New research highlights anti-Israel / anti-Zionist disinformation as major issue

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Newly published research shows the type of antisemitic disinformation most experienced online by New Zealand Jewry is anti-Israel or anti-Zionist in nature. Israel Institute of New Zealand co-director, Dr David Cumin, says this is unsurprising but still disturbing.

“The results, unfortunately, match our experience and what we see around the world. New Zealand is not immune to the lies spread about Jews and Israel. The amount of disinformation relating to Israel and Jews online is pernicious and a major part of the reason IINZ exists.”Dr David Cumin

More than half of the 102 Jewish New Zealanders who responded said they had been exposed to antisemitc mis/disinformation of an anti-Israel or anti-Zionist nature online in the past year. This compares with 27% of respondents reportedly seeing tropes about Jews and money in the past 3 years and less than one quarter of respondents identifying as being exposed to other forms of antisemitic mis/disinformation online. Dr Cumin says this research, conducted by Humanity Matters, triangulates with a larger, more comprehensive survey commissioned last year by the New Zealand Jewish Council.

“The high levels of anti-Israel antisemitic disinformation reported by the Jewish community surveyed aligns closely with the nationwide survey of New Zealanders done last year. That research showed that more Kiwis held anti-Israel antisemitic views than classical antisemitic views, in general.”Dr David Cumin

The New Zealand Jewish Council commissioned a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 New Zealaders in 2021 which found that 63% of New Zealanders agree with at least one antisemitic view and 6% hold nine or more antisemitic views out of the 18 questions posed. There was more agreement with antisemitic statments that were anti-Israel in nature, compared with classic antisemitic tropes. And a significant proportion of the population were unsure about some statements, including 48% of New Zealanders saying they didn’t know if the State of Israel has every right to exist as a majority Jewish state.

“The emerging picture seems to be that there is a general lack of knowledge about Israel, and that there are small but very vocal groups that spread harmful disinformation. IINZ has exposed some of these groups in New Zealand – some connected to terror organisations and that have MPs who affiliate with them. When respected, elected leaders participate in disinformation campaigns, the harmful effects are amplified.”Dr David Cumin

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, was exposed as a member of one anti-Israel group but claimed she was added without her knowledge and distanced herself from them when IINZ brought the widespread antisemitism on their page to her attention.

However, a senior Labour MP, Dr Duncan Webb, remains a member of another group that frequently shares disinformation and tolerates antisemitism indistinguishable from far-right antisemitism. Dr Webb has also been condemned by the New Zealand Jewish Council for promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, that the German government has likened to the Nazi boycott of Jews; and in 2019 he suggested that the US anti-discrimination laws were only passed because of “a strong Zionist Jewish lobby”.

“It is deeply disappointing that a New Zealand political party that claims to be against all racism would tolerate MPs’ ongoing egregious actions. It is even more disappointing that our Prime Minister would turn a blind eye to this disinformation while lecturing about the dangers at the UN and urging other countries to act.”Dr David Cumin

Prime Minister Ardern’s United Nations speech likened disinformation to weapons of war and suggested the Christchurch Call to Action, that works with social media companies to prevent violent extremist and terror content, was just a begining step. However, Dr Cumin is worried about this approach.

“Government censorship is not the solution. There is the potential for overreach and abuse of such laws, as we’ve seen through history. A much better approach would be for the Prime Minister to speak out against the disinformation – at least before reaching to legislation – and to promote truthful narratives. That is why IINZ exists and, sadly, it seems we will need to exist for some time yet.”Dr David Cumin