Last week Israelis began a series of events in celebration of 70 years of statehood since the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
While New Zealand’s relationship with Israel has in recent years been frosty, history reveals a relationship that was not always so fraught. Indeed, this region of the Middle East has held a special place in the Kiwi imagination.
From as early as 1903, groups were established in New Zealand to support the “upbuilding of Palestine”, as it was then known. The land was under the control of the Ottoman Empire and although there had always been Jewish presence there, from the 19th century Jews began returning in greater numbers, largely in response to the persecution they were suffering in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Many thousands emigrated to America and a few found their way to New Zealand. The return to Palestine was enabled by the liberalisation of land laws under the Ottomans, which opened the way for private land purchase. During this period countries like France, Germany and Russia purchased land and built churches in the “Holy Land”.
New Zealand’s Jewish community maintained close ties with fellow Jews on the other side of the world…