Is NZ Labour more tolerant of antisemitism than Jeremy Corbyn’s UK Labour party?

March 12, 2021 by David Cumin
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In January The Israel Institute of New Zealand exposed NZ MPs as members of an online group that frequently posts vile antisemitism. Labour MP for Christchurch Central, Dr Duncan Webb, was found to have posted, commented, and ‘liked’ posts in the group.

Chair of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, Deb Hart, and spokesperson for the New Zealand Jewish Council, Juliet Moses, also called out the MPs’ association on social media.

https://twitter.com/debb555/status/1350674310759792641

https://twitter.com/JulietMosesNZ/status/1350537589527175169

The other MPs who have been recently exposed and previously exposed as members of Facebook groups that are frequently antisemitic include Labour Party MP, Ibrahim Omer; and Green MPs, Teanau Tuiono, Marama Davidson, Golriz Ghahraman, and Gareth Hughes.

They have all refused to respond on social media or to private approaches except for Dr Webb. He responded to the Israel Institute of New Zealand defending his association with the Facebook group:

“In respect of your email I note that I follow a number of groups to stay informed on various matters from all sides of the political spectrum and issues, including the issue of the occupation [of] the West Bank. Following a group does not mean I endorse comments made by other members of the group.

I do not endorse any hateful comments and as you know I condemn all hateful speech including anti-Semitic comments.

I would invite you to look at the “about” section of the page which requires appropriate language and content and includes the following statement “Unacceptable material includes the following: sexist language of any type; racist or discriminatory language targeting any particular ethnic group (including immigrants); obscene pictures, memes or any other material considered offensive; spam advertising; all such material will be removed immediately”. Comments on the page by moderators have reinforced that message.

On this basis it is not at all accurate to say that I belong to a hate group. Not only is the statement inaccurate, but it is also damaging to my reputation and I request that you desist from making it and any similar statements. Such accusations are unhelpful to a balanced exchange of views on this matter.

In respect of the post I made on the page, it was a statement in respect of the proposed illegal annexation of the West Bank by Israel. It was widely condemned internationally in the terms that I used. Fortunately it did not proceed. I stand by my statement.

In respect of liking a post which condemned the attack on Golriz Ghahraman, I simply state that I consider that anti-Semitism, as with any prejudice, is to be condemned and it is a very serious accusation. I think it undermines the gravity of such wrongdoing make that accusation [sic] when people criticise the conduct of the government of Israel – even if you do not consider the criticisms accurate. I certainly do not consider Golriz to be an anti-Semite and imagine that such an accusation is quite hurtful.

You will appreciate my view that for a just and lasting peace in the Levant the Palestinian people need to afforded full self-determination including sovereignty over their lands. At the present time they are under military occupation by Israel with limited self-government. The further expansion of settlements is undermining that aspiration.

I am always happy to engage in constructive and respectful discussion with people on any side of this debate and like you, I hope peace will be achieved in that part of the world so that both Arab and Jew can live and flourish.”Dr Duncan Webb

Dr Webb apparently sees all the vile comments and posts as legitimate criticism of Israel, and seems to claim the administrators’ statement requiring appropriate language trumps their actual tolerance of, and sometimes engagement in, antisemitic posts and comments.

Much of the antisemitism in the Facebook groups that NZ MPs are members of is indistinguishable from antisemitism espoused by the White Nationalist group, Action Zealandia.

Recent examples of comments and posts in the group include glorification of Leila Khaled, the PFLP terrorist well-known for her role in the hijacking of two civilian airliners and who was recently banned from Facebook, Zoom, and Youtube for promoting violence. That post was made by an administrator of the group.

It is curious that the New Zealand government is championing the Christchurch Call that commits tech companies to attempt to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online – the same standards by which Ms Khaled was banned from platforms – and yet remains silent when an MP unashamedly affiliates with a group that glorifies terror.

It is also disturbing that the New Zealand Labour party has been promoting “hate speech” laws and yet seems to condone an MP associating with antisemiitc material and glorification of terror.

It is disappointing that Dr Webb did not disassociate from the group or specifically condemn the antisemitism exposed in it. In fact he has continued to engage with the group.

In response to further questions from The Israel Institute of New Zealand about his continued affiliation and engagement with the group, Dr Webb said “I posted a clip on the site in which the CEO of the Guardians of the NZ Super Fund explained the reasons for divesting from certain Israeli banks… You are well aware that I do not support terrorism. Rather I support the dissemination of accurate information which is what I posted on the site.”

Dr. Webb may claim not to support terrorism but he has not condemned the glorification of a terrorist in a group he seems happy to associate with. Dr Webb also has a history of comments and conduct that has troubled members of the New Zealand Jewish community:

 

More generally, the failure of NZ MPs to distance themselves from Facebook groups that frequently espouse racism is out of step with elected lawmakers from around the world, including some New Zealand MPs, who have also been exposed as members of objectionable forums. For example:

  • In April 2010, a New Zealand National Party MP was exposed as a member of an animal rights Facebook group that posted extreme content and called for vigilante justice. When confronted, the MP distanced himself from the group saying “I de-friended [sic] them because I wasn’t comfortable with what was going on”.
  • In Feb 2011, a New Zealand National Party MP was found to be a member of a Facebook group called “I hate poor people.” The MP claimed he was unaware of his membership and distanced himself from the forum saying “I never joined it. If by mistake someone has joined it, I will definitely remove it myself”.
  • In Feb 2018, a UK Tory MP, Dominic Raab, was found to be a member of a private Facebook group that called for the return of workhouses and the sale of all council homes. Mr Raab said “I wasn’t aware of this group, let alone that I had inadvertently and mistakenly been linked on Facebook. I have corrected it and needless to say I do not support its aims.”
  • In March 2018, the UK Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, suspended several party members who posted in a closed Facebook group which featured a number of antisemitic messages. Corbyn said he had not seen antisemitic posts on the group, “Had I seen it, of course, I would have challenged it straight away…”, and he and other MPs left the group when they were exposed as members.
  • In June 2018, several UK Tory MPs were exposed as members of a Facebook group that contained Islamophobic, homophobic and racist comments. They all claimed they had been signed up without their knowledge and left after being alerted to the content.
  • In March 2019, Austrian MPs in the far-right FPÖ party were exposed as members of a ‘blood libel’ Facebook group. FPÖ general secretary Christian Hafenecker said that his party and MPs had nothing to do with “National Socialist Facebook sites.” He claimed they had been made members of the group without their knowledge and have since left.
  • In Nov 2019 in New Zealand, Prime Minister Ardern and other NZ MPs were found to be members of a Facebook group that posted frequent and vile antisemitism. Ms Ardern’s office responded that she was added without her knowledge and “When she has the opportunity, she will be removing herself from this and other groups which she has unknowingly been signed-up to.”

 

In response to the initial revelations that MPs were members of the online groups, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission said they “do not condone, and are very concerned by, any alleged association of MPs with forums that express discrimination or racism.”

However, now that an MPs has confirmed he is associated with the group and the racism has continued, the Human Rights Commission has refused to make further comment. Given that also no Labour Party leader has said or done anything about Dr Webb or Ibrahimn Omer, who was also found to be a member of the Facebook group, and the same for the Green party, it seems that the New Zealand Labour and Green parties are more tolerant of antisemitism than the UK Labour party was under Jeremy Corbyn or the far-right FPÖ party in Austria.

 

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