Pro-Palestinian Challenged in New Zealand Journal
Marilyn Garson (a Jew) spent four years working in Gaza and she thinks that gives her the authority needed to tell the New Zealand government how they should interact with Israel. And she wrote an article about that. It was published in the January-February 2020 issue of the journal, the New Zealand International Review. Called “Are we really aiding Gaza?”, here is her abstract:
Established by the UN General Assembly in 1949, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has sought ever since to protect and assist the community displaced by the foundation of Israel. The Gaza Strip, which contains the largest concentration of displaced Palestinians, has since 1967 been under Israeli occupation. It is a hidden community which struggles to survive behind a military blockade. New Zealand contributes roughly a million dollars to UNRWA each year, but it also does business with Gaza’s oppressor, the Israeli state, including participating in its war economy.
I could write a discourse on Garson’s abstract alone, but I discovered that in the very next March-April 2020 issue, David Cumin and Dov Bing critiqued her entire article and called it ” The hypocrisy of New Zealand’s donations to UNRWA“. This is their abstract:
New Zealand should not continue to unquestioningly support a United Nations agency that has become politicised and a barrier to peace. At the very least, New Zealand should acknowledge the egregious and systemic issues within UNRWA rather than continue supporting the ‘right of return’, anti-semitic curriculum and online incitement to violence. New Zealand could act as it did with Fiji and Nauru — suspend funding until there are reforms. While New Zealand’s contribution is small, it would be a significant, tangible political message that our nation actually stands against incitement to terror and does not abide corruption.
While their abstract does not directly challenge what Garson wrote in hers, and that is unfortunate because sometimes people read only the abstracts, they do so in the bulk of their article. Ideally, I would have liked to have seen some counter to her claim in the abstract that Israel is Gaza’s oppressor. Israel did not cause the displacement of the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians. It was, rather, the wars that were waged against Israel by hostile neighbours who tried unsuccessfully to cause the displacement of the Jews that caused their displacement. Furthermore, I can think of some other communities who would like to be as ‘hidden’ as those living in Gaza — for example, the Tibetans, the Amazigh, the Christians in Nigeria, the Biafrans, and there are many more who are truly hidden from media attention.
This is just nit-picking on my part, perhaps, as Cumin and Bing’s article does an excellent job of critiquing what Garson wrote. Their abstract represents the purpose of their article which was to make the point that New Zealand needs to take a different stand than it currently does with respect to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. What I particularly like is how they bring in examples from other countries. For example:
Her [Garson’s] assertion [that Gaza is occupied and using the term ‘occupation’ 27 times] … seems based on the use of the term ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’ by the United Nations. However, terminology does not make law. No reasonable person, for example, would claim that North Korea is democratic because it is referred to as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
They explain the legal meaning of the term ‘occupation’ and remind readers that Israel pulled out of Gaza in toto in 2005. In other words, if it even was an occupation (and that is debateable), it no longer is and Israel has no responsibility for any of the inner workings of the territory.
Not satisfied to focus on their own welfare, Hamas, the ruling regime in Gaza, funnels all resources into its ongoing hostilities against Israel. While Israel continues to provide medical care for thousands of Gazans who need more than what can be provided within Gaza, and ships tons of foods and other essentials into Gaza, Hamas conducts a war of attrition against Israel with incendiary kites and balloons and missiles. Of course, as the authors note, Marilyn Garson mentions none of this.
Cumin and Bing write that Israel’s behaviour contrasts with that of New Zealand, suggesting that Israel would be within her rights to suspend delivery of aid and medical treatment:
When the Fiji military staged a coup in 2006, New Zealand suspended aid to the country. Prime Minister Helen Clark and Foreign Minister Winston Peters said ‘These measures reflect New Zealand’s abhorrence of the actions taken by the Fijian military. Those actions are a tragedy for Fiji. New Zealand also suspended aid to Nauru in 2015 over reported violations of civil and political rights. [emphasis added]
The sentence in bold expresses what many Israelis feel — we are pained by the tragic circumstances that have befallen the people of Gaza who mean Israel no harm, but that does not mean that we should hold back (to say the least) on demanding that Hamas cease all terror activities.
Cumin and Bing believe that the New Zealand government should expect Hamas to actually govern their people as opposed to having UNRWA take responsibility for many of what should be their tasks:
While it is less than ideal for a terror organisation to govern, it is little different to the rulers in Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Lebanon or North Korea, for example.
Ultimately, the ideal scenario would be that the Gaza Strip is no longer ruled by a terror group — just like it would be ideal if Iran was freed from theocratic rule, North Korea was no longer presided over by an oppressive dynasty and Western Sahara had a stable government.
In other words, Cumin and Bing identify the absurd situation in which one group, the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians, are treated as if they are unique in spite of the fact that parallels with other groups can be found around the globe.
They discuss the ways in which UNRWA does everything it can, it seems, to prolong the ‘Palestinian’ refugee problem in contrast with how the main UN refugee organization, the UNHCR, does everything it can to help refugees find stable homes in countries that will absorb them. UNRWA is now also operating under a cloud of suspected corruption of senior officials and they point out the hypocrisy exhibited by New Zealand’s lack of clear response to evidence of UNRWA’s participation in incitement against Israel on social media when at the same time the government announces their fight against online incitement. Voting to extend the UNRWA mandate is a vote to continue to dedicate taxpayer money to support this organization.
If New Zealand government officials fall under the emotionally magnetic spell of the Marilyn Garsons of the world and ignore fact-based counter-arguments offered by the Cumins and Bings, then nothing will change. But at least a semi-academic journal saw fit to publish the critique and it is there, under the same umbrella as the original article, for the consideration of all who care to think and come to their own conclusions. If you look at the list of corporate and institutional subscribers to the journal, you will see that this is very very important.
This is not to be taken for granted. In spite of letters to the editors of a number of journals, only two invited me to write my critiques up in academic style and then published them along with responses by the authors of the original articles (here and here). I hope we see more of this in future.
Reading these articles peaked my curiousity about anti-Zionism in New Zealand and I initiated a brief correspondance with David Cumin by email to learn more. In addition to being a University of Auckland faculty member, Cumin is one of the directors of the Israel Institute of New Zealand (IINZ). From their website, we learn that that IINZ is an independent think tank that seeks to provide “New Zealanders with a better understanding of the State of Israel through accurate analysis, insightful commentary, and effective advocacy.”
I asked Cumin a few questions:
1. I am aware that New Zealand usually votes against Israel in the UN. But what is talk like among the general public in your country regarding the UN and issues related to Israel and the PA?
We did a poll a few years ago that shows the majority of Kiwis support Israel (to see the poll, click here). There is limited public discourse on the matter, apart from a small but vocal group of anti-Israel activists and limited mainstream media that is usually taken from overseas wires and somewhat biased against Israel.
2. Does your country see the same degree of anti-Israel activism on campuses as we observe in the USA?
The anti-Israel activism on campuses in NZ has not been as virulent as that at some universities in the USA and it has subsided in recent years. That said, we know the anti-Israel activists want to restart activities and there are some sympathetic staff (one at the University of Auckland who has openly affiliated with PFLP).
3. Is there a movement promoting academic boycott of Israel?
There are certainly activists promoting BDS but not a strong focus on the academic boycott of Israel. We think the vast majority of academics in NZ understand and appreciate academic freedom and would oppose an academic boycott, especially as there are some good existing collaborations.
4. I understand that your country is working at reconciliation with the indigenous Maori Peoples. Is there recognition, at least among the Maori, that the Jews, and not the so-called Palestinians, are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel?
I’m not sure there is a single Maori voice on this issue, but our experience is that there is a predominant view within Maoridom that identifies with Jews as indigenous to Israel. This is partly because there is a strong Christian element within Maoridom and so they appreciate and understand the bible, and also because we have seen some remarkable gestures from respected Maori leaders toward Israel (eg the apology regarding NZ’s role in UNSC 2334).
Thank-you David, for responding to my questions.
Feature Image Credit: Public profile image from Marilyn Garson’s Twitter Account.