NZ Jewish Council calls New Zealanders antisemitic for holding views consistent with the world’s leading human rights organisations

Media Release from Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa

The NZ Jewish Council has released a survey which calls hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders antisemitic for expressing views consistent with those of the world’s leading human rights organisations.  By conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with the hatred of Jews the survey is weaponising antisemitism in a way that it is more than dishonest. It is dangerous. Their method should not have been funded.

The survey uses a sweeping definition of antisemitism which conflates opposition to the occupation with the hatred of Jews. Known as the IHRA Working Definition, it has no official standing in Aotearoa, none. This survey shows us why it is so dangerous. Of the survey’s 18 attitudes, fully half are attitudes about Israel rather than Jews.  Therefore, this survey seeks out public objections to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and calls that racism. The NZ Jewish Council has a history of calling disagreement racist.

If, for example, a respondent simply agrees with the conclusion of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Harvard Law School and others that Israel’s regime constitutes apartheid, that respondent is classed as hating Jews. Literally: the survey has no category called ‘agree,’ only a category called ‘antisemitic.’ If a person understands that Palestinians are indigenous to Palestine, they are antisemitic. If they do not consider Israel democratic because they see that the government of Israel wields power over millions of West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians who cannot vote in Israeli elections, they are classed as antisemitic.  These are not hateful attitudes to Jews, they are attitudes that show respect for democracy, international law and human rights.

The Jewish Council’s partisan method has undermined what should have been a serious and timely study of antisemitism. Instead, they have used their platform to alienate our neighbours whose concern extends to the rights of Palestinians.

And where does this method leave Palestinians? A Palestinian who asserts her identity and her full human and political rights would fall foul of this survey on several counts. The NZ Jewish Council has published a document that renders Palestinian identity racist. It should not have been funded.

The study’s first category comes closest to a real definition of antisemitism. Those responses give us sufficient concern to work more closely within Aotearoa’s broad antiracist community. It is a travesty that the NZ Jewish Council went on to politicise the exercise and place one more obstacle in the path of a genuine Jewish antiracism.

Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa NZ

Apartheid, the Right of Return, and Ukraine

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We usually think of a country taking in refugees as a helpful, necessary action for the benefit of all but watching Israel select and privilege Ukrainians of Jewish descent highlights its racist nature.  Israel has refused to take in many refugees from Africa.  Although the news calls the Ukrainians refugees they are, in fact, being offered instant citizenship under an ethnic law.  We also have read that some Ukrainians will be settled illegally on the West Bank, thereby even further alienating Palestine refugees from their land and rights.  Three fundamental issues have intersected here: apartheid, the Right of Return, and Ukraine.

Human rights lawyers including these have determined that Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its domestic regime now constitute apartheid, which is a crime against humanity:

As one tactic of its settler colonial project, Israel has perennially held the parts of Palestine apart. Therefore, every response should consciously address Israel’s single-minded project, although it is being variously enacted in different geographies: domestically through an ethnic hierarchy of rights and entitlements; in Gaza through blockade and repeated bombardment; in the West Bank through the encroachment of illegal settlements and a regime of fragmentation; and globally by privileging the status of Jews as instant citizens-in-waiting while denying the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their own land.

That last phrase needs unpacking because the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their own land are under renewed assault.

First, the descendants of displaced Palestinians are refugees. The United Nations website’s issue page on refugees explains that intergenerational recognition is the global norm, not an exception:

“Under international law and the principle of family unity, the children of refugees and their descendants are also considered refugees until a durable solution is found… Palestine refugees are not distinct from other protracted refugee situations such as those from Afghanistan or Somalia, where there are multiple generations of refugees, considered by UNHCR as refugees and supported as such. Protracted refugee situations are the result of the failure to find political solutions to their underlying political crises.”

Second, Palestinian refugees have an internationally mandated Right of Return. On December 11, 1948, United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 194 outlining principles for a just solution in Palestine / Israel. NZ voted in favour, agreeing that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property.”

Israel’s apartheid regime has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally mandated Right of Return for 74 years.

Daily, we are watching yet another enactment of Israel’s legislated Jewish supremacy: as many as 200,000 Ukrainians of Jewish descent are being brought to Israel under its ethnic “law of return.”  Israeli publications refer to Ukrainian arrivals as ‘immigrants’ taking up citizenship, not refuge. Israel’s race-based law of return offers instant citizenship to far more people than Israel’s prevailing religious law recognises as Jews.

“Israeli officials have declared that they will open their arms to any Ukrainians who qualify to immigrate to Israel. Under the Law of Return, any individual with at least one Jewish grandparent, or a Jewish spouse, is eligible for Israeli citizenship. However, a significant portion of those new immigrants are expected to be … Jewish enough to obtain citizenship, but not Jewish enough to be married or buried as Jews in the Jewish state.”  Times of Israel 

Why would Israel take in a few hundred thousand Ukrainians and emigrating Russians, some of whom may or may not later convert to Judaism? This influx responds first to Israel’s longstanding fear of confronting a Palestinian majority in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Despite decades of policy that has sought to include maximum land with minimum Palestinians, the day of demographic reckoning is close.

“According to the latest figures, the year 2021 saw the number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and those based in Israel approach 7,253,000 Palestinians, which, for the first time ever, came close to the number of Jews that stood at 7,4 million. … A fresh study, released by a journal affiliated to the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence in July 2020, indicated that Tel Aviv sees demography as the most critical ​​menace to its national security.”  MENA

Demography has always underpinned Israel’s disavowal of the Gaza Strip as a fully-fledged, occupied, intrinsic part of Palestine. Don’t count the two million Gazans!!  Gaza’s numbers have always posed a far more strategic threat to Israel than its rockets.

To top it off, “the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division – which is funded by the Israeli government and falls under its direct control – announced the building of 1,000 housing structures for Ukrainian Jewish families in both Israel and settlements in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.” Al Jazeera

That is the coup de grace: Israel is preparing to add Ukrainians to the 620,000 illegal settlers who aggressively eat up the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

We are boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Russia because we wish to live in a world governed by laws rather than predators. At the very same time, Israel is piling tens of thousands of those displaced by Russia’s crimes into its manufactured demographics and its illegal settlements on occupied land. Wrongs are compounding wrongs. Let’s sanction Israel’s violations too.

We wish all refugees safe refuge until they are able to choose resettlement or return to their homes. For the very same reason, we recognise the UN-mandated right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. When the land between the river and the sea is governed by, and in the interests of, all of its citizens then others of any religion can apply to immigrate.

Alternative Jewish Voices

Constitution, what constitution: NZ Jewish Council and the Amnesty Report

Sh’ma Koleinu/Alternative Jewish Voices have commented in the past about the New Zealand Jewish Council and its lack of accountability with the wider New Zealand Jewish community.  While the Council has done good work in pointing out antisemitism in the New Zealand context it is on shakier ground when commenting on Israel and news items about Israel, because, I believe, of the rather fixed views of its members.  Further to that, the Council is going outside of its own constitution in commenting on non-New Zealand matters.

I want to specifically talk about a recent press statement the Council made about the Amnesty International report about Israel: Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: cruel system of domination and crime against humanity.  The press statement from the Council can be viewed here.  I want to concentrate not on the content of the press statement but of the reasoning behind feeling the need to write it.

Let’s look at whether commenting on the Amnesty report is even the Council’s business.  The Amnesty report has nothing to do with New Zealand and while Amnesty International has a New Zealand branch that is irrelevant here.  And further to that, the content has nothing to do with New Zealand either.  New Zealand isn’t mentioned once in the report’s 280 pages.

Like all incorporated societies, the Council must have a Constitution (or Rules) and it must be publicly available.  The relevant sections are reproduced below:

3 Purposes of the Council

3.1 The Council is the representative organisation of New Zealand Jewry.

3.2 The objectives of the Council are purely charitable and include

3.2 (a) Ensuring New Zealand is a country which maintains the democratic and civil rights to manifest Judaism in worship, observance, practice and teaching, both individually and in community with others, and either in public or in private;

3.2 (b) Working to secure and maintain the welfare of the New Zealand Jewish community;

3.2 (c) Promoting co-ordination among, and assisting, the Regional Councils; and liaising with and supporting the Council’s affiliated organisations and the smaller communities in New Zealand.

3.3 The Council will represent the New Zealand Jewish community by:

3.3 (a) Speaking on behalf of New Zealand Jewry and its organisations: in the media; by submissions to Parliament, Government departments, and local authorities; and in contacts with other religious and ethnic organisations or NGOs;

3.3 (b) Responding to defamation, discrimination, abuse and/or assault against individual Jews or Jewish groups;

3.3 (c) Raising Jewish consciousness and identity by supporting community educational initiatives and cultural activities;

3.3 (d) Supporting community safety and security measures;

3.3 (e) Supporting and liaising with Jewish communities and individuals in New Zealand;

3.3 (f) Engaging on behalf of the community in interfaith activities;

3.3 (g) Liaising with and supporting other ethnic groups in New Zealand;

3.3 (h) Supporting at-risk Jews in other countries;

3.3 (i) Maintaining contact with overseas Jewish organisations such as the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the Commonwealth Jewish Council, and the World Jewish Congress;

3.3 (j) Taking a public stance on issues of racism, persecution, prejudice and human rights affecting New Zealand residents.

A look through the Purposes of the Council show that it is concerned with issues strictly in New Zealand.  In fact, a word search through the whole Council constitution will show that Israel isn’t mentioned even once in the entire document, and words such as Zionism or Zionist are only mentioned once with a reference to the Zionist Federation of New Zealand.  Why then, is the Council making a press statement about this report, which is clearly outside its stated scope?

And here we come to the heart of the matter.  It is clear that Council members have their own agendas that are, for them, just as important as the purposes stated in the NZ Jewish Council’s constitution.  These are that Council members feel obliged to mimic the Israeli government line no matter what, and that Council members must believe that all ‘real’ Jews are Zionists.  Because their world view is so deeply ingrained, they use the NZ Jewish Council identity and structure as a vehicle for their own views without even knowing they are breaking the boundaries of what the Council is there for.