New Zealand premier lauds Jewish community

Despite four years of tepid relations, New Zealand’s prime minister hailed the Jewish community’s contribution to the island nation.

Helen Clark entered the Banqueting Hall of Parliament Tuesday night to the strains of the shofar blown by Wellington Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Chaim Dovrat. It was the first time a kosher function had been catered in Parliament.

More than 350 people, mostly from the Jewish community, joined the pre-Rosh Hashanah celebration initiated by Minister for Ethnic Affairs Chris Carter.

“Jewish immigrants have brought a passion for education, a devotion to family and community, and a strong social conscience to New Zealand,” he said. “Jewish New Zealanders have included prime ministers, business leaders, high court judges, academics, local body politicians and have been well represented in the medical and legal professions.”

John Barnett, the immediate past president of the Auckland Hebrew Congregation, noted the contribution of the Jews since the first European settlers arrived in the 1830s.

Relations between Clark’s Labor Party and the small Jewish community of about 7,000 plunged into meltdown in 2004 when Clark suspended high-level diplomatic relations with Jerusalem after two Israelis, suspected of being Mossad agents, were caught and jailed for trying to illegally obtain a Kiwi passport.

Israel apologized the following year and diplomatic relations resumed.

Among the guests was the opposition leader, John Key, who has been leading in the polls for the last 18 months and could become the nation’s third Jewish prime minister on Nov. 15.

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