John Minto: Why are Israeli attacks on UNRWA so much more important for Luxon than genocide against Palestinians?

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Funding UNRWA aid
Funding UNRWA aid . . . a key issue at a Palestine solidarity rally in Auckland's Te Komititanga Square today. Image: David Robie/Asia Pacific Report

COMMENTARY: By John Minto

Unfortunately there was no discussion of foreign policy during Aotearoa New Zealand’s general election last year. Aside from the odd obligatory question in a TV debate it barely got a mention.

Our international relations tend to be glossed over because most policy is shared by Labour and National at least.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1970s there was a palpable feeling of pride across the country as the Norman Kirk Labour government sent a New Zealand frigate to protest against French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

A similar community pride surrounded developing our anti-nuclear policy in the 1980s and relief as well when New Zealand did not buckle to US pressure and stayed out of the infamous invasion of Iraq in 2003 while the rest of the Western world fell for the huge propaganda blitz about non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”.

It has been an awful surprise to see New Zealand give up that independence so easily in the last two years.

We rightly joined the condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because while there were clear reasons for Russia’s action there was no justification.

But then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her successor Chris Hipkins just gave up even the pretence of independence.

Fast downhill ride
Both attended belligerent NATO meetings and it’s been a fast downhill ride since. Our new National-led coalition government is continuing the same political momentum.

Nevertheless, it still came as a shock last month when Prime Minister Christopher Luxon — flanked by Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Defence Minister Judith Collins — announced we were sending military personnel to join the US-led bombing of Yemen.

There was no United Nations mandate for war and it was supported only by the tiniest minority of Western countries.

The Houthi group in Yemen have attacked Israeli-linked shipping in the Red Sea to pressure Israel to end its slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.

Yemeni groups have done this because the Western world has turned its back on the people of Gaza and refuses to condemn Israel’s indiscriminate killing of Palestinians.

Shouldn’t we be speaking strongly for an immediate permanent ceasefire in Gaza like most of the world rather than joining in bombing one of the world’s poorest countries?

A ceasefire in Gaza would end the attacks on Red Sea shipping and dramatically reduce tensions across the Middle East.

That’s what an independent New Zealand would have done.

A protesting Palestinian family at the ceasefire now rally
A protesting Palestinian family at the ceasefire solidarity rally in Auckland’s Te Komititanga Square today. Image: David Robie/Asia Pacific Report

Shame, instead of pride
Instead of pride, most of us feel shame as the world now looks on us as a small, obsequious appendage to the US empire — an empire which has blocked three UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The killing of civilians and the taking of civilian hostages is a war crime under the fourth Geneva convention and must always be condemned, no matter who the perpetrator.

We were right to condemn the killing of Israeli civilians, but our government’s refusal to condemn the killing of more than 28,000 Palestinians, including more than 12,000 children, or even call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza — until it belatedly did so this week — leaves an indelible stain on our reputation.

Our lack of independence was on display again last month when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found a plausible case exists that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

Instead of backing up the court ruling with demands Israel end the killing of Palestinians New Zealand has been all but silent with the Prime Minister blundering his way through question time in Parliament without a clue about our international responsibilities.

While all but ignoring the genocide ruling by the ICJ, Luxon was quick to halt New Zealand funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
While all but ignoring the genocide ruling by the ICJ, Luxon was quick to halt New Zealand funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency over Israeli allegations that 12 of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees had been implicated in terrorism. Image: David Robie/Asia Pacific Report

While all but ignoring the genocide ruling by the ICJ, Luxon was quick to halt New Zealand funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency over Israeli allegations that 12 of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees had been implicated in terrorism.

A classic diversion by Israel to avoid the dreadful truth of their killing of Palestinians in Gaza. New Zealand happily joined the diversion.

Why are Israeli attacks on UNRWA so much more important for the Prime Minister than genocide committed against the Palestinian people?

The simple truth is we are swimming against the great tide of humanity which stands with Palestinians.

Our government has pushed us into the dark shadow of US/Israeli policies of oppression and domination. We need to be back out in the sun.

John Minto is national chair of the Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa (PSNA). Republished with permission from The Daily Blog.

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