SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Rabbi Israel Meir Lau publicly thanked Prime Minister John Key for boycotting last month’s anti-racism conference in Geneva.
Lau, Tel Aviv’s chief rabbi and the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, was making his first visit to New Zealand.
On Sunday night he addressed a Jewish community function in Auckland with some 300 guests, including Minister of Defense Wayne Mapp and former National Party leader Don Brash.
After an emotional speech, the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel said he wanted to extend via Mapp his gratitude to Key, the son of an Austrian Jewish refugee. Last year Key replaced Helen Clark, whose Labor government was widely critical of Israel.
New Zealand joined Israel, Australia, America, Italy, Holland and several other European countries in boycotting the United Nations Durban II conference.
Rachel Korpus of the Zionist Federation of New Zealand, which organized the event with the Canberra-based Israeli Embassy, told JTA that “We are one of the most remote communities in the Diaspora, so to receive a Jewish icon or living treasure like Rabbi Lau was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people here in New Zealand.”
An estimated 7,000 Jews live in New Zealand.
Relations between Israel and New Zealand have largely recovered since the diplomatic meltdown in 2004 after two alleged Mossad agents were caught and jailed for trying to illegally obtain a New Zealand passport.
Lau, a Poland native, survived the Buchenwald concentration camp before immigrating to Palestine in 1945.