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NZ perspectives on the Middle East conflict

In brief
  • Diverse political positions, protests, and security concerns highlight the conflict’s impact on New Zealand.
  • New Zealand supports a UN resolution for a “humanitarian pause” and advocates for a two-state solution.
  • Prominent critics of Israel include former PM Helen Clark and outgoing MP Damian O’Connor.
  • New Zealand’s ability to impact the Middle East conflict is next to nothing.

New Zealand’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

New Zealand’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that of a spectator, mainly due to its small size, geographical distance, and the interests of global superpowers in the area. Nonetheless, staying informed about this ongoing conflict allows New Zealand voters to assess their government’s approach to  foreign policy and make more knowledgeable decisions in the future.

Escalation of the Middle East conflict and Government response

The decades old conflict escalated after recent events along the Gaza-Israeli border on 7 October 2023. On that day, Hamas members infiltrated southern Israel in what appeared to be a surprise attack. The Gaza Strip has been under blockade by Egypt and Israel since 2005.

Officially, New Zealand has long maintained support for the two-state solution. As Israel’s bombardment of Gaza intensified, New Zealand’s government supported a UN resolution calling for a “humanitarian pause.” However, resolutions for either a “ceasefire” or a “humanitarian pause” have been vetoed by major players at the UN Security Council. Israel also refuses to agree to a ceasefire.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark condemned the collective punishment of civilians in Gaza, considering it a violation of international humanitarian law. She articulated the need for proportionate responses and the cessation of hostilities. Clark pointed out that addressing the root causes, specifically the denial of Palestinian statehood, is essential.

NZ perspectives on the Middle East conflict - Centrist
It’s important to understand the Government’s approach to foreign policy.

In response, the Israeli Ambassador to New Zealand, Ran Yaakoby, disputed the notion of proportionality, highlighting the danger posed by Hamas’ rocket attacks. Yaakoby was critical of New Zealand’s caretaker government, claiming they had not been in contact with him. He also criticised New Zealand for having an embassy in Iran, but not in Israel.

Diverse perspectives among political parties

Different political parties in New Zealand have expressed diverse perspectives on the conflict.

Immediately following the outbreak of hostilities, the Labour, National, and ACT parties condemned the attacks by Hamas and supported Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’. Since then, Labour, in consultation with National, authorised sending $5 million in aid to the region.

The Green Party took a different stance, condemning the targeting of civilians by both Hamas and the Israeli Defense Force. They called for a ceasefire, lasting peace, and statehood for Palestine. Te Pāti Māori demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador if a ceasefire and humanitarian aid were not implemented.

Concerns over online content and terrorist designation

In addition to the political responses, concerns have been raised about Islamophobic and anti-Semitic content online. Some have called for the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation. It’s worth noting that the New Zealand Government only designates the military wing of Hamas as terrorists.

Public demonstrations and security measures

Public demonstrations have become increasingly common in New Zealand and abroad. Most of these demonstrations are Pro-Palestinian and call on this government to demand an immediate ceasefire, especially as Israel expands its military operation.

Outgoing Labour MP Damien O’Connor has openly criticised Israel, and several Green and Te Pāti Māori MPs have supported pro-Palestinian protests. Pro-Israeli demonstrations have also taken place.

There have been incidents of disorder, flag burning, and offensive chants during some overseas demonstrations, like in Sydney. Concerns have been raised about “spontaneous violence” related to the conflict.

As a precaution, police increased security around mosques and synagogues in New Zealand in the wake of the 7 October attack, although no specific threats have been reported.

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