Aug. 10, 2004 9:22 | Updated Aug. 10, 2004 21:59
NZ condemnation of anti-Semitism welcome
By HERB KEINON
Israel applauded a resolution passed unanimously by the New Zealand parliament Tuesday condemning anti-Semitism. The resolution was initiated following the desecration of Jewish gravestones in Wellington on Friday, the second such incident in three weeks.
Nimrod Barkan, director of the Foreign Ministry's Diaspora department, said Israel is "very satisfied" that the New Zealand parliament was united in denouncing the anti-Semitic attacks. Now what is needed, he said, is to take action against the perpetrators of the vandalism.
Despite the tension in Israeli-New Zealand ties that resulted from last month's sentencing of two Israeli men convicted of passport fraud and labeled spies by Prime Minister Helen Clark, Israel has passed on to the New Zealand government its appreciation for swiftly taking steps to condemn the anti-Semitic attacks.
"They have taken all the right moves," one Israeli official said regarding New Zealand's reaction to the attacks. The official praised the government for prohibiting Holocaust denier David Irving from entering the country to deliver a lecture in September; for initiating the resolution against anti-Semitism; and for opening a dialogue with the head of the country's tiny Jewish community, David Zwartz, who also happens to be Israel's honorary-consul in Wellington.
The willingness to talk with Zwartz takes on added significance considering that Clark, following the sentencing of Eli Cara and Uriel Kelman to six months in prison, launched a blistering attack against Israel, and imposed diplomatic sanctions. Among these sanctions was her call for the government to "observe strict constraints on contact with Israel's honorary consuls."
Israeli officials and Zwartz have drawn a connection between Clark and her Foreign Minister Phil Goff's blistering attacks on Israel, and the fact that the first grave desecration took place less than 24-hours after the pubic upbraiding of Israel. "This is not to say that the government is anti-Semitic, but Clark's words against Israel gave legitimacy to act to those who are anti-Semitic," one Israeli government source said.
The source said that the New Zealand government seemed genuinely surprised to see anti-Semitic incidents take place on its soil. "In addition," he said, "it embarrasses them abroad.'
The parliamentary resolution, which was put together and brought to the Parliament in just a matter of days, condemned anti-Semitism and all forms of racial hatred, persecution and discrimination.
The text of the resolution, and the speeches made in parliament during the debate, will be sent to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.
The resolution, and Israel's appreciation to New Zealand for taking this step, has led to contact between the two capitals that is far less frosty than was the case three weeks ago. At the same time, Israeli officials said it will not be possible to somehow bypass the passport scandal and return to normal relations with out first addressing that issue.
New Zealand is demanding an apology for the incident and assurances that it will not repeat itself, while Israel refuses to take responsibility for the men currently held in a New Zealand jail.
Acting Prime Minister Michael Cullen introduced the resolution against anti-Semitism in the parliament, saying he hopes the "recent vandalism is the work of an isolated crank or cranks. But given its nature it inevitably raises emotions and memories which are deep-seated and profound, especially for Jewish New Zealanders and many others as well."
Cullen rejected attempts to explain the acts of desecration as related to the passport scandal or the government's refusal to allow Irving into the country.
"The danger of entering into that area is that it gives some kind of rationale for something that is both evil and irrational, though sadly deep-seated in European culture," he said.
Opposition National deputy leader, Gerry Brownlee, called the vandals cowards and said they "have caused grief to the Jewish community and have shocked New Zealanders. . . they have badly damaged New Zealand's reputation overseas."
According to the New Zealand Herald, The leader of the conservative ACT Party, Rodney Hide, said his party wanted to go further and state its concern about anti-Israel sentiment, which he said was growing in the West.
"My party wholeheartedly supports the right of the state of Israel to exist," he said. "We must now all realize that anti-Semitism is a reality in New Zealand . . . we must stand side by side with the Jewish community and these evil perpetrators must be brought to justice."
Green Party MP Keith Locke, who in the name of freedom of speech blasted the government last week for prohibiting Irving's entrance, expressed "absolute repugnance" at the desecration.
"The Nazi symbols at the cemetery make this crime even more dastardly â€“ the Nazis killed six million Jews and crushed democracy and freedom in Europe," he said. "Today we stand together with the Jewish community in remembering those who died and in expressing our horror at the desecration of the tombs of their ancestors."