John Minto is the National President of Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa.
OPINION: In the 1980s, the far right in New Zealand was mainly represented by an organization called the New Zealand League of Rights.
He published a newsletter that promoted a broad conspiracy theory that the United Nations, the Catholic Church, international bankers and prominent Jews were plotting to take over the world.
In the anti-apartheid movement of the day, we protested against all kinds of racism because, as Maori activists would say, “How can you be concerned about racism 6,000 miles away in South Africa and ignore this happening right here in Aotearoa?”
We kept a watchful eye on this group and often debated whether we should protest their meetings or whether, because they were so small, it would simply give them undue attention.
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We finally organized a big demonstration in front of a seminar they held in Onehunga where they got a former police commissioner and a deputy from the National Party to speak. They were taking a serious step towards becoming mainstream.
It was a loud and rowdy demonstration with a few hundred demonstrators, as 30 or 40 men, mostly, entered the meeting.
The League of Rights has never held another. They seemed to disappear, but in reality they morphed into other organizations and today this current of racism – fascism might be a better descriptive – manifests itself in the form of Q-Anon fantasies and other fringe groups of ‘far right.
It’s important to remember that these far-right conspiracies predate the internet, but nowadays their ideas can be amplified online and spread in more insidious ways.
It is important to keep an eye on them and the research of people such as Professor Paul Spoonley is important in keeping track of these developments.
Along with this, it is important to understand the levels of anti-Semitism and the drivers of racism and hatred against Jews, but the Jewish Council of New Zealand survey released this week, which claims to do this, is not not useful.
The survey uses the highly problematic and controversial IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism, which has been used around the world to end criticism of Israel using false smears of anti-Semitism against those who actively support Palestinian human rights.
So while the survey correctly identifies the belief that “Jews have too much power in international financial markets” as anti-Semitic, it also claims as anti-Semitic the belief that “Israel is an apartheid state.” It’s borderline prankish.
According to the survey, 21% of New Zealanders, myself included, think Israel is an apartheid state.
This is in line with all the major international human rights groups, the latest being Amnesty International which published its well-researched report titled “Apartheid Israel Against the Palestinians: A Cruel System of Domination and a crime against humanity”., in February.
A recent survey in the United States revealed that 25% of American Jews think Israel is an apartheid state (4% more than New Zealanders!) and this figure rises to 38% among young American Jews.
Are all these people and human rights organizations anti-Semitic? Are the many Jews I met during demonstrations against Israeli apartheid also anti-Semitic?
More importantly, the trend is clear – the world’s patience in the face of Israel’s 55-year military occupation of all of historic Palestine is running out.
Unfortunately, it appears the New Zealand Jewish Council is taking a King Canute stance – trying to hold back the international tide labeling Israeli policies as apartheid rather than accurately assessing anti-Semitism in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Trying to intimidate human rights activists with fake smears of anti-Semitism won’t work.
This is a huge lost opportunity, as tackling anti-Semitism and Islamophobia (which the survey finds is more of a problem in New Zealand attitudes), and racism more generally, is the work of all of us.
In commenting on the investigation, Wellington Jewish Council President David Zwartz points the way to the most important solution.
He says the survey reveals that warmth towards ethnic and religious groups increases when people know a member of that community personally.
He says: “The easiest way to fight racism is to get to know each other and do things together. When communities understand each other, they build trust and are able to put judgment aside. They can accept their similarities as well as their differences.”
Community solidarity is always the best antidote to racism in all its forms. Community solidarity offers a bulwark against those who would drive societal fault lines based on ethnicity, class, gender or religion to advance their personal political goals.
We’ve always had plenty of politicians eager to massage perceived grievances to that end, and that will end as the next election draws near.
But societal solidarity requires honesty and openness within and between our different communities.
It is disappointing that the New Zealand Jewish Council has not followed this path with its investigation and very surprising that the Ministry of Ethnic Communities has provided funding for this.