In recent years, human rights issues have become an increasingly important item on the agenda of Western countries. In New Zealand, this is no different – the country’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) is entrusted with “advocating and promoting an appreciation of human rights” and “promoting racial equality and cultural diversity,” among a host of other functions.
The New Zealand HRC can list a series of important achievements to its credit, including countering abuse of Maori councilors and tackling Islamophobia in New Zealand. However, on one particular issue, it has sometimes remained conspicuously silent – antisemitism. Several egregious incidents of Jew-hatred have occurred in New Zealand in recent years with little to no comment or action from the country’s foremost human rights body.
For example, an investigation by the Israel Institute of New Zealand (IINZ) found that several ostensibly “pro-Palestinian” groups in New Zealand regularly post antisemitic comments indistinguishable from that espoused by the far-right on their social media feeds. One group in particular, Kia Ora Gaza (KOG), included antisemitic content that would be clearly designated as antisemitic by the International Holocaust Remembrance of Antisemitism (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, including posts blaming Israel for the 2014 disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, posts referring to Jews as “dogs,” and posts comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.
Most shockingly, at one point, the group’s membership numbered four members of Parliament, including Prime Minister Jacinda Arden – though she has since distanced herself from the group and maintains that she was added to the group without her knowledge.
In another incident, a Labor member of parliament, Dr. Duncan Webb, was found to be a member of the Facebook group “Aotearoa Standing with Palestine” (ASWP), which also promotes blatant antisemitic rhetoric, including Holocaust denial. An IINZ investigation revealed that Webb was an active member of the group – posting material and liking comments. He also spoke at the group’s annual meeting and supports their events. When Webb was presented with examples of the ongoing and egregious racism, he refused to disassociate from the group.
While the HRC’s Commissioner, Paul Hunt, condemned the groups’ activity as “utterly deplorable” when it was brought to his attention, he later paid for the travel expenses of KOG and ASWP leaders – Roger Fowler and John Minto – to meet with HRC in Christchurch, and subsequently exchanged friendly emails agreeing to consult Minto on matters of antisemitism in New Zealand.
Needless to say, such a gesture is the equivalent of promising to consult the KKK Grand Wizard on matters of racism policy.
The HRC also not only refused to condemn MP’s engaging with the hate groups, but defended the racism. In a March 2021 meeting, HRC Communications Director Alex van Wel tried to deny there was any Holocaust denial in the group and noted the difficulty in monitoring the content posted in a large group. However, the group’s administrators themselves are often responsible for posting antisemitic content.
The HRC also had nothing to say when Green Party MPs Riccardo Menendez, Golriz Ghahraman and Chloe Swarbrick chanted for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel or when Union Leader Joe Carolan led chants in Auckland to “globalize the intifada” - a clear call for worldwide violence against Jews.
Similarly, at the November 2021 national counter-terror meeting in Christchurch attended by Commissioner Hunt, there was silence from the HRC when an invited community leader voiced support for Hamas and Hezbollah violence. Even if the genocidal aims of Hamas and their violence against Jews were not enough to warrant a condemnation, one might expect Hamas’ oppression of women and murder of homosexuals to trigger some sort of response from an organization that aspires to protect human rights.
It is worrying indeed that New Zealand’s leading human rights authority deems an MP’s active association with an antisemitic group as unworthy of comment and ignores or excuses expressions of hatred against Jews in New Zealand. It is equally disturbing that the HRC gives a pass to calls for the destruction of the only Jewish nation, or open support for terror.
If the New Zealand Human Rights Commission truly aims to “encourage the maintenance and development of harmonious relations between individuals and among the diverse groups in New Zealand society” as it is legislated to, then it should condemn antisemitism from elected officials and members of the public as swiftly and as fiercely as it condemns any other form of racism.
David Cumin (Twitter:@KiwiDaveC) is the co-director of the Israel Institute of New Zealand (IINZ).
This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Marc Greendorfer.