SYDNEY, Australia (Apr. 24)
The government of New Zealand has boycotted this year’s Israel Independence Day celebrations.
At a cabinet meeting attended by Prime Minister Helen Clark, the government decided to break with tradition and not send any minister or official representative to a reception last week in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, celebrating the 54th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel.
Details of the snub were made public in the New Zealand Parliament, when former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley questioned Foreign Minister Phil Goff about whether the country was maintaining an even-handed approach to the conflict in the Middle East.
Last week, Goff met with the Israeli ambassador, Ruth Kahanoff, to officially object to Israel’s continued military presence in the West Bank.
This week, Goff hosted a meeting with an Australian-based Palestinian representative, Ali Kazak, at which he condemned the Israeli military “over-reaction.” He also condemned Palestinian suicide bombings.
Goff, who has spent time on a kibbutz, told Parliament that the decision not to attend the celebration was deliberate.
A government spokesman later told JTA: New Zealand’s “Cabinet decided it was inappropriate to attend a cocktail party given the current situation in the Middle East.
“It was a reprimand to the Israeli Government by New Zealand over aspects of Israel’s policies which we do not regard as acceptable.”
Not going to the reception was less unfriendly than “what is happening to the people of the West Bank,” the spokesman added.
But Ambassador Kahanoff denied that the function at the prestigious Wellington Club was a party.
“It was an official reception”, she said. “Over 200 people made a special effort to attend in a show of solidarity, including the U.S. ambassador and U.K. representatives, as well as ambassadors from most major countries.
“In my speech I mentioned that there was a price to pay for our independence, and I was very disappointed that there was no senior New Zealand government member in attendance to share our voiced hopes that Israel and New Zealand could work together for peace in the Middle East,” she said.