In January The Israel Institute of New Zealand exposed NZ MPs as members of an online group that frequently posts vile antisemitism. Labour MP for Christchurch Central, Dr Duncan Webb, was found to have posted to, commented on, and ‘liked’ posts in the group.
Chair of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, Deb Hart, and spokesperson for the New Zealand Jewish Council, Juliet Moses, also called out the MPs’ association on social media.
The other MPs who have been recently exposed and previously exposed as members of Facebook groups that are frequently antisemitic include Labour Party MP, Ibrahim Omer; and Green MPs, Teanau Tuiono, Marama Davidson, and Golriz Ghahraman.
They have all refused to respond on social media or to private approaches except for Dr Webb. He replied to the Israel Institute of New Zealand by defending his association with the Facebook group:
“In respect of your email I note that I follow a number of groups to stay informed on various matters from all sides of the political spectrum and issues, including the issue of the occupation [of] the West Bank. Following a group does not mean I endorse comments made by other members of the group.
I do not endorse any hateful comments and as you know I condemn all hateful speech including anti-Semitic comments.
I would invite you to look at the “about” section of the page which requires appropriate language and content and …”Read moreDr Duncan Webb
Dr Webb apparently sees all the vile comments and posts as legitimate criticism of Israel, and seems to claim the administrators’ statement requiring appropriate language trumps their actual tolerance of, and sometimes engagement in, antisemitic posts and comments.
Much of the antisemitism in the Facebook groups that NZ MPs are members of is indistinguishable from antisemitism espoused by the White Nationalist group, Action Zealandia.
Recent examples of comments and posts in the group include glorification of Leila Khaled, the PFLP terrorist well-known for her role in the hijacking of two civilian airliners and who was recently banned from Facebook, Zoom, and Youtube for promoting violence. That post was made by an administrator of the group.
It is curious that the New Zealand government is championing the Christchurch Call that commits tech companies to attempt to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online – the same standards by which Ms Khaled was banned from platforms – and yet remains silent when an MP unashamedly affiliates with a group that glorifies terror.
It is also disturbing that the New Zealand Labour party has been promoting “hate speech” laws and yet seems to condone an MP associating with antisemitic material.
It is disappointing that Dr Webb did not disassociate from the group or specifically condemn the antisemitism exposed in it. In fact he has continued to engage with the group.
In response to further questions from The Israel Institute of New Zealand about his continued affiliation and engagement with the group, Dr Webb said “I posted a clip on the site in which the CEO of the Guardians of the NZ Super Fund explained the reasons for divesting from certain Israeli banks… You are well aware that I do not support terrorism. Rather I support the dissemination of accurate information which is what I posted on the site.”
Dr. Webb may claim not to support terrorism but he has not condemned the glorification of a terrorist in a group he seems happy to associate with. Dr Webb also has a history of comments and conduct that has troubled members of the New Zealand Jewish community.
More generally, the failure of NZ MPs to distance themselves from Facebook groups that frequently espouse racism is out of step with elected lawmakers from around the world, including some New Zealand MPs, who have also been exposed as members of objectionable forums. These include UK Labour members under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership being suspended and far-right Austrian FPÖ members distancing themselves from online groups they were members of.
In response to the initial revelations that MPs were members of the online groups, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission said they “do not condone, and are very concerned by, any alleged association of MPs with forums that express discrimination or racism.” Now that an MPs has confirmed he is associated with the group and the racism has continued, the Human Rights Commission has refused to make further comment, unlike their comments relating to other MPs over the past year, including one owning a MAGA hat.
Given that no Labour Party leader has said or done anything about Dr Webb or Ibrahim Omer, who was also found to be a member of the Facebook group, and the same for the Green party, it seems that the New Zealand Labour and Green parties are more tolerant of antisemitism than the UK Labour party was under Jeremy Corbyn or the far-right FPÖ party in Austria.