A hearty crowd turned out to Silo Park on Sunday to join in the celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday. Members of the Jewish, Maori, Pacific, Indian, Christian and Hindu communities united to show their support.
Despite the threat of a downpour and of an anti-Israel group determined to disrupt proceedings with a “wall of noise”, as well competition with Mothers’ Day events, a good number came, from as far afield as Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Whangarei.
The cacophony provided a backdrop to the rally, which in an ironic way added to the atmosphere. It became a talking point throughout the proceedings, with speakers celebrating the fact that we have freedom in New Zealand to protest and to hold rallies.
The caterwauling demonstrated the contrast between those who wish to dialogue and discuss the difficult issues and those who simply prefer to shut down debate. The protest also highlighted why such rallies in support of Israel are important and that those who stand for truth and justice in the Middle East must stand strong in the face of opposition.
Quite what the protestors thought they were achieving is unclear. They failed to shut down the rally and certainly gained no followers with their infantile behaviour. Most on-lookers concluded they should just “grow up”. Although for the most part, the tactics of the group appeared immature and pathetic, some of their activities were more sinister. One member of the Jewish community received anonymous intimidatory phone calls from two different individuals seeking stop him from attending the event. These techniques stood in contrast to the values that were highlighted at the Israel rally: tolerance, respect and dialogue.
After a rousing sounding of the shofar by Leonard Bloksberg, a member of the Jewish community, Ngati Whatua representative Tawhiri Littlejohn opened the proceedings with a karakia followed by waiata tautoko from Jenny Matheson. The Maori contingent attended an indigenous conference in Israel last year and Littlejohn declared the support for Israel by many Maori across the nation. It was evident that many in the audience had been to Israel, seen for themselves and concluded that the picture presented by the media and propagated so fiercely by anti-Israel groups was indeed false.
MP Honourable Alfred Ngaro reflected on his own connection with Israel through his Jewish grandmother. He also referenced the battles fought by New Zealanders in (then) Palestine in World War One, that proved significant for winning the war. New Zealand blood, spilled on that soil represented another important tie to Israel. Ngaro also acknowledged that New Zealand’s system of government was built on the Judeo-Christian values birthed in Israel.
Roy Kaunds of the Indian Association of New Zealand affirmed his group’s solidarity with Israel. He relayed the history of India’s strong ties with Israel which went back 3,000 years to the time of Esther. Following the 70AD dispersal of Jews from Israel, Jewish communities became established in India where they thrived and never faced discrimination, as they did in other places.
Kaunds related that Israel and India faced the same problems, same friends, same enemies, same issues and same aspirations. He stated that Israel is the only country that has acknowledged India’s contribution in World War One, with a monument in Haifa, and is the only country that has helped India deal with its problems with terrorism. He further stated that:
“We completely support the right of Israel to choose Jerusalem as its capital. Jerusalem was the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago and it should be the capital of Israel. All the stakeholders should continue to recognise the Jewish legitimacy to the land.” – Roy Kaunds
Bryce Turner, Christians for Israel, congratulated Israel on 70 years of independence on behalf of pro-Israel groups throughout the country. Turner stated that even though the clanging drums of the noisemakers was intimidating, he was grateful to live in a free country where justice still prevails. Justice was what he sought for Israel.
“We seek for Israel the right to be treated fairly and not to be singled out. We seek for Israel the right to choose its own capital. We seek for Israel the right to not be pushed around by every little clique and group in the United Nations.” – Bryce Turner
No-one avoided the fact that Israel was not perfect, however the message was conveyed that we have enough faults of our own to face. Turner stated: “We are not in a position to be calling the kettle black. We have far too many injustices of our own that we need to be working through.”
Sheree Trotter, speaking as an indigenous person from Te Arawa, pointed out that Israel is surrounded by hostile Iranian-backed terrorist entities, intent on wiping her off the map; Hezbollah in the north, Hamas in the South, various groups in Syria, all with Israel in its sights. As a tiny nation about half the size of Canterbury, the Jewish state could be destroyed with one nuclear bomb and had every right and indeed a duty to take seriously the need to defend her citizens.
Trotter affirmed the indigenous connection shared with Jews, whose connection to the land went back more than 3,000 years. Although evicted from their homeland, Jews always kept a presence in the land. Those who remained in the wahi tapu (sacred places) kept ahi k? (title to land through occupation by a group), retaining the mana whenua (authority over land or territory).
Neveh Shimi and Alana Jacobson-Pepere spoke as representatives of Habonim Dror Aotearoa, a movement that provides a home for Jewish youth across the country. They spoke of the goal of their organisation; to keep Jewish culture alive in the diaspora, while maintaining a strong connection to their homeland in Israel and affirmed the important role Israel plays in their Jewish identity.
Rob Berg of the Zionist Federation of New Zealand congratulated Netta on wining the Eurovision contest amidst much opposition from BDS and rejoiced that next year the contest would be held in Jerusalem. Given the over-riding misconception about what Zionism means, Berg defined Zionism as:
“…the belief in the self-determination of Jewish people in their ancient homeland’. He stated, ‘It’s the only successful liberation movement of its kind. It’s an inclusive movement that promotes peace and tolerance. It’s a legitimate movement and it needs to be celebrated.” – Rob Berg
MC Ashley Church of the Israel Institute of New Zealand kept the tone of proceedings upbeat, and summed up the day:
“Despite the concerted efforts to drown out the celebration the day was an outstanding success with great weather, good numbers, exceptional speakers and an undeniable air of goodwill and optimism. Kiwi support for Israel is alive and well and won’t be undermined by bullies or those who peddle misinformation and anti-Semitism.” – Ashley Church