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Israeli envoy to New Zealand blunders

Israel’s newly accredited envoy to New Zealand made a diplomatic blunder.

Shortly after he presented his credentials at Government House in Wellington last week, Yuval Rotem told a local newspaper he wanted to hire “an indigenous New Zealander to work with me – a non-Jewish Maori.”

His comment angered the island nation’s race relations commissioner, Joris de Bres, who said it was illegal to hire somebody on the basis of ethnicity.

“I would have thought he would need to look for a competency rather than an ethnicity,” de Bres told Wellington’s Dominion Post.

Rotem’s gaffe comes less than two years after his predecessor, Naftali Tamir, was recalled from his post early after he was quoted in Ha’aretz as saying Australia and Israel were like sisters in Asia “because we don’t have yellow skins and slanted eyes.”

Rotem said he hoped to build new relations with Wellington, which briefly severed ties with Jerusalem in 2004 after Israeli agents were caught trying to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. Israel subsequently apologized.

Jerusalem closed its embassy in Wellington in 2002 as part of global cost-cutting measures, but has pledged to reopen it. Rotem in the next few weeks will present his credentials as non-resident ambassador to Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

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