Being Jewish in New Zealand hasn’t been much of a bad thing. Not like it has been in other countries. Since the Second World War many have found a home here and raised families who raised families. But not too long ago, antisemitism has reared its head.
Here is a personal account:
This will be a personal account; I can’t speak for other Jews, I’m sure everyone will have their own opinions on this subject.
First of all I’d like to say that I consider myself lucky. My experience as a Jew in New Zealand has been overwhelmingly good. Growing up in New Zealand, I experienced very little antisemitism. I went to a school that, while Christian, accepted and celebrated differences. While I encountered ignorance, it was very rare to encounter hateful comments.
My grandparents had escaped Nazi Germany. The loss and trauma experienced by them and their generation, and many members of our community, is something I feel we, in the next generations, carry with us. Our family tree is missing many branches. The missing generations, the horrors of the past are a constant presence in the back of my mind. Though I have had good experiences, I take nothing for granted.
So we go about daily lives, we appreciate our freedom to be Jews, open about our identities, able to educate our children at a Jewish School, who turn up to school proudly wearing a yarmulke, to celebrate our holidays with the wider community.
In the past, there were events that caused ripples in the generally calm waters. I come from a line of Jewish women who speak out against antisemitism. Certain events in the past stand out: nasty editorials, offensive talk-show hosts, Holocaust deniers, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Thankfully, they were very much the exception. Generally, things have been good.
But antisemitism had not retreated – it had simply mutated in nature. Events in 2014, during and immediately after the Gaza conflict, brought this change into clearer focus.
Early in 2014, Hamas began sending rockets over the border from Gaza into Southern Israel. They started slowly and they ramped up. Thousands of rockets landed on civilian areas, while Hamas were simultaneously working on an extensive network of tunnels that, had their plans worked, would have been used to effect terror attacks on Israeli civilians on an unprecedented scale. Then Israel struck back, and ultimately sent troops into Gaza. Inevitably and tragically, much destruction and loss of life followed.
For those following the news in NZ, the conflict only started when Israel struck back. Media in New Zealand, I felt, utterly let us down.
Reports were sensationalist and entirely lacked context or any sense of cause and effect. War correspondents failed to ask crucial questions of their hosts in Gaza, Hamas, about the storage and placement of rockets, about the use of human shields, about the cause of much of the carnage (it later emerged that 20% of Hamas’s rockets misfired and fell in Gaza). They accepted Hamas’s statistics on the number of casualties and the proportion of combatants. Facts that came out in the months following, which indicted Hamas and often exonerated Israel, were never widely reported.
Effectively the media was a complicit part of Hamas’s cynical strategy; which was to inflict maximum harm on both sides, to cast Israel as a “killer regime” (to use our own Rachel Smalley’s expression) for public relations purposes; to boost its flagging popularity.
It worked. If the media was complicit in this strategy, so were many New Zealand politicians. Adopting the media/Hamas narrative, a number of MPs singled Israel out for vitriolic condemnation (while they stayed silent about the role of Hamas). Some joined in with a protest on Queen St, where the Israeli flag was burned, antisemitic slogans were openly chanted. One man was recorded chanting “cut their f***ing Jewish heads off”. He was unchallenged. That protest felt like a turning point in New Zealand.
While we saw protests turn violent in France, with angry mobs attacking synagogues and smashing the windows of Kosher restaurants, anti-Zionist expression became vogue in New Zealand. Verbal attacks on Israel/Zionism became more and more extreme: throwing around of words like “genocide” the term “zio-Nazi”, comparisons of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto, the Israelis as Nazi stormtroopers, Netanyahu as Hitler. It seemed that on social media it reached a fever pitch. It was painful and chilling to witness and caused me to reevaluate: what is antisemitism?
We had always made a distinction: antisemitism is something different from criticism of Israel/Zionism. You can be anti-Israel and not antisemitic. But here we had criticism that was so extreme it blurred the boundaries.
To be clear, it was NOT antisemitic simply because Israel was being criticised. Some people make the false claim that Jews/Zionists try to censor any criticism of Israel as antisemitism. This is not true. I myself heavily criticise some aspects of Israeli policy. To argue that Israel’s actions in Gaza were heavy-handed or disproportionate, while I don’t actually agree with that position, it is a reasonable argument to make and making it does not make someone an antisemite.
However, comparing Israelis with the Nazis, comparing Gaza with the Warsaw Ghetto, calling Israel’s attempts to defend itself as “genocide”, or ethnic cleansing, characterising Israelis as blood-sucking, baby-killers, accusing Israel (as I have seen reported) of organ-harvesting: these lies evoke the blood libel – the infamous lie, dating back to the Middle Ages, that Jews murdered Christians to obtain blood for ritual purposes, which was used for centuries to justify and incite mob violence and pogroms against Jews.
Our media is like a festering sore that has allowed infection to spread. We were at harmony and peace with our neighbours, and now the rhetoric described by the writer is driving us apart. And it is doing it on the basis of deliberately manufactured lies.
You only have to look at Rachel Smalley to see that there is no attempt to find any balance or truth. It’s simply enough to stand by a pile of rubble, show a child that’s hurt, and then cut in some shots of Israeli military hardware and sharply-dressed well-armed Israeli soldiers.
The West has been fed this constant diet of slanted reporting where Israel is the aggressor, and every Palestinian an innocent victim.
If a Palestinian young man attacks without provocation and is killed, the world’s headlines invariably read “Israeli soldier guns down Palestinian teenager”.
This is the same media that will not tell you an attack was carried out by a Muslim; by someone who “chanted something” before shooting into the crowd. And the lone gunman was then killed.
The media as it exists now is the enemy of truth. Media globalisation and shared news feeds mean that the same story is carried worldwide; that a consistently slanted view of the world is fed to everyone in New Zealand via every paper, even in the regional ones.
There is little effort, if any, from editorial staff to address the imbalance they are importing from tainted overseas news sources. Sadly, it also has infected our own media to the point of being staunch defenders of a point of view, rather than reporting on world events as they occur.
….we only need to look at Europe to see what happens when virulently antisemitic rhetoric, which has become prevalent in some parts of society, turns to violence: four French Jews murdered while going about their shopping before Shabbat; in Toulouse school children and their father and teacher murdered at the school gates; in Copenhagen a Jewish man murdered trying to protect Jews in a synagogue celebrating a Bat Mitzvah. Jews are leaving Europe for Israel in large numbers. Many European cities are once again not safe for Jews.
How long will they be safe in New Zealand?
Published at Whale Oil, New Zealand.