New Zealand’s changing attitude toward Israel


Last Sunday I made a presentation on ‘New Zealand’s attitude to Israel’ to the Friends of Israel Group at a meeting in Greenlane, Auckland. In many respects the presentation was a stocktake on where New Zealand now stands relative to where we were at in 1947. Back then we were one of 33 UN nations which voted in favour of partition – the act which paved the way to the creation of the modern Israeli state.

But how do we rate today?

To answer this question I divided it into three distinct sets of attitudes – those of our politicians, those of the media, and those of the public – and came up with three very different perspectives on the issue.

Let’s start with the politicians.

Between 1947 and 2002 New Zealand had a proud track record of mostly unwavering support of Israel. That was punctuated by statements condemning Arab terror in 1997 (by PM Jim Bolger), in 1998 (by Foreign Minister Don McKinnon), and in 2000, 2001, and 2002 (all by Foreign Minister Phil Goff). In fact it wasn’t until 2004 that the first cracks in our support appeared, with a statement from Phil Goff condemning Israeli settlements – the first time a New Zealand Government had ever taken such a position. Sadly, it wasn’t to be the last.

Over the next 16 years New Zealand took an increasingly combative view of Israel with anti-settlement statements by Foreign Minister Murray McCully in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Then, in 2017 the same Murray McCully was responsible for New Zealand’s co-sponsorship of UN Security Council resolution 2334, also condemning settlements and solidifying New Zealand’s shameless credentials as an enemy of Israel – at least at a diplomatic level.

This is obviously a strong claim to make – but it’s backed up by our recent track record of voting on Israeli resolutions at the UN. Take 2017 – a year in which 21 anti-Israeli resolutions were moved (vs just six for the rest of the world, combined). New Zealand abstained from just 4 of these votes and didn’t vote against any. Compare that record to Canada which abstained from 3 votes and voted against 17 and you start to get a feel for how far out of step with traditional allies we’ve become.

Our record of media bias against Israel is arguably even worse, although more difficult to pin down as it often masquerades under the guise of opinion or parrots the views of the international press. However, it would be a very one eyed observer who failed to see the erosion of balance on issues concerning Israel – and the proliferation of misleading headlines and lack of research on unsubstantiated claims is of increasing concern. The counter to this must be unceasing vigilance, proactive media advocacy and the use of mechanisms such as the Broadcasting Standards Authority to challenge bias and mistruths.

In respect of the kiwi publics attitude to Israel the news is more positive. In a 2017 Survey conducted by the Israel Institute we found that 55% of New Zealanders still described themselves as supporters of Israel with just 13% in opposition to the State. However, I suspect this result is shaped by the attitudes of older kiwis (who generally have a better understanding of history), by the Christian community which has traditionally been pro-Israel but which is now in rapid decline.

For these reasons, we can’t rely on these numbers holding up in the face of the onslaught of media bias, virtue signalling and historical amnesia when it comes to matters concerning Israel and the history of the Jewish people.

Now, more than ever, organisations like the Israel Institute matter. We have an obligation to use new technologies and 21st century skills to counter an ancient bias which shows no signs of going away – but we can only achieve that through the support of people like you.

Kiwis still support Israel. Let’s make sure that this continues.