33 votes. The rest as they say, is history.
The 29th of November marks one of the most significant moments in the birth of the State of Israel. So significant in fact that there are 29th of November Streets in Jerusalem, Rishon LeZion, and other major Israeli cities.
75 years ago on that day, a two-thirds majority of the United Nations voted in favor of Resolution 181: a plan that would partition the lands under the administration of the British Mandate into Arab and Jewish states. Months later, the Mandate expired and in accordance with the UN’s plan, the Jewish community formerly under the Mandate’s rule proclaimed the establishment of an independent State of Israel. The Arab states however rejected the results of the UN vote and attacked the young State of Israel the day following its proclamation of independence, severely escalating an existing conflict that would lead to the deaths of thousands and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more. This attack would also seal the fate of Resolution 181 and its vision for a planned partition of the land between Arabs and Jews.
Of the 33 votes that paved the way for the emergence of the State of Israel, #NewZealand’s came not only the farthest away from the soon-to-no-longer-be Mandate, it was also a vote in surprising opposition to pressures from the Mandate’s British administrators. Perhaps owing to its and Australia’s intimate understanding of the region and its peoples gained from the ANZAC’s involvement in the First World War, both Commonwealth countries defiantly voted in favor to Resolution 181, while the United Kingdom abstained.
Even though Israel undoubtedly owes its existence in part to New Zealand’s early support, the disappointing reality is that modern relations between the two countries have never surpassed lukewarm. Despite shared economic interests, bilateral visa schemes, and increasingly intertwining private sectors, New Zealand doesn’t even have an embassy or consulate-general in Israel. Its accredited diplomatic mission to Israel sits far away in the capital of Türkiye.
The answer to the New Zealand–Israel relations problem lies in its peoples, at home and abroad: Kiwis in Israel, Israelis in Aotearoa, and everyone in between. New initiatives by Israelis and New Zealanders to bring their countries closer together and strengthen the cultural, social, and economic bonds they share will engender further opportunities and innovations that both countries will enjoy. And perhaps, 75 years on from voting yes and lighting the way, Aotearoa New Zealand will finally establish a diplomatic home for itself in Israel.
By Joey Sacharow, the Israel Director at New Zealand Israel Innovation Hub and a volunteer event coordinator and member of the Kea New Zealand community in Israel.