By Miriam Bell…

The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand has condemned Auckland Mayoral candidate John Tamihere for his use of a Nazi [verbal] salute during a political debate at the Chapel Bar on Tuesday night.

The incident occurred after Phil Goff, who is currently Auckland’s mayor, gave an impassioned speech on diversity and multi-culturalism. In response Tamihere said: “Well, I say sieg heil to that.”

A short clip of the debate was posted on Twitter on Wednesday and has prompted a furore on social media. Tamihere has defended his comment, saying it was a simple use of an analogy about a dictator.

But Holocaust Centre CEO Chris Harris says that Tamihere uses Nazi language – the language of race hatred – in a throwaway manner.

“It is wrong, deeply irresponsible and inciting hate in one of the world’s most ethnically diverse cities. It is utterly unacceptable for a public figure to evoke Hitler and the Nazis as Mr Tamihere is doing.”

Mayor Goff has been outspoken in his condemnation of Tamihere’s comments, saying they are “unacceptable for someone who wants to be Mayor of this city”.

“I am proud of how multicultural our city is and more importantly, I am proud of how we embrace our diversity. This is not the first time Mr Tamihere’s comments have gotten him in trouble and I don’t think it will be the last.”

A group of current Auckland councillors have also issued statements condemning Tamihere’s comments.

One of these councillors, Chris Darby says: “The use of the Nazi salute Sieg Heil espouses the most despicable hatred of people.

“With part of my family having German heritage, we know only too well the ugliness of hatred. While not a criminal act in New Zealand, as it is in Germany, anyone using the salute is inciting hatred, something Aucklanders should make no room for.”

Read Radio NZ’s story on the incident and the fallout here.