Conspiracy in the rubble

No reasonable gestures or concessions on Israel’s part are likely to offset blatant prejudice.

New Zealand Christchurch earthquake_311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
New Zealand Christchurch earthquake_311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Nothing sells papers or ups ratings better than cock-and-bull stories – and the more fanciful, improbable and sensationalist, the greater their commercial value. This applies to the belated hullabaloo in New Zealand’s media about the Israeli backpackers who found themselves at the epicenter of Christchurch’s earthquake devastation last February.
Three Israelis were among the 181 fatalities caused by the 6.3 temblor. Other Israelis were injured. Israeli rescuers and pathologists flew to Christchurch, primarily to help find missing Israelis and/or identify their remains.
The far-fetched fiction disseminated by New Zealand’s news outlets seizes on every Israeli facet of the episode – no matter how innocuous – as evidence of nefarious cloak-and-dagger schemes. It’s being claimed that one of the Israeli casualties, Ofer Mizrahi, and three of his travel- mates, were Mossad agents up to no good in Christchurch.
Mizrahi was said to have been carrying no less than five passports (hotly denied here). Another “clue” imputing guilt was the fact that the Israelis who escaped with their lives were escorted to the airport by Israel’s ambassador and sent speedily home (conceded here, though not as evidence of flight but of humanitarian solidarity with shocked and grieving compatriots).
The presence of Israeli rescuers and medics is depicted as an attempt to trespass and possibly cover up trails.
But overactive imaginations are the least worrisome aspect of this tale. The fact is that the reports weren’t woven from whole cloth. According to New Zealand’s own premier, John Key, his country’s Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and local police did indeed probe suspicions that the Israeli backpackers were Mossad agents.
But as Key himself admitted, these investigations turned up no evidence connecting the backpackers to Israeli intelligence.
In Key’s own words, “The unusual circumstance which triggered the investigation was the rapid departure from the country of the three surviving members of the group of Israelis in question.”
This is what must arouse our concern: suspicions about Israeli spies in the midst of a natural disaster. The very fact that the tragic roll-call of casualties included Israelis sufficed to generate allegations of wrongdoing.
According to the Southland Times, the national police computer was “under scrutiny in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake” for fear that Israeli agents – among them Mizrahi, who was killed instantly when falling masonry crushed his van – had possibly hacked into the network and gained access to sensitive information.
It seems the SIS lacks more urgent preoccupations.
Odds are no foreign tourists from any other country would have been the objects of such unsubstantiated suspicion, nor the subjects of intelligence investigations launched for no plausible reason.
The 2004 kerfuffle in which two Israelis sought to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports certainly doesn’t justify this behavior. Considering how far removed New Zealand is from our arena, its attitude betokens bias more than vigilance.
It isn’t dissimilar to the picture painted by the chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Manfred Gerstenfeld, regarding Israel-bashing in minuscule, faraway Iceland, seemingly as removed as New Zealand from our travails.
Similarly, Israel’s outgoing ambassador to Madrid, Rafi Schutz, has pondered why Spaniards – most of whom have never met a Jew – should harbor such animosity toward the Jewish state. He attributes part of the answer to the demonic stereotypes of Jews and Jewish bogeymen on which many in Spain were raised from early childhood.
Today nearly all information about Israel derives from distorted news reports that additionally demonize Israel.
Typifying such slanderous reports is the latest specimen from New Zealand. More than anything, it underscores a pronounced predisposition to treat Israel as a pariah state.
As such, Christchurch’s canard is symptomatic of Israel’s international standing and constitutes a measure of our delegitimization and ostracism even in distant places. So habitually tarnished are we that it’s easy to smear us further and accuse us of just about anything.
This, in turn, highlights Israel’s inherent difficulties in attempting, with one hand tied behind its back, to wipe off the mud unjustly slung in its face.
No reasonable gestures or concessions on Israel’s part are likely to offset blatant prejudice.