Green Party Antisemitism (18-27 May, 2021)

Green  Party  Response – 27 May 2021

MEDIA RELEASE – Green Party Antisemitism 19 May 2021

The representative body for New Zealand Jewry condemns the inflammatory comments and inaccurate statements made by two Green MPs in recent days, which risk stoking antisemitism and endangering Jews in New Zealand, as we have seen around the world in the last few days.

Following Saturday’s anti-Israel rally, Green MP Ricardo Menendez March posted on Twitter and Facebook photographs of himself and other Green MPs with the caption “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

This slogan is used by Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza whose charter calls for the elimination of Israel and murder of Jews everywhere and whose military wing is classed as a terrorist organisation in New Zealand.  The slogan is widely understood to be a call for the elimination of the State of Israel, and is considered to be antisemitic.  Despite an outcry on social media, Mr Menendez March has not removed the posts, and they have been shared by at least one other MP including co-leader Marama Davidson.

New Zealand Jewish Council President Stephen Goodman said, “Taken at its most mild possible interpretation, this slogan erases the right of Jews to self-determination.  At its most pernicious (and in the way intended by Hamas), it promotes genocide and ethnic cleansing.

“It is an outrage that a member of a political party in New Zealand would use this slogan, and that other members of the same party, including its co-leader, would endorse it by retweeting it.  It is arguably incitement to violence.”

Separately, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman has made several comments about the conflict that contain such significant errors of fact and serious omissions it should raise questions about her suitability for her role as Green Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson and her credibility. She has referred to the “violent displacement” of residents at Sheikh Jarrah and cited that as a pretext for the conflict, despite the fact that this long-running and complex private land dispute has not yet been decided by the Supreme Court, and the residents remain living there.  She has also said several times that the Hamas rockets have been fired at open areas, which is patently incorrect. The rockets have killed Israeli civilians (including children), caused serious damage and significant trauma.

During this devastating conflict, when tensions are high and the Jewish community is bracing itself for an increase in antisemitism, it is particularly important that MPs, whatever their sympathies and biases, act responsibly, by being factual and avoiding language that incites disharmony.

The Green Party failed to respond to the Council’s letter, as requested, within 24 hours.

Letter sent to Hon. James Shaw and Marama Davidson, Co-Leaders – Green Party, concerning antisemitism within the Green Party – 18 May 2021

Dear James and Marama,

We have written to you before with concerns about antisemitic rhetoric by a Green MP. It prompted what we felt was a productive meeting in 2019, where members of the New Zealand Jewish Council outlined the Jewish community’s concerns and you appeared receptive.

Despite that, in the last week, Green Party MPs have made such inflammatory statements – apparently endorsed by other MPs – that we now consider there to be a significant problem of antisemitism within the Green Party of Aotearoa.

Usually the NZJC would not comment on criticisms of Israeli policy, and we do not make accusations of antisemitism lightly.  As was explained in the 2019 meeting, and as you both appeared to agree, sometimes criticism of Israel can slide into antisemitism.  This has happened on at least two occasions in the last week because of Green MP actions, causing considerable alarm within our community.

On Saturday Ricardo Menendez March tweeted photos from the Palestinian solidarity march in Auckland. The caption with it read “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”.  Ms Davidson retweeted it. Mr Menendez March also shared it on Facebook.

This is widely understood to be a call for the elimination of the State of Israel, and therefore considered to be antisemitic.

The American Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt (a former Obama official) wrote that “when protesters chant ‘Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,’ it is appropriately interpreted by most people as a call for the erasure of Israel – and it is anti-Semitic.”

The American Jewish Committee explains the slogan as encapsulating a common call-to-arms for pro-Palestinian activists, calling for the establishment of a State of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, erasing the State of Israel and its people. It is also a rallying cry for terrorist groups and their sympathisers, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to Hamas, which has called for Israel’s destruction since its original governing charter in 1988.

Taken at its most mild possible interpretation, this slogan erases the right of Jews to self-determination. At its most pernicious (and in the way intended by Hamas), it promotes genocide and ethnic cleansing.

It is an outrage that a member of a political party in New Zealand would use this slogan, and that other members of the same party, including its co-leader, would endorse it by retweeting it. It is arguably incitement to violence.

It is difficult to express the levels of distress and fear this matter has caused to our community, compounded by the fact that MPs were made aware on social media of the outcry, but did nothing.

Even if Mr Menendez March was ignorant of its meaning, or the detrimental effect on the Jewish community, the significant backlash on social media would have soon alerted him. He has had plenty of opportunity to redress it over the past days. We note that Ms Swarbrick, having retweeted it, then deleted her tweet.

The second case of antisemitism by a Green Party MP in this last week relates once again to statements made by Golriz Ghahraman, who has made a number of offensive and harmful comments in the past.

Several days ago she shared the Green Party’s official statement on the conflict between Hamas and Israel. It contains significant errors of facts and omissions.

For example it accuses the IDF of  “violent and forced displacement of the Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah community”. This long-running, controversial and complex private land dispute has not yet concluded, and in fact was deferred last week in order to de-escalate the situation. As yet there has been no displacement, violent or otherwise. There may never be. It is not clear to us why Ms Ghahraman has predetermined the outcome of a decision of a court.

Ms Ghahraman’s statement also incorrectly accuses Israel of “indiscriminate bombing”, whereas, as international media and observers confirm, Israel’s strikes are targeted, and include warnings to minimise civilian casualties. It is well-documented that Hamas operates in civilian areas, including mosques, hospitals, schools and residential buildings.  Most concerningly, it fails to condemn Hamas for its indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israelis, which unlike Israel’s retaliatory strikes, do not target military objectives or provide warnings, but are intended to harm civilians.

When asked why the statement did not condemn Hamas, Ms Ghahraman replied, “If we condemn rockets being shot into an area with no real chance of reaching a place where civilians live as being en par with one of the world’s most powerful defence forces indiscriminately bombing a trapped civilian communities (after days of that defence force violently forcing a civilian community from their homes) that would be artificially and unjustly creating a false equivalence.”vThis is clearly factually completely incorrect; hundreds of Hamas rockets have landed in high density areas, causing casualties and loss of life, and forcing Israelis – including our family and friends – into bomb shelters.  It is a double war crime to shoot rockets from a civilian population at a civilian population. She did not correct her statement even after the factual inaccuracy was brought to her attention. Also, as previously mentioned, no civilian community has been forcibly removed from their homes.

This is not a case of a simple error; she has ignored the loss of life on the Israeli side presumably to fit her political narrative. It is one thing to omit to mention rockets, and another to become an apologist for them and the terrorist group – the military wing of Hamas is designated by New Zealand as a terror organisation – firing them.

This is part of a pattern of behaviour from Ms Ghahraman. We believe her frequent errors of fact, distortions of truth and inflammatory and harmful rhetoric call into question her suitability in the role of foreign affairs spokesperson. The cumulative effect suggests a deeply entrenched bias, a lack of accountability, a recklessness with facts, and a callous disregard for the impact of her behaviour.

When conflicts between Israel and Gaza flare up it is always accompanied by an uptick in antisemitic attacks around the world. This can now be seen in the UK, the USA and elsewhere. For example, the UK saw a 250% increase in antisemitic incidents during the week at the start of increased attacks in Israel, including the defacing of synagogues. Jews have been beaten up by “Pro-Palestinian” protesters in New York, Toronto, and London, and at a number of protests cries of “death to the Jews” have been heard. In the last 24 hours in Jewish areas of London, Jews have been warned to stay indoors, as a convoy of demonstrators drove past shouting antisemitic slogans.

Irresponsible, inaccurate and inflammatory comments by high profile individuals only increase these tensions and put our community at risk.

As the representative body of New Zealand Jewry we have both historic and current experience of antisemitism and see the inflammatory rhetoric that these Green Party MPs have recently been engaging in, and the party has condoned, as inflaming public antagonism to the NZ Jewish community.

We ask for an apology and retraction regarding the “from the river to the sea” slogan, and in the light of that, a clear re-affirmation that the Party supports self-determination for the Jewish and Palestinian people and a right for them each to live in peace and security. We also ask that your party condemns the rocket attacks by Hamas, given its previous omission.

We would like a response to this letter by 5pm today.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Goodman


New Zealand Jewish Council