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Friday, July 16, 2004

NZ/Israel Dust-Up 

[Cross-Posted at The Head Heeb]

Is the Pax Americana wearing thin? First we had the Canada-Denmark
"Hans Island Foofaraw."

Now (in a peculiar synergy of the Head Heeb's interests) New Zealand and Israel are going at it. From the Guardian:
The prime minister of New Zealand angrily denounced Israel and imposed diplomatic sanctions on it after two suspected Mossad agents were jailed for six months for trying on false grounds to obtain a New Zealand passport.

The plot, which involved obtaining a passport in the name of a tetraplegic man who had not spoken in years, provoked a furious reaction yesterday.

"The breach of New Zealand laws and sovereignty by agents of the Israeli government has seriously strained our relationship with Israel," said the prime minister, Helen Clark.

"This type of behaviour is unacceptable internationally by any country. It is a sorry indictment of Israel that it has again taken such actions against a country with which it has friendly relations."

High-level visits between the two countries will be cancelled, visa restrictions imposed for Israeli officials, and an expected visit to New Zealand by Moshe Katsov, the Israeli president, later this year has been cancelled.

Ms Clark said Israel had ignored requests made three months ago for an explanation and an apology.

The action marks the most serious rupture in New Zealand's international relations since Wellington suspended diplomatic relations with France in 1985 after French agents bombed Greenpeace's anti-nuclear ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour.

PM Clark has a theory as to the underlying motive of the alleged Mossad agents:
"I can't comment on what they might have done but I can point to the precedent when the Canadian passport system was penetrated and agents involved in an assassination attempt in another country were using those false passports," says Clark.

She says it is "entirely a possibility" that the same scenario could be applied to the New Zealand case.

Clark is generally more circumspect than these intemperate comments might lead you to believe; she got in trouble a year or so ago for some poorly-thought-out criticisms of George Bush, but she's generally pretty perceptive and fair-minded. I'm not certain why she (and her government) have gotten quite so worked up about this particular incident. I'm sure commenters will help me figure it out.

The BBC reports that local troublemakers have taken this opportunity to bash Jewish graves:
Jewish graves at a cemetery in Wellington have been vandalised. Swastikas and Nazi slogans were gouged into and around 16 Jewish graves.

The head of the country's small Jewish community, David Zwartz, said he thought the attack was directly linked to the government's criticism of Israel.

"I think there is a direct connection between the very strong expressions against Israel and people here feeling they can take it out on Jews," Mr Zwartz said.
"It seems to me Israel-bashing one day, Jew-bashing the next day."

The Jerusalem Post has more reaction from New Zealand's Jewish community. The New Zealand Herald has the government's response.

I'm fairly certain that all of this will eventually blow over. My intuition is that what seems like fairly widespread pro-Palestinian sentiment among Kiwis is incredibly unlikely to lead to acceptance of anti-Jewish thuggery.

Wellington's Jewish community is tiny and very low profile in comparison to those of American cities of a similar size. And during the 6 months I spent in Wellington last year, I was often astonished at the unusually bitter and virulent anti-American and anti-Zionist sentiment I sometimes encountered, especially given Kiwis' reputations as mild and fair-minded.

That being said, Wellington is hardly a hotbed of anti-semitism, nor is the country's leadership anti-semitic (indeed, as covered by Jonathan Edelstein, New Zealand has recently sought out Jewish immigration). Helen Clark is no Zionist, to be sure, but neither is she likely to ignore any systematic outbreak of violence against Jewish New Zealanders.

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