The CEO of the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Chris Seed, said NZ’s funding of schools that teach hate and incite violence is a “serious issue”. Yet New Zealand is set to give another $1m to the organisation in charge of the schools this month.
Mr Seed’s comment came after questions posed by National Party MP, Simon O’Connor, at the NZ Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Defence Select Committee on 25 Feb.
The issue of textbooks is one for which there is decades of evidence. Mr Seed said the issue “is a known one and is being dealt to”, without elaborating on what, exactly, was being done. He also praised UNRWA as a “significant and important entity”.
The praise for UNRWA has been consistent among MFAT officials. In repeated MFAT documents, they refer to the organisation as “a stabilising force… [that] supports peace and security”. In 2019, the Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, Craig Hawke, stood with disgraced Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, and said “New Zealand is proud to continue our long-standing commitment to UNRWA” while committing to funding $3m over three years.
However, the recent “concern” about the textbooks has not been as consistent. MFAT staff initially didn’t record issues raised in meetings and there was never discussion of them in private or public. Their first comments, after IINZ published a report in 2019, was that “While the Agency is not perfect, we do not think that [REDACTED] criticisms are fair.”
When media enquiries followed, MFAT responded with a justification of the funding. Only when the Human Rights Commission made a comment and enquiries, pointing out that the source of the textbooks is not as important as their use for teaching children, MFAT then said “New Zealand takes [the accusations] extremely seriously”.
In the Select Committee questioning, Mr Seed wasn’t aware that the EU-funded report was delayed and had to be helped by Mr O’Connor, who informed him that the report was due in December 2020. The lead author of that study has also admitted there were gross errors in the interim report, including that they looked at the wrong textbooks.
Abandoning any strong sense of an ‘independent foreign policy’, Mr Seed repeated that New Zealand was “one of a number of countries” looking into the issue.
And when asked if MFAT had direct conversations with UNRWA suggesting that NZ would withdraw funding if it continues, Mr Seed suggested that there may not be an issue by saying “if it’s true”, quickly followed by a want to know “how it’s come about, how it’ll be addressed and in what timeframe.” The decades of evidence of UNRWA teaching hate was once again ignored.
Mr Seed went on to defend UNRWA’s handling of the issue, saying “I haven’t seen anything back from UNRWA that says they are being anything other than significantly serious in looking at this issue and how it came about. My understanding is that they are required to use the materials provided to them by the Palestinian Authority for education.”
While it is true that the PA provides the materials, the NZ Human Rights Commission made it clear in a meeting with MFAT that where the books originate it isn’t as important as that they are used in schools funded by New Zealand taxpayers and that NZ may be in breach of international human rights obligations by continuing to fund the practice.
The next payment to UNRWA is due this month. The Israel Institute of New Zealand has called for a freeze until we can be assured that our money is not going to incite violence and teach hate.