NZ heads to the polls

October 13, 2020 by Miriam Bell
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When New Zealand entered its second lockdown in August it led to the election being postponed for nearly a month – from the original date of September 19 till October 17.

Jacinda Ardern

That change means that, even with a brief pause in traditional campaigning, the election campaign has been going on for a particularly prolonged time.

Many New Zealanders appear to be suffering from election fatigue, with early voting numbers (at the time of writing) at 1.2 million which is up by 50% on the 2017 election.

This seems to suggest that many people have made their decision and are keen for the election to be done and dusted.

A week is a long time in politics so it’s certainly not possible to predict the end result… But the polls have consistently put the currently governing party, Labour, firmly in the lead.

The latest poll, which was TVNZ’s Colmar Brunton poll out five days ago, has Labour on 47% and the main opposition party, National, on 32%.

However, an unusual feature of this election is that it’s really all been about COVID-19.

Sure, the various parties have announced a suite of policies – but much of the discourse and analysis has revolved around health and economic responses to the pandemic and the recession it has caused.

Even before a community outbreak of COVID-19 in Auckland prompted lockdown 2.0, Labour leader (and Prime Minister) Jacinda Ardern had tagged this election as the “Covid election”.

What does all this mean for the Jewish community?

Well, those interested in different parties’ positions on issues relating to Israel would be hard-pressed to find anything specific in any of the main parties’ publicly released foreign policy.

Of some help here is a voter’s guide published by the Israel Institute of NZ back in June.

It features a rating of where the five parties currently represented in Parliament, along with two minor parties, stand on a number of issues. [Read it here: https://israelinstitute.nz/2020/06/iinz-2020-voters-guide/]

These issues include whether or not the party in question condemns Palestinian terror, supported a negotiated solution, and supports ties with Israel.

According to the IINZ ratings, none of the main parties does particularly well in this space – although National is ranked better than Labour.

It is only the two minor parties included – the New Conservatives and the One Party – that are ranked highly on their Israel-related policies.

At the time of writing, the New Conservatives were polling at around 2%, which is well shy of the 5% threshold necessary to enter Parliament, and the One Party was not even registering in the polls.

Winston Peters

That means neither is likely to be a part of the next government.

The IINZ guide also provides summary information on a small selection of MPs in regard to Israel.

Those MPs include Ardern, NZ First leader (and Deputy Prime Minister) Winston Peters, three National MPs, Labour MP Duncan Webb and Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.

Ardern and Peters (who has not lived up to the expectations he engendered in the Jewish community after being one of the few politicians to criticise New Zealand’s involvement in UN Resolution 2334) both get a neutral rating.

Webb (who is a vocal BDS supporter) and Ghahraman (who has courted controversy with a number of comments relating to Israel) get a thumbs-down.

It’s worth noting that while one of the Green Party’s co-leaders, Marama Davidson, has a history of being pro-Palestinian, the party’s other co-leader, James Shaw, recently condemned the BDS movement publicly.

On the other hand, the three National MPs get a thumbs-up. Two of them, Simon O’Connor and Todd McClay are electorate MPs with sizable majorities and likely to return to Parliament.

Of the three, it’s Alfred Ngaro who has the highest profile in the Jewish community, not the least because he re-started the New Zealand-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group.

However, Ngaro’s future as an MP could be in doubt. He is not an electorate MP, is only ranked at number 30 on the party’s list and has recently run into trouble over controversial posts about a political rival.

While the IINZ guide provides some hints of where parties, or factions within parties, might stand in relation to Israel-related issues, it is far from definitive.

This is particularly the case given a lot of recent New Zealand government policy towards Israel appears to be directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) rather than any of the parties in government.

To this end, a recently published NZ Friends of Israel guest post on the IINZ website suggests that when it comes to Israel, it would be best to vote for the major party that can stand up to MFAT.

The post notes that in recent years, no matter what a party has said prior to entering government, all have become subordinated to the “long-standing” and “even-handed” foreign policy set out by previous administrations and closely guarded by MFAT.

“Without focusing on MFAT and the ‘experts’ it uses to form its views on international issues, New Zealand’s interests, and therefore how it advises each incoming administration, New Zealand’s stance on the Middle East Conflict will unlikely be diverted from its current course,” the post says.

And hence the NZ Friends of Israel recommendation. [Read it here: https://israelinstitute.nz/2020/10/vote-for-the-major-party-that-can-stand-up-to-the-ministry-of-foreign-affairs/]

Unfortunately, to date, neither of the major parties has displayed any inclination to go up against MFAT.

But both Peters (as Deputy Prime Minister) and Labour’s then Immigration Minister, Iain Lees-Galloway, did take Immigration NZ to task over a politicised factsheet on Palestinian refugees which was published last year.

This all suggests that rather than looking to Israel, it might be better to look to the behaviour of parties and politicians towards New Zealand’s Jewish community.

Earlier this year, NZ Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses told this reporter that most parties have a favourable attitude towards the community to the extent that Israel-related issues can be compartmentalised.

“The Government – primarily via the Labour ministers and with special mention of Minister of Ethnic Communities Jenny Salesa – has tried very hard to support us, particularly after the Christchurch mosque attacks, and that support has been significant in many different ways,” she said.

“National has worked hard to build bridges since UNSC resolution 2334 passed under its auspices, and Alfred Ngaro who chairs the NZ-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, deserves special mention in that respect.”

Moses added that ACT Party leader David Seymour is also a friend of the community.

It does all make for a bit of a confusing picture – and that means that, ultimately, most members of the Jewish community are likely to vote according to their broader political beliefs.

Those who are still undecided will look to the Covid-19 response and plans for the economy to help guide their vote.

One final note though: a recently released survey of the New Zealand Jewish community* reveals that, in terms of political affiliation, the majority of those surveyed were left-leaning. The exception was Auckland, where right-wing political affiliations were dominant.

* The Shifting Jewry 2019 (Gen19) survey. [Read more here: https://1.org.nz/over-40-of-jewish-community-now-considers-antisemitism-a-big-problem-in-new-zealand/]

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