unquestioning support of a United Nations agency that has become politicised and a barrier to peace. 

The New Zealand government has not addressed issues of corruption, inefficiency, the perpetuation of the conflict, or incitement to terror within UNRWA. Worse still, documents obtained under the Official Information Act by the Israel Institute of New Zealand show Ministry of Foreign Affairs Officials failed to record meetings where issues were raised and did not brief ministers.

New Zealand has only praised UNRWA and committed to at least $1 million each year in funding for the organisation.

When confronted with questions about the incitement on UNRWA staff social media and the corruption allegations of senior UNRWA officials, MFAT staff responded by saying ‘the Ministry will review the findings of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) report once the investigation is complete and provide advice to the New Zealand Government’.

We noted that this was a bizarre response from a government that is leading the Christchurch Call to eliminate online incitement. It would only be consistent to take more seriously online incitement by staff in an organisation funded by New Zealand taxpayers. The MFAT comment was also undermined by New Zealand voting, in opposition to the USA, to extend the mandate of UNRWA until 2023, despite the ongoing OIOS investigation (which was not even tasked with investigating the problematic material taught in UNRWA schools).

Dr David Cumin and Prof Dov Bing also highlighted the hypocrisy of New Zealand supporting UNRWA in an article published by The New Zealand International Review. They cited the government’s previous suspension of aid to Fiji and Nauru over reported violations of civil and political rights, in contrast to the continued support of UNRWA.

At the very least, New Zealand should denounce the egregious and systemic issues within UNRWA rather than continue its automatic support of the “right of return”, antisemitic curriculum, and online incitement to violence.

Rogue Labour MPs and Government officials

Finally, the actions of government Ministers and officials has raised doubt over the government’s claim to maintain a ‘balanced’, ‘even handed’ approach to Israel. 

In August 2018 Labour MP Dr Duncan Webb hosted a meeting by Unite Union National Director Mike Treen who participated in a flotilla protest against Israel. While Treen is entitled to support the terrorist actions of Hamas, a Labour MP hosting such an event, is a clear endorsement of extremism.

MP Webb continued his activism in promoting an unsuccessful petition for the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to divest from Israeli banks, and in May 2019 he promoted a BDS campaign whose goal is the delegitimization and ultimate dismantling of Israel. And in a speech given in June 2019, Dr Webb made the false and outrageous claim that “It’s illegal to promote boycotts against Israel [in US] because [US has] a strong Zionist Jewish lobby.”

Dr Webb’s views are in stark opposition to the official stance stated by the New Zealand Government and the Labour Party, which “supports a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and recognises that New Zealand has a growing trade and economic relationship with Israel”. 

Another matter of concern is the way in which officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade were comfortable promoting an event that advocated BDS and a one-state solution. The keynote speaker, University of Auckland Associate Professor of Dance Studies, Nicholas Rowe openly identifies with a designated terror organisation and endorses actions that are designed to destroy an allied nation.

These are the same government officials who advise the minister and other representatives. 

Their retweet and lack of apology raised serious questions about the lack of balance in the advice given to Ministers of Foreign Affairs and other representatives, and the divide between MFAT officials’ opinions and the NZ government’s official position. What influence do rogue advisors have on Ministers and UN vote-makers? Or is it, like the Immigration Ministry, suffering a simple case of incompetence, as revealed by the chance discovery that Immmigration NZ had erased Israel from the map?

However, in a slither of hope, PM Jacinda Ardern recently distanced herself from the on-line anti-Israel hate group, Kia Ora Gaza.

The posts and comments on the Kia Ora Gaza facebook page prompted emphatic condemnation from Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon, who called the material “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.”

The government’s report card on Israel over the past three years makes for dismal reading. In current parlance, Ardern’s government would receive “Not Achieved”. In terms with which our older readers would be more familiar: “D-“

It is therefore not surprising that Winston Peters has issued a press statement expressing ‘serious concern’ over Israel’s plan to apply Israeli civilian law to parts of the disputed territories, even before the details of the plan have been announced. 

New Zealand’s failure to clearly condemn terrorism reeks of hypocrisy and its ongoing anti-Israel voting record at the UN renders any talk of ‘balance’ and ‘even-handedness’ hollow. However, those who care about New Zealand’s relationship with Israel will soon have an opportunity to make their views known at the ballot box. We have prepared the following voter’s guide of different party positions on Israel and will write further articles in the lead up to the election.