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New Zealand government representatives joined an official Israel at 60 celebration despite cool relations between the countries. About 120 dignitaries attended the reception Monday night in the capital of Wellington. Among them were members of the Labor government of Prime Minister Helen Clark, who froze relations with Jerusalem in 2004 for more than a year following a spy scandal.

“For New Zealand Jews and supporters of Israel, there is a cloud over the celebration,” David Zwartz, Israel’s honorary consul in New Zealand, wrote in a May 13 article in the New Zealand Herald. “They have a strong feeling that the present New Zealand government is using a stated official policy of even-handedness to turn away from former friendly relations with Israel.” Zwartz cited Foreign Minister Phil Goff holding hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in May 2003 as “hugely disappointing,” and accused Clark’s harsh response to the 2004 scandal of triggering the desecration of more than 100 Jewish graves in two cemeteries — the worst anti-Semitic attacks in the island nation’s history.

In the scandal, two Israelis tried to obtain New Zealand passports illegally. “Even after an official Israeli apology in 2005, which New Zealand accepted, the government’s attitude here remains cool,” Zwartz wrote. “Let’s hope that as 60-year-old Israel moves towards peace with her neighbors, the relationship with New Zealand will also improve.” Also at the reception was Eli Yerushalmi, the deputy chief of mission of the Israeli embassy in Canberra, Australia, which has been responsible for New Zealand since Israel closed its mission there in 2002. The first Zionist societies were founded in New Zealand in 1903. About 7,000 Jews now live on the two islands.

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