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.

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