Background to how Israel nearly went to war with New Zealand

Published: Wed 28 Dec 2016 12:41 PM
Background to how Israel nearly went to war with New ZealandBy Michael Field
In March 1938 the cables bought news to New Zealand that Germany’s Adolf Hitler had annexed Austria. The Press of Christchurch speculated on what it might do to trade in the wake of the new special trade agreement with Germany.
The Press, in a piece widely reprinted, said the agreement had “automatically widened to include Austria”.
German Consul Walter Hellenthal that amending the agreement would not have any marked effect.
“(There) will be peace in Europe now… and now all is quiet on the Western Front,” he said, The Press noting that he was smiling.
The New Zealand media’s limited ability to cover foreign affairs stood out in 1993 during the Russian constitutional crisis, marked by the sight of President Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank outside the Russian White House.
It was dramatic stuff and in its bulletins Radio New Zealand led quoting Neville Martin of the New Zealand Dairy Board (predecessor of Fonterra) saying that none of this fuss was going to affect trade.
Of course this had some background; the dairy board had been selling Soviet Lada cars in New Zealand, in exchange for butter which Russians were crazy about.
Now a new row, this time with Israel.
New Zealand and Senegal managed to get the United Nations Security Council to pass resolution 2334 which said Israel’s settlements in Palestinian territory violate international law and undermine a two-state solution in Israel's conflict with Palestine.
The resolution passed 14 votes in favour while the US, which would normally veto such a measure, abstained.
The basic resolution was reported in New Zealand but after that the media here devoted itself too dead and dying celebrities, the Queen’s cold and, with one inevitable nod to trade.
Radio New Zealand went to the University of Auckland go-to-guru on foreign policy, Steve Hoadley, who said New Zealand should not be worried that Israel is angry.
He said New Zealand also trades with Arab states and was about to sign a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council: “There's huge profits being made to export lamb and other dairy products, other food products to the Arab states,” Radio New Zealand quotes Hoadley.
What was not reported as just how small the trade was; Statistics New Zealand says for the year to June 2016 the New Zealand-Israel two-way trade was worth $164 million.
New Zealand’s media has abdicated any role in reporting on or defining the country’s foreign policy. It accepts a line that foreign policy is about trade while the actual policy itself is worked out behind closed doors, and in this case, by Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
More striking is that the media, in their obsession to cover scrub fires in Otago (a province, we are reminded, being twice the size of Belgium), actually missed several big stories in the last couple of weeks over the resolution.
One was the real nature of the visit to New Zealand in November of outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry. We were all told by the media that he was here enroute for McMurdo Sound where he wanted to look at the impact of climate change. Given what happened in New York just before Christmas, it is plain Kerry was up to other things.
There is bad blood between US President Barrack Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As the original Egypt sponsored resolution languished in the Security Council, Netanyahu got to President-elect Donald Trump and between them managed to get Egypt to pull the resolution.
In stepped New Zealand and Senegal, in a move plotted, one suspects, by Kerry and McCully while waiting for the weather to clear at Christchurch airport. Israel says it has “clear evidence” that Obama was behind the plotting and that once Trump was in office, they would release the detail.
It is perhaps fanciful that there was an Antarctic plot, and if there was, then it just appeals to later historians, which is why none of it made it into New Zealand’s media. It was coincidental, surely, that three weeks after the plot was put into plan, Prime Minister John Key resigned.
Netanyahu went ballistic at the UN result.
“They are spitting at us,” he was reported to have been telling colleagues. “We will respond with power.”
He told his ministers to “travel less frequently in the near future to those countries that voted against us”.
New Zealand is to face some unspecified Israeli sanctions and diplomatic ties are being cut. All this is short of the war now being talked about
The other big media miss has been the failure of the New Zealand media to notice the impact it is having – and a clear and intriguing consequence in the South Pacific in February. This failure is all the more mysterious when one considers that in the wake of any rugby test, the news websites obsessively report how the commentators and columnists from Finland to Botswana, and points between, saw the game.
Four days after the resolution passed, international outlets like CNN, Aljazeera and the BBC were still reporting on Netanyahu’s rage, particularly against New Zealand.
Israel’s oldest newspaper, the left leaning Haaretz, is today reporting dramatic developments “Britain pulled the strings and Netanyahu warned New Zealand it was declaring war: New details on Israel’s battle against the UN vote.”
It says Britain secretly worked the Palestinians and urged New Zealand to move ahead with the resolution. It said Netanyahu even pulled in Russian President Vladimir Putin before telephoning McCully and threatening war.
Earlier Haaretz said in an editorial that with his reaction Netanyahu was “dragging Israel into the abyss” as he destroyed diplomatic relations with countries that dared to vote against Israel.
“The burial of the Foreign Ministry and the abandonment of diplomacy turns out to be part of a broad and dangerous plan to disengage from international law and stop playing by its rules,” Haaretz said.
The online Times of Israel editor David Horovitz says 2334 has led to Netanyahu waging diplomatic war against the world.
We’ve never seen anything like it. It won’t win Israel any new friends.”
Horovitz says the world will find out soon enough whether Obama planned this “ambush” all along. He noted that Kerry had early in December left open the door to a US abstention: “There are any number of countries talking about bringing resolutions to the United Nations,” Kerry noted. That Christchurch meeting airport wait again?
A criticism of New Zealand came from the hardline right Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies which published a piece by Eran Lerman , one time Israel military intelligence expert and formally in the Israeli prime minister’s office.
He says 2334 undermines the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace and threatens what little regional stability is left.
“The New Zealanders, do-gooders with a very dim understanding of what they have wrought, can be forgiven such folly. The Obama administration has no such excuses.”
Lerman said “New Zealand may have failed to comprehend what the initiative entails”.
An unsigned piece in the pro-Israel New Zealand blogsite complained that what McCully had done was to be complicit in “making it illegal for Jews to pray at their holiest site, the Western Wall”.
It noted that the resolution has been welcomed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad: “That is the company New Zealand apparently now keeps in geopolitical matters.”
Shalom.Kiwi’s theory is that the departing McCully “is hell-bent on leaving a legacy, consequences be damned.
“McCully has been like a rabid dog with a bone on this issue.”
The blog claims McCully did not seek cabinet approval for resolution and suggests new Prime Minister Bill English did not know what was going on.
Amidst the hysterics of Shalom.Kiwi there is at least one issue that needs to be considered; how is New Zealand foreign policy formulated?
As one New Zealand diplomat put it, commenting on this issue, New Zealand ” diplomacy is still conducted very much in secret, indeed much more so than in other democracies”. The diplomat added the New Zealand media didnt have the specialists to pursue international issues”. Using the Official Information Act to find out what happens is no longer effective as it had been “gamed by ministers and comprehensive PR has been a hall mark of the Key regime.”
The more extreme reaction to New Zealand came on the Jewish website Tablet where Liel Leibovitz published a piece headed “A Colonialist state founded on the theft of Maori land blames Israel for its own crimes”. The piece spoke of New Zealand’s “dark history” behind its passionate feelings on a Middle Eastern property dispute.
“New Zealanders are no strangers to settlements—or to the cavalier denial of the rights of an indigenous people in their historic homeland,” Leibovitz wrote.
“If you wish to study the effect of New Zealand’s particularly crass brand of colonialism on the Maori population, you needn’t do much more than observe their descendants today: According to a UN report earlier this year, for example, 300,000 Maori children—a whopping one-third of New Zealand’s child population—now live under the poverty line, a rise of 45,000 in just one year.”
Leibovitz says that for some strange reason New Zealand has chosen to project its “own historical and moral failings on the aboriginal population of the Jewish State, while continuing to ignore the effects of its historical and well-documented crimes at home.”
The New Zealand Jewish Council is worried the row will see the Israel Embassy in Wellington closed down
“The Israeli Embassy plays a vital role in Jewish life in New Zealand. It supports and promotes Jewish festivals and cultural activities, and facilitates business links between the two nations. The Embassy also has a key role in engaging with other religious groups throughout New Zealand,” spokesperson Juliet Moses said. )
An interesting reaction appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in an op-ed piece by former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr. Netanyahu is due to visit Canberra in February (as part of an intriguing South Pacific assault).
He says Europe is already mandating identification of products from settlement industries and 2334 was undermining the Israeli strategy that says Israel can lose Europe but enjoy new partnerships in Asia and Africa and with Vladimir Putin.
“In the end not only France and Britain but Russia and China voted to brand settlements flagrantly illegal. Netanyahu is left vowing retaliation against plucky little New Zealand and Senegal,” Carr says.
In November Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama who is forever travelling on his F$3000 per day allowance called into Israel for what amounted to a Biblical love fest with Netanyahu who then announced he was going to Suva.
Oddly he is going in February – right in the middle of cyclone season.
“Why am I going to Fiji? Because 15 countries, 15 islands that each one has a vote in the UN are coming to that meeting,” Netanyahu said.
Actually it is 16 countries – unless New Zealand is excluded on what is to be an Israel-Pacific summit in February. All Pacific leaders are likely to be there simply because their Christian obsessive people see Israel as the Holy Land and Netanyahu, who might be Jewish, as the guardian of Christianity.
Perhaps when he said that, Netanyahu already knew New Zealand would vote against Israel and had quietly made to clear to Bainimarama that no Wellington diplomat would be allowed to his Suva summit. Bainimarama, always ready to stick the knife in, will happily pull that invitation.
Netanyahu says there is a bond between Israel and Fiji. He joked that if peace talks with the Palestinians were to take place in Fiji, he wouldn't mind if they take an extra week.
Somewhat bizarrely, just days later Peter Thomson, Fiji’s ambassador to the UN and current president of the General Assembly showed up at work wearing the Palestinian flag during International Solidarity Day with the Palestinian People. Israel's ambassador to the UN Danny Danon says it was unfortunate.
There is a bigger problem and that is that Fiji has had, since 1978, soldiers in Lebanon, the Golan Heights and in Egypt and Iraq. In 2014 the then Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda group fighting the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, kidnapped 45 Fijian soldiers. Nusra, which says it has now split from al-Qaeda and calls itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, held the soldiers for a week or so. They were released when a ransom of US$25 million was paid to them. The money came from Qatar which has been funding Syria’s opposition.
One consequence of the capture was that Russia gave Fiji 20 ship container loads of weapons so that they could better fight the next time. More Russians arms are yet to arrive in Suva.
Like the Christchurch weather delay, it may all be ancient history now. Except Netanyahu rocking up to Fiji could deeply taint an already murky picture.
There much to write about for a media obsessed with clickbait: this is all real lives, real policy. And we should recall, how things have worked out with Israel in the past. There was the 2004 incident in which New Zealand jailed two Israel Mossad agents for six months for trying on false grounds to obtain a New Zealand passport. They used the name of a tetraplegic man who had not spoken for years.
“The breach of New Zealand laws and sovereignty by agents of the Israeli government has seriously strained our relationship with Israel,” then Prime Minister Helen Clark said.
And there was the strange tale of the Israeli killed in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake – and all his passports.

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