Official Information Act casts doubt on the NZ Jewish Council’s survey

Under the Official Information Act, the Ministry of Ethnic Communities released the NZ Jewish Council’s (NZJC) funding application, correspondence and related documents to Alternative Jewish Voices. Much of the file is missing the letters ‘i’ and ‘l.’ We have filled those letters in when we quote documents for clarity.

It is misleading to state that this survey had ‘widespread Jewish community support,’ as the NZJC funding application claims.

The survey used an Israel-centered definition of antisemitism, which has no official standing in this country. Its findings are discontinuous with any analysis based on our official definition. The survey departs radically from the 2017 UK study on which it claims to be based. Its findings are better compared with the findings of a 2019 exercise in Canada.

Antisemitism in Aotearoa has been on unprecedented display this year by the White supremacist Right, with worrisome encroachment into our political discourse. The NZJC survey does not reflect our real and present concerns. It seeks to incite a moral panic about anti-Zionism, rather than racism, of which antisemitism is one form.

Nothing in the correspondence with the Ministry of Ethnic Communities indicates that any of these issues were recognised, queried or knowingly approved. The Ministry’s grant must not be understood as an endorsement.

  1. Less than meets the eye

The NZ Jewish Council funding application claims, ‘This is a project with widespread Jewish community support, across multiple organisations.’

The document file includes supporting statements from organisations that are related and not primarily Jewish. See our endnote below[i] for details. Most of the survey’s supporters share Zionism, Evangelical Christianity and very conservative politics. If the Ministry of Ethnic Communities believed that the Jewish community broadly requested a survey centred on attitudes about Israel, it was mistaken or misled.  There is no breadth of Jewish voices in the document at all, nor is there any reflection of Jewish experience.

The NZ Jewish Council is, itself, unelected and unrepresentative. The Wellington Jewish Council members acknowledged in 2021 that they lack a mandate to speak for the community.

Notwithstanding this, the Ministry of Ethnic Communities recommended that a $15,000 grant be given to the NZ Jewish Council, adding, ‘We have good connection with this group.’ Perhaps familiarity replaced due diligence.

The days when a Jewish-Evangelical-Zionist-conservative coalition can claim to speak for the Jewish community are long gone. Around the world, Jewish communities are deeply divided by Jewish nationalism (Zionism). In the course of its 2020 finding that it is not antisemitic to boycott, the Harvard Law Review reiterated the reason for our divide: for growing numbers of Jews, Israel’s project is not our Judaism.

[T]here are certainly respectable reasons for disfavoring complicity in Israel’s human rights record. Moreover, the status of being Jewish is not ‘inextricably tied’ to such conduct or complicity – and to suggest otherwise would in fact ring anti-Semitic. Zionism does not reflect the views of all Jewish people.

The Ministry of Ethnic Communities issued its grant without hearing from the ethnic community. The NZ Jewish Council went on to apply a very particular definition.

2. What is the IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism?

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA-WD) was intended to be a research tool. It sought to make the judgement of antisemitism more consistent by plotting comments on a spectrum. An issue which was part of healthy political discussion at one end of the spectrum, might shade into racial hostility and finally become antisemitic at the other end of the spectrum. The research tool was initiated between 2003-5. It was not completed, but the work reappeared in an absolutist form more than a decade later.

The resurrected IHRA-WD opens with a brief definition of antisemitism. Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (University of London) commented:

Here is the definition’s key passage: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.” This is bewilderingly imprecise.

Eleven examples follow, seven of which are statements about Israel rather than Jewishness. Not a single one of the examples was ever formally adopted by the IHRA’s own decision-making body. The formative notion of a spectrum of thought had been discarded. Instead the eleven statements had been rendered antisemitic in their entirety. Kenneth Stern publically objected,

I drafted the [IHRA] definition of antisemitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it.

The stitched-together IHRA-WD has chiefly been used to call Israel’s critics antisemitic. See our our resource page for condemnation of the IHRA-WD’s history of use, including by a former Lord Justice of Appeal and Judge ad hoc of the European Court of Human Rights; Harvard Law School; Brian Klug of Oxford’s philosophy faculty, and others.

The NZ Jewish Council’s use of the IHRA-WD is consistent with this ideological history. Its use is additionally improper because the IHRA-WD definition of antisemitism has no official standing in Aotearoa New Zealand – none, kore, zip, zero. We have a definition of racism and this is not it.

Nothing in the Ministry of Ethnic Communities file indicates that ministry staff queried the NZ Jewish Council’s method.

3. Discerning the impact of the IHRA-WD

The NZ Jewish Council’s funding application cites the methodology of a 2017 report, Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel.

The UK survey asked a number of paired questions about Jews and then about Israel to help discern whether ‘Israel’ had become a proxy for ‘Jews’ in a respondent’s mind or vice versa:

The interests of Jews in Britain are very different from the interests of the rest of the population … The interests of Israelis are at odds with the interests of the rest of the world.

Jews have too much power in Britain … Israel has too much control over global affairs.

          The survey also included Israel-specific statements, some of which are replicated in the NZ survey. Several of those Israel-specific statements have been published as factual – not antisemitic – findings of the world’s leading human rights organisations.

The UK responses were categorised as ‘strongly agree’ or ‘tend to agree,’ in order to facilitate analysis.

On pgs 33-38, the UK survey asks whether anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments are linked at a population level. The broadest and weakest linkage occurred among ‘a much larger number of people who believe a small number of negative ideas about Jews, but who may not be consciously hostile or prejudiced towards them.’ That group was estimated to include 30% of the population.

The NZ Jewish Council’s method found that ‘63% of New Zealanders surveyed agree with at least one antisemitic view’(p vii, emphasis in the original) – twice as many!

According to the NZJC funding submission, a 2014 survey of antisemitism in New Zealand had found that 14% of New Zealanders held antisemitic views. Can antisemitism have increased 450% in eight years, to a level more than double its prevalence in the UK?

In 2019, Canadians were told a similarly jarring story. Both the Canadian B’nai Brith and the American Anti-Defamation League conducted audits of antisemitic incidents in 2019. The American audit applied more limited criteria to the relation between attitudes toward Israel and Jews. Their method was

careful not to conflate general criticism of Israel or anti-Israel activism with antisemitism. However, Israel-related harassment of groups or individuals may be included when the harassment incorporates establised anti-Jewish references, acusations and / or conspiracy theories, or when they demonize American Jews for their support of Israel. ‘ (p 4, italics in the original)

The Canadian B’nai Brith audit eschewed such qualifications. It cast a wider net and claimed ‘that an equal number of antisemitic incidents has taken place in Canada [and the US] despite the fact that the US has a population 9 times that of Canada and has 17 times as many Jews.’ (Statistics and quote in this section are taken from The Use and Misuse of Antisemitism Statistics in Canada, by Sheryl Nestel PhD for Independent Jewish Voices.)

 Population in 2019Jewish Population in 2019Antisemitic Incidents
Canada37,590,000392,0002207
United States328,300,0006,970,0002107

The use of the IHRA-WD definition foreseeably, greatly inflates the findings of antisemitism because it confuses Israel with Jewishness.

The NZJC’s funding application calls its survey ‘especially [important] as the Jewish Community Security Group (CSG) has recorded a record number of incidents in 2020.’ Unsurprisingly, the CSG uses precisely this ideological definition to count incidents of ‘antisemitism,’ which it then shares with the NZ Police, security agencies and the Embassy of Israel.

Members of Alternative Jewish Voices have been calling on the Community Security Group to act with transparency for a year and a half. We do not know how many among the Palestinian, non-Zionist Jewish, human rights and antiracism communities have wrongly been labeled as Jew-haters in their present, opaque process.

Nothing in the file suggests that the Ministry of Ethnic Communities queried the survey’s method, or the credibility of its findings.

4. The Project of the NZ Jewish Council Survey

How, and against whom, has the NZ Jewish Council directed its survey?

The NZ Jewish Council categorised responses in the most absolute and normative way possible. They define every disagreement with their stance as being antisemitic, easy peasy.


Four of the survey’s seven Israel-related questions require respondents to grant Israel an exception to global norms of human rights and democracy – or be labelled antisemitic.

  • Five million Palestinians cannot vote for the government which exercises authority over their lives. Are respondents willing to create an Israel-exception to this universal democratic norm by calling Israel democratic?
  • Our government and many other individuals, corporations and states boycott Russian goods and products to protest its gross violations of international law. Are survey respondents willing to create an exception by agreeing with the NZJC that the same non-violent economic protest against companies complicit in the occupation of Palestine can only be evidence of a hatred of Jews?

By setting its terms in this way, the NZ Jewish Council has placed Jewishness in direct opposition to some of our bedrock values.

Not only has the NZ Jewish Council called two-thirds of us antisemitic, they have interspersed positive human rights and democratic values with genuinely hateful statements in a document partially funded by a government ministry. That sets an insidious precedent.

Authoritative legal opinions and studies by the world’s leading human rights organisations have established that three of these statements are accurate and are not antisemitic. For example, these groups and distinguished individuals call Israel an apartheid – and therefore not a democratic – state.

Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, in association with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network; B’Tselem; Michael Sfard and Yesh Din; Michael Lynk, (former) UN Special Rapporteur.

Do we really need to cite legal proof that five million Palestinians are entitled to vote for the government that exercises authority over their lives, or that belief in democracy is not anti-Jewish? Can everyone who aspires to a world of law and human equality be antisemitic?

The New Zealand Jewish Council has constructed a survey which says we are.

The NZJC’s discussion of White privilege (p 36) makes it clear that the designers have very little idea of what they are measuring. It is also clear that they are unhappy with the concepts of intersectionality and Critical Race Theory, but perhaps they should have tried to understand the concept before including a statement about it in a survey. As it stands, the survey statement is somewhat racist in its implied assumption that all Jews must be White (since it should be obvious that only White Jews could have White privilege).

White privilege contends that people who present as White are treated differently and more favourably than those of colour – such as Māori – in many situations. It implies that perceptions of colour are more formative of privilege than ethnicity, which can only be guessed at visually. The issue is especially important in former colonial contexts where the colonisers constructed governmental systems that reflect their world view to the detriment of other groups. This short video includes a straightforward explanation of White privilege.

It is simply ludicrous to call all of the people who understand issues of colonisation and structures of advantage antisemitic.

On page 37, the survey discusses indigeneity. This is a very disingenuous statement, especially in the New Zealand context, and it shows the particular political preferences of those constructing the survey.

In New Zealand, we think of Māori as clearly being the indigenous people of New Zealand, since they were here hundreds of years before other groups arrived. However, in Israel/Palestine, which has been under human habitation for thousands of years, the question of indigeneity isn’t straightforward and it is more likely that multiple groups can claim to be indigenous. The construction and parameters of peoplehood are also fluid and contested.

The survey designers seem to want to transfer the singularity of the New Zealand situation (only Māori are indigenous to New Zealand) to the situation in Palestine/Israel. The only response that they will not consider antisemitic is a response that calls Jews the only indigenous group. This is the Zionist mantra that the land of Palestine/Israel can only belong to the Jewish people. The survey interprets an ideological preference as fact.

The Ministry of Ethnic Communities file contains no expressions of concern with the contents or findings of the study it helped to fund.

5. What are the implications of the NZ Jewish Council’s survey?

The NZ Jewish Council has thrown both public and private money into an ideological project at a moment when a genuine study of antisemitism would have been so helpful. They have advanced the IHRA-WD project by stealth, producing a document which confuses Israel with Jewishness, and confuses antisemitism with the principles of democracy and human rights.

This survey places the Jewish community at odds with the New Zealand human rights community, antiracism activists, Palestinians and non- or anti-Zionist Jews, and anyone who espouses democracy. Because human rights and antiracist actors extend their concern to Palestinians, the NZ Jewish Council has vilified them. It may serve Israel’s supporters to confuse disagreement with racism, but it does not serve the Jewish community of Aotearoa. This survey seeds unjustified suspicion and fear among us, at a moment when the Jewish community needs to link arms with all those who work against racism.

It beggars belief that any NZ survey of racism could fail to prioritise White supremacist threats in 2022. That the Ministry of Ethnic Communities would fund such an oversight after all the efforts of the Muslim community to draw attention to those threats, after the enquiries into our nation’s security biases, during this shocking season of White supremacist racism, is inexcusable.

If the Ministry of Ethnic Communities had heard from our ethnic community, we are confident this would not have happened.

The NZJC survey must not go unchallenged, nor should its findings be used as a benchmark or policy driver. Such usage would misdirect public resources and concern. To take the survey at face value would encourage a moral panic over anti-Zionism rather than racism, of which antisemitism is one longstanding form. We and many others do oppose Zionism for reasons that have nothing to do with race. We object because Zionism denies the fundamental democratic and human rights of Palestinians.

We who challenge this survey are not standing in opposition to the Jewish community, because this survey cannot be called a Jewish community undertaking. We are taking issue with an ideological project of New Zealand’s dedicated Zionist lobby.

By Fred Albert and Marilyn Garson, For Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa NZ

[i] Postscript:

‘This is a project with widespread Jewish community support, across multiple organisations.’ (NZ Jewish Council funding submission)

Who supported this survey?

Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation

  • Majority Christian, overlaps with the Israel Institute whose directors are also not majority Jewish

Co-founder and trustee Perry Trotter – see http://www.lcje-na.org/perry-trotter (married to co-founder and trustee Sheree Trotter)

  • Director of the Israel Institute
  • Former officer of Ariel Ministries, Presenter at the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Compiles resources for those seeking to share a Christian Messianic message with Jews. See messiah.com.es

Ashley Church

  • Director of the Israel Institute
  • Founder / officer of Free Speech Union, Taxpayers’ Union, Auckland Property Investors Association

Paul Moon, Trustee,

  • Also submitted a separate letter of support on behalf of the Auckland University of Technology History Department
  • Acknowledged as a speaker and contributor to the work of the Friends of Israel Association in that organisation’s annual reports.

New Zealand Friends of Israel Association Inc. NZ Charities Registration Number CC 43880.

  • See the writings of President Tony Kan and others, for their consistent hostility to any non-Zionist expression of Jewishness.

NZ Jewish Community Security Group (CSG)

  • Membership overlaps with the NZ Jewish Council and Israel Institute
  • We repeat our objections to the CSG’s use of the IHRA-WD to compile and share information with the NZ Police and security agencies, and the Embassy of Israel.

NZ Jewish Council

  • Unelected and not representative. In 2021 the Wellington Jewish Council acknowledged its lack of community mandate and its members agreed not to speak on behalf of the Jewish community.
  • Overlaps with Israel Institute, Community Security Group

Also signing, Deborah Hart, Chair Holocaust Centre of New Zealand and former
Chairperson of the Wellington Jewish Community Centre.

‘widespread Jewish community support’ ??

3 thoughts on “Official Information Act casts doubt on the NZ Jewish Council’s survey”

  1. In our interviews with a number of NZ’s leading disinformation/
    misinformation experts and alt-right analysts, we’re finding that through the survey being undertaken by Humanity Matters (and now currently in the field) on online disinformation and antiSemitism – it is in fact non-Israel anti semitic narratives and tropes that are dominant on social media and other digital platforms. This suggests that the NZJC Survey may have critically under-reported the full range of antiSemitic themes/narratives.

    Dianne Davis
    Chair – Advisory Board
    Humanity Matters

    Like

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