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House of Representatives
10 August 2004
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Motions — Jewish Graves and Chapel, Wellington—Vandalism


Tuesday, 10 August 2004

Mr Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.



Jewish Graves and Chapel, Wellington—Vandalism

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister) : I move, That this House deplores recent attacks on Jewish graves and a Jewish chapel in Wellington; recalls the terrible history of anti-Semitism stretching over many centuries, culminating in the Holocaust under Nazi rule; and expresses its unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism, violence directed against Jews and Jewish religious and cultural institutions, and all forms of racial and ethnic hatred, persecution, and discrimination. It is a sad day for this nation when it comes to the point that it is necessary to move a motion of this sort in Parliament. It is to be hoped that the recent vandalism is the work of an isolated crank or cranks, but, given its nature, it inevitably raises emotions and memories that are deep-seated and profound—especially for Jewish New Zealanders, but for many others as well.

There has been in recent years a revival of anti-Semitism in a number of Western countries. There is no justification and no cause for it, and, especially, no justification and no cause for it in this country of ours. People point to individual events as some kind of explanation; the actions by Israeli agents or the reaction by the Government against those, and the proposed visit by the Holocaust-denier, Mr David Irving, are given, for example. The danger of entering into that area is that it gives some kind of rationale to something that is both evil and irrational, though, sadly, deep-seated in European culture. For those who are survivors of the Holocaust, or related to survivors or victims, such actions as we have recently seen are particularly frightening and appalling. They remind us how thin the veneer of tolerance and civilisation can sometimes be, even in a country such as New Zealand. They also remind us of our duty in this House to promote those values of civilisation and tolerance, and I thank all parties for the support they have given to this motion being moved.

GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) : The National Party strongly endorses the sentiments expressed in the motion before the House today. We find totally unacceptable the destructive acts on the chapel and the 92 graves in the Jewish Orthodox section of the Mākara Cemetery last week. We note that that attack was preceded by the smashing of 16 historic Jewish headstones at the Bolton Street cemetery in Wellington Central 3 weeks ago. These are disturbing acts, and they should not become a trend. The National Party absolutely condemns anti-Semitism, and deplores in the strongest terms these idiotic acts of hate directed at one section of our community. Such acts of hate have no place in New Zealand. They are foreign to us, and we must do all in our power to ensure that they never take hold. We take to heart the point made by the Acting Prime Minister when he says it is pointless and counterproductive to look for blame. There can be nobody at fault in this case, other than those—surely, cowards, criminals, and racists—who perpetrated these acts. Whatever the reason behind them, as I say, there can be no justification for them.

Cemeteries are sacred places for all peoples, and, as such, require respect and sensitivity. These cowards have caused grief to the Jewish community, and shocked all right-thinking New Zealanders, and must be treated with contempt. I am sure that all New Zealanders, regardless of their ethnicity, culture, or religion, will join with this Parliament at this time in expressing our support for the Jewish community. The misguided attitudes that lead to such acts of hate have no part in the tolerant society we all cherish so much. Every one of us has a duty to help stamp out such attitudes. These cowards have also badly damaged New Zealand’s reputation overseas. The way of a peaceful and just society is the way of tolerance, and we must always strive to ensure that those who would seek to disrupt are dealt with swiftly and surely.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) : On behalf of New Zealand First, I endorse the motion and the sentiments expressed by the previous speakers. The Jewish people have made, and continue to make, a very positive contribution to our society. Many, of course, were born here, and some have come from places far away. They have their faith and their culture, which they quietly observe, and they, in New Zealand, are not people who set out to impose their beliefs on others, but, rather, people who quietly play a positive role in our society. They have earned our respect, and their dead are entitled to be respected and allowed to rest peacefully. That, of course, should be the case with all people who live in this country. The dead, in particular, are entitled to rest peacefully and not to have their graves desecrated. To those who would import such sentiments of racial prejudice against others, our message is very simple: “Go back home where you came from.”

KEITH LOCKE (Green) : On behalf of the Green Party, I would like to endorse what the previous speakers have said, and express our absolute repugnance at the desecration of Jewish graves in Mākara and in Wellington. We share the sadness and the pain of the Jewish community. What has happened is particularly distressing because New Zealanders have taken some pride in being largely free of the anti-Semitism that we see in some other countries. It is therefore important that on this sad occasion we renew and reaffirm our opposition to all forms of racial intolerance. The Nazi symbols daubed at the cemetery make this crime even more dastardly. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews, and crushed democracy and freedom in Europe. These Nazi symbols are an affront, not only to the Jewish families of the people killed in the Holocaust, but also to the families of the thousands of New Zealanders who died fighting fascism. Today we stand together with the Jewish community in remembering those who died, and in expressing our horror at the desecration of the tombs of their ancestors.

RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) : I rise on behalf of the ACT party to put the ACT party’s wholehearted support behind the motion deploring the attacks and condemning anti-Semitism. We also go further. We are very concerned at the anti-Israel sentiment that is growing in the West. My party wholeheartedly supports the right of the State of Israel to exist. As a democracy ourselves, we must support Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East. Sadly, attacks on Israel have become another outlet for anti-Semitism.

The ACT party has a vision for New Zealand of a free and tolerant society where all races and religions are treated equally. As a people we are falling short of that vision. We must all now realise that anti-Semitism is a reality here in New Zealand. We must all now realise that attacks on Israel will be interpreted by irresponsible elements as justification for anti-Semitism. We must all now be very, very careful. We must not tolerate these attacks. We must stand side by side with the Jewish community, and the evil perpetrators of those foul attacks must be brought to justice.

Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) : United Future joins other parties and members in supporting the resolution that is before the House this afternoon. The most vile way in which people can be attacked are through their ethnicity and their religion. In this country and in this Parliament over the years, we have been quick to condemn attacks in other places that have been rooted on racial and religious bases, and we have properly deplored the extremism that accompanies such actions.

The true horror of the events of recent days in this city has been that those same features that we have sought to be so critical of in other countries—quite rightly—are now occurring in our own country. Just as we have always said, in terms of terrorism—which is what this act is—overseas, that we can never surrender to terrorists or the values that they profess, so, too, must we say, in respect of our country, that we can never surrender to intolerance on racial or religious grounds. We can never surrender to the desecration of sacred burial places. We can never surrender to an attitude that says it is all right to behave in this despicable and irresponsible way.

I hope, when Parliament adopts this motion, that it is widely proclaimed, and that the work done by the Race Relations Commissioner in recent days in bringing together a wide range of community support for a similar sentiment is widely proclaimed as well, so that not only do we recognise the contribution of the Jewish community to the life and culture of New Zealand; we recognise their absolute right in this nation to live free from prejudice, free from intolerance, and free from bitterness, and that as a consequence, we all learn a lesson and see this country move forward, and not degenerate into the sort of nation that we have seen on our television screens and that we properly deplore.

Hon MATT ROBSON (Deputy Leader—Progressive) : The Progressive Party strongly supports this motion against intimidation, hate, and bullying, which was first suggested to the House by the Minister next to me, Chris Carter. We thank him for bringing up this matter.

The attacks committed against the Wellington Jewish Community over the past months are an affront to every community and everyone in New Zealand. They are attacks on democracy. The use of the swastika in the attacks was particularly reprehensible. Under Hitler, the death of more than 6 million Jews, of Slavs, gypsies, gay people, immigrants, refugees, and communists was an attack on all human beings and was raised to the level of a perverted science.

August Bebel, a German Socialist leader before the First World War, called anti-Semitism the philosophy of fools. By that he meant that those who fell for it were people who would go to war against other human beings. When the Roman slave Spartacus was killed, those who stood with him refused to be divided, and said that they were all Spartacus. I believe that at a time like this, when the Parliament stands united in solidarity against the hateful bullies and racists who attack any part of a united community, like Spartacus we are saying that when there is an attack like this on people, whether they are Jews, Palestinians, immigrants, refugees, or people who in some way are different from ourselves, we will not be disconnected from our common humanity.

Mr SPEAKER: As Speaker, I shall take the unusual course of making my own personal comment on this. In all the 37½ years I have been in Parliament this, for me, has been one of the most shocking incidents I have ever noted in this country. When this motion is passed I intend to send the motion, and all the contributions made this afternoon, to the Speaker of the Knesset in Israel.

  • Motion agreed to.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister) : I seek leave to table a message from a range of prominent New Zealanders, representing a very large range of organisations, that expresses support for the move taken by Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER: I will ensure that that message is also included in the letter to the Speaker of the Knesset.

  • Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.