Our Prime Minister has been outspoken about the need for social media companies to stop the spread of violent and inciting material. Particularly in the wake of a terror attack on New Zealand soil, this would seem to be an indication that our government takes terror seriously.
However, some actions and inactions from Kiwi officials and representatives suggest a different mindset.
Rockets are still being fired from Gaza and the “March of Return” riots continuing on the border. Hamas is responsible for the Gaza strip and these attacks. There are also increasing tensions with Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon. And Arab Palestinians from Judaea and Samaria have stabbed and blown up Israelis in the past few months, alone.
And there has been no condemnation of any of the terror attacks against Israelis.
In fact, New Zealand officials have been silent about terror against Israel for many years. The last time a Kiwi Minister clearly condemned terror against Israel was in 2006, by Prime Minister Helen Clark.
But, even worse than the silence from our politicians in the face of incitement and acts of terror is the fact that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah are listed as terror entities by New Zealand. In contrast to our traditional allies – Canada, USA, Australia, UK etc – New Zealand only proscribes the “military wings” of the respective terror organisations.
New Zealand maintains the distinction despite even the leaders of Hezbollah saying such a distinction is wrong. Similarly, a distinction between military and political “wings” of Hamas is ridiculous when a member of the Hamas politburo recently urged members of the Palestinian diaspora to kill Jews around the world and two Hamas Police officers recently killed in Gaza were also members of the “military wing”.
As a result of the false distinction, it is not illegal for any Kiwi to send money over to help the “political wing” of Hezbollah or Hamas, or for them to recruit or promote the organisation as long as it isn’t for the “military wing”.
However, the inaction of proscribing terror groups may not be as egregious as active support for incitement to and glorification of terror acts. New Zealand funds the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to the tune of at least $1m each year and no Minister or official has spoken against the extremist, inciteful material in the textbooks UNRWA use in their schools or the open support of terror by UNRWA staff or their ties to terror groups.
What’s worse is it appears that New Zealand MFAT officials have failed to make notes in meetings where these issues were discussed, accepted excuses from UNRWA staff, and did not include the controversies in briefings to Ministers. The recommendations made by MFAT staff have always been only to continue funding UNRWA and praise the work it does. That is quite a different approach to how the government seems to be engaging with social media companies that don’t generate content.
Social media companies may well need to do more to combat and prevent the spread of terror material. It is also clearly incumbent upon our elected leaders and the government officials that serve them to reflect on what more they can do to show all terror is taken seriously.