Earlier this month on Saturday 2 November 2019, I, along with 2 friends from the Israeli community in New Zealand, went to show our support as Jews and Israelis with the Kurdish people following their betrayal by President Trump and the subsequent attack on them by Turkey.
Being the first of our group to arrive at Aoetea Square in Auckland, I went up to the organisers, explained who I was, and that members of the Jewish/ Israeli community were coming down to show solidarity with the Kurdish plight, and would it be ok to wave Israeli flags? I didn’t want to make any assumptions that this would be acceptable to the Kurdish community. I need not have been concerned. Not only was it ok, but the Kurdish community were so happy we were there that many wanted to be photographed next to us with our Israeli flags, or to take them to wave themselves.
All was not so peaceful and loving though with some members of the public who were not attending the solidarity rally. Within 5 minutes of unravelling the first flag a female passer-by approached me to ask why we were there, and hastened to tell me that she “supported the Arabs”. Her choice of course. The irony of this was that she proceeded to tell me that in the 1980s her son had spent time on an Israeli kibbutz near the border with Lebanon, and how safe she felt he was due to the IDF!
Then a man, the one pictured in the leather jacket, approached me also asking why we were there with Israeli flags, only this time, as opposed to the previous encounter, his tone and manner was extremely confrontational and aggressive. When I replied that we were showing solidarity with the Kurdish people, he interrupted me stating that Israel, along with the US, were the cause of the problem, and then he threw in the obligatory “you are murdering Palestinians”, committing ”genocide”, that Palestinians have the “Right of Return” etc, and unless I read Gideon Levy and Miko Peled, I am burying my head in the sand and am misguided! He was not interested in dialogue or conversation, just in harassing me. He was later found to be giving out leaflets to passers-by, and here’s the irony, for a rally the next day by the group ‘Love Aotearoa*, Hate Racism’. The very same group who held a rally after the Christchurch massacre in which the President of Mt Roskil Mosque publicly blamed the Mossad and “Zionist businesses” in New Zealand for the deadly attack. ‘Love Aotearoa Hate Racism’ refused to condemn the antisemitic accusation.
Another man, however, wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ t-shirt and also not at the rally, came up to me as said, “let’s hope there’ll be peace for both people and in the whole of the Middle East”. Respect to him.
Despite these small confrontations, all was going well at the rally. The love and appreciation to our presence from the Kurdish community was heart-warming. Half way through the rally, however, I saw one of the Israeli flags fall on the floor. Turning around at the commotion and going to pick up the flag which I had assumed had been accidentally dropped, I saw someone running away. It soon became clear that a passer-by had gone up to one of my female Israeli friends, snatched her Israeli flag from her hands and threw it on the floor and then ran off. The Kurdish people around us were startled, horrified and apologetic.
At about 1:45pm with the rally coming to an end at 2pm, I realised that being the first Saturday of the month, that the Israel hate mob, the New Zealand Palestine Solidarity Network, were about to have their monthly ‘free Palestine, hate Zionists/ Israel’ rally. As they started to arrive, you could see their agitation at the sight of the Israeli flags at the venue of their soon to be Israel hatefest. To be honest, it was a very amusing sight to see them so flustered at the unexpected greeting!
And then it nearly turned nasty. As the Kurdish solidarity rally finished, the man by the Police in the picture with the ‘Free Palestine’ t-shirt came rushing up to me with one of his anti-Israel placards shoving it in my face and shouting abuse. At once, the Kurdish community who had remained rallied around, standing between him and me. One of the Kurds took my Israeli flags and and whilst waving it profusely, started to tell him what she thought of his tactics. The Police quickly intervened and once Mr ‘Free Palestine’ had been pushed back by the Police, the Kurds encouraged us to keep waving our Israeli flags proud and high. We stayed on for a few more minutes and finally rolled up the flags and moved away to go home.
On reflection, three things came to light for me from this event.
1) The hate and love towards Israel was shown by complete strangers. We had a native born New Zealander come up to us during the rally and tell us how he loved and supported Israel. We had an Asian teenager come up to us, so excited to see the Israeli flag, that he asked for a selfie with us and kissed the Magen David on the flag.
And then we had the hate as described above.
2) the Kurdish community were so grateful for our support and that we had made the effort to come, especially due to the general lack of support from outside their community.
3) The Kurdish people support Israel and appreciate Israel’s support for them.
Despite the unprovoked anti-Israel abuse, it was a great afternoon. Most importantly, it was one that has led to some connections between our two communities being established. Connections both sides are eager to cultivate and ones I hope will lead to a greater sense of solidarity between our two communities.
(*Aotearoa is the Te Roa [Maori] for New Zealand)