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Minister’s Sleight of Even-handedness

On 01 August 2012, the Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC) finally received a reply to an emailed open letter, dated 30 April 2012, sent to New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully. Our open letter had asked some pretty straightforward questions. For instance:

“In your statement supporting Israel’s application for admission to the OECD you claimed that it was important to the process of what you called “dialogue” with the Zionist state. The Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC) would like to offer you the opportunity to demonstrate how such dialogue has so far succeeded in persuading Israel to adhere to the norms of civilised trading, OECD rules and international law. In other words, are you able to show that Israel’s admission to the OECD has in anyway modified its behaviour?

Nowhere in his reply did Mr McCully attempt to answer this question, he simply stated:

“Israel became a member of the OECD in September 2010. I would note that OECD membership brings with it required commitments by the member state to OECD standards and instruments. You can access the OECD’s reports on Israel on the OECD website.”

We were well aware that OECD membership brings with it certain obligations and that is one of the reasons why we wrote to the Minister. We took it that McCully’s claim that favouring Israel in the interests of ‘dialogue’ would have had beneficial results. So we asked our Foreign Affairs Minister to demonstrate how Israel’s admission to the OECD had in anyway modified its behaviour. His failure to answer that essential question casts a shadow over the credibility of New Zealand’s Middle East policy.

Elsewhere in his reply Murray McCully writes:

“New Zealand has consistently called on Israel to meet its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law to the Palestinian population in the occupied Palestinian territory. I had the opportunity to reinforce this message during my recent discussions in Israel in early May.”

To merely call on Israel to meet its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law when, for instance, Israel’s illegal settlement policy, annexation of East Jerusalem and attacks on Palestinian fishing boats remain entrenched, appears to be fruitless. As the Minister admits, New Zealand has to repeatedly (the Minister used the word ‘consistently’) call on Israel to meet its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. Therefore, his failure to demonstrate that the rewarding of Israel has achieved any improvement in its conduct would make such favoured treatment appear more like collusion.

The National Government’s Foreign Affairs Minister ended his reply by evading a straight answer to our final question which was, admittedly bluntly stated, as follows:

“We ask you to state (with your reasons) whether or not you agree or disagree with the following statement:

“The Israeli government’s vindictive and unnecessary acts of economic and agricultural sabotage in belligerently occupied territories are crimes against humanity. They demonstrate clearly the Zionist state’s present unsuitability for membership of the OECD. Such acts are certain to strengthen support for the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and it would be in Israel’s own best interests to reform its behaviour.”

McCully’s dismissive response to this was:

“As you know, New Zealand pursues a balanced, even-handed and constructive approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The paragraph on which you ask me in your letter to comment does not represent a balanced or constructive text.”

If we had asked the Minister to state his response merely with a yes or no answer, he might have had some excuse to evade the question. However, we also took care to invite him to explain his Government’s reasoning. Sadly, McCully failed to do so. Thus was thrown away an opportunity for him to reach out to an audience that is intensely interested in New Zealand’s position on the Middle East. The Minister’s failure to refute any of the facts stated in our email would lead any reasonable person to conclude that it was because he was unable to do so.

A report in the New Zealand Herald on March 10 this year revealed that Murray McCully is considering promoting a law that would allow the Government to impose, independently of the United Nations, its own trade and economic sanctions against what have been termed ‘recalcitrant’ countries.

It is plainly time to stop rewarding Israel for its abuses of human rights and high time also for the New Zealand Government to press for sanctions against Israel at the UN. The National Government is quite prepared to impose sanctions on other countries, so failure to even-handedly apply them against Israel would be nothing other than favouritism. The grass-roots international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement points the way and the world community would greatly appreciate a lead in the same direction from the New Zealand Government. After all, even the National Government must eventually grow tired of, to quote Murray McCully, “consistently [calling] on Israel to meet its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law to the Palestinian population in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

Leslie Bravery – 5 August 2012
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Full text of McCully’s reply (dated 1 August 2012) to PHRC open letter (dated 30 April 2012):
Dear Leslie Bravery,
Thank you for your email of 30 April in which you raise a number of concerns related to Israel’s adherence to a rules-based international system.
New Zealand has consistently called on Israel to meet its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law to the Palestinian population in the occupied Palestinian territory. I had the opportunity to reinforce this message during my recent discussions in Israel in early May.
Israel became a member of the OECD in September 2010. I would note that OECD membership brings with it required commitments by the member state to OECD standards and instruments. You can access the OECD’s reports on Israel on the OECD website.
As you know, New Zealand pursues a balanced, even-handed and constructive approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The paragraph on which you ask me in your letter to comment does not represent a balanced or constructive text.
Yours sincerely,
(Signed)
Hon Murray McCully
Minister of Foreign Affairs

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