SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Scuffles erupted between New Zealand police and anti-Israel demonstrators who were protesting a landmark visit by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.
About 25 protesters, mostly from pro-Palestinian and socialist student groups, were met Saturday night by a strong police presence outside the Auckland Hebrew Congregation, where Rivlin was giving the keynote address to 250 members of the Jewish community.
It is the first official Israeli state visit to New Zealand in 25 years, since President Chaim Herzog visited in 1986.
Rivlin, who will meet senior local parliamentarians, is the guest of his New Zealand counterpart, Dr. Lockwood Smith, who visited the Knesset earlier this year.
“It is great to have high-level political interaction between Israel and New Zealand once again,” said New Zealand Jewish Council President Stephen Goodman, referring to the diplomatic meltdown in 2004 after two Israelis were caught trying to illegally obtain a Kiwi passport.
Then-Prime Minister Helen Clark severed high-level ties with Jerusalem for a year until Israel apologized.
Rivlin and Smith are expected to officially inaugurate the offices of the Israeli Embassy in Wellington, which reopened recently after closing in 2002 due to budget cuts.
The Israeli lawmaker also will visit quake-ravaged Christchurch and attend a ceremony in memory of the three Israelis who lost their lives in the Feb. 22 disaster.
"The delegation’s visit provides us with the opportunity to increase links between Kiwi and Israeli parliamentarians as part of a renewed relationship with Israel across many areas," Smith said.