Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the rugby apology to Maori, the Gaza blockade and lying about Kiwibank

June 3rd, 2010

Isn’t there something truly weird about any Maori Party request to government for an apology over the exclusion of Maori players from tours to apartheid-era South Africa? Lets get it straight. New Zealand’s repeated decisions to play rugby with apartheid South Africa were morally wrong and served to wreck the 1976 Olympics. Asking the government to apologise for not giving Maori the opportunity to participate in those wrongs committed against the black majority in South Africa is quite peculiar, and morally myopic.

Belatedly, the NZRFU has recently apologized to Maori. Yes, paternalistic slights were committed against Maori at the time. The attempts by the NZRFU to rationalize its prior refusals not to apologise for the exclusion of Maori from teams touring South Africa – on the bogus grounds that past administrators were trying to protect Maori “from racial vilification” – seem totally consistent with the previous pattern of paternalism.

Yet what is being overlooked in all this is that the greater harm and the greater hurt were done to black South Africans – and the clamour by the Maori Party for an apology from the Key government because New Zealand did not allow Maori to be part of that historical trampling on the mana of black South Africans is a very strange kind of political crusade.

For a political party that makes much of the importance of historical grievance, the Maori Party have got their priorities out of whack on this one. The first step is an apology due by the NZRFU and NZ government to the people of South Africa for the tours, and then an apology to South African rugby,and then to the Olympic movement. The wrongs done to Maori rugby players – who missed out on their chance to play the Boers, while black South Africans were being victimized by them outside the stadium gates – reside a bit further down the queue of things deserving of an apology.

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The Gaza blockade

As the aid flotilla activists are being released, Israel is losing control of the media accounts of what happened – and the eye witnesses to the Israeli boarding of the aid flotilla are saying that the Israeli troops began firing before and during the boarding, which if true, makes the response from those on board an entirely defensive one. The focus is now upon (a) who is to conduct a credible independent inquiry into this affair and (b) the pressure on Israel to lift the Gaza blockade. Long ago for instance, the Israelis had promised to allow Gaza to develop a deep water port for its goods, as commentator Uri Avnery says:

The state of Israel promised in the Oslo Accords 17 years ago to enable and encourage the establishment of a deep water port in Gaza, through which Palestinians could import and export freely to develop their economy. It’s time to realize this commitment and open the Port of Gaza.

Amazingly – given the damage this incident has already done to US standing and diplomatic goals in the region, the US has been arguing at the UN that Israel itself should be allowed to conduct the “independent” inquiry into what happened. Once again, the captivity of US foreign policy by Israel is being demonstrated to the world. This is remarkable – given that the US needs friends in the region to pursue its wider efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and especially given that its stance on the Iran nuclear programme is already widely seen to be being driven by Israel’s interests, and not by any direct threat that Iran poses to the United States.

Plainly, only a truly independent United Nations inquiry is called for, along the lines of the eminently fair and balanced report on Gaza last year by the South African jurist, Richard Goldstone. Obviously, any credible inquiry will quickly run into issues of national sovereignty. The investigating panel must be able to call members of the Israeli military and Israeli politicians to give testimony. For those practical reasons, some Israeli participation in the investigating panel seems to be inevitable, but – equally – the Israelis cannot be left to dictate its agenda and operations. New Zealand should be pushing for a UN-led inquiry and thanks to our non-involvement in the Iraq war, we could be offering ourselves a credible member of any investigating panel.

As for the blockade itself…despite medical evidence from the World Health Organisation and findings in the Goldstone Report that suggest the blockade constitutes a war crime, the Netanyahu government is digging in on this one. A reasonably objective history of the blockade and its current economic and political effects is available here.

For now, Egypt has decided to lift the blockade at the Rafah crossing that it controls. This can only be a temporary measure to placate domestic opinion in Egypt, since Israel would almost certainly bomb the crossing if the blockade was to be put seriously at threat via access through Rafah.

Inside Israel, there is a small but vocal minority that feels that the blockade – which supposedly serves to protect Israel from the passing of arms and rocketry via Iran and Hizbollah to the Hamas leadership that is nominally in control of Gaza – .is actually counter-productive to Israel’s own best interests. Reason being, the blockade is highly damaging to Israel’s international image, has poisoned its relations with formerly sympathetic countries such as Turkey, and has totally undermined the moderate wing of Hamas politicians resident in the territory.

At times in the past year, the Hamas political moderates in Gaza have been at tactical odds with the militant Hamas leaders in exile in Damascus. However, the flotilla action and the continuance of the blockade will now only empower the extremists. In sum, the wider harm being done by the blockade is arguably out of all proportion to any risks to Israel’s domestic security that the blockade may be helping to avert.

Incredibly – and this happened just before the flotilla incident – even the militant leadership of Hamas has been sending out peace feelers. On the Charlie Rose US television show in late May, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal explicitly said that Hamas would end its military action against Israel, if the Israelis withdrew to its pre-1967 borders.

Israel started (the conflict) by the occupation so the resistance is a reaction. The action is the occupation, and the reaction from the Palestinians is that it ends,” Meshaal said, in an interview taped on Thursday, according to a transcript released by PBS.

“So when the occupation comes to an end, the resistance will end, as simple as that. If Israel would go to the 1967 borders … that will be the end of the Palestinian resistance.”

Meshaal said if a “Palestinian state with real sovereignty” were established under the conditions he set out, then the nature of any subsequent ties with Israel would be decided democratically by the Palestinians.

It may well be, as Juan Cole says, that Hamas is regarded by Egypt as being an ally and offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that is the nearest thing to a credible opposition force that exists in Egypt.

Egypt deeply dislikes the Hamas party/ militia and would not want to be in the position of allowing its influence to spread among bedouin and others in the Sinai region. Such Hamas influences are already blamed for terrorist bombings at Red Sea resorts earlier in this decade.

Egypt recently arrested what it called a criminal smuggling ring of Hizbullah agents that had , Cairo insisted, arranged for weapons to reach Hamas via the tunnels through Egyptian territory. Egypt views Hamas as a gullible cat’s paw of Iran and a useful idiot for Hizbullah supporters.

In sum, the main immediate beneficiary of Israel’s actions against the aid flotilla will– ironically – be Iran. The Israeli commandos may have killed nine activists – but they have also seriously undermined the US diplomatic offensive against Iran, stirred international sympathy for the people of Gaza, and caused Egypt to open the Rafah Gate in at least token support of Hamas, Iran’s ally in Gaza. It is hard to see how any of this enhances Israel’s security in the longer term.

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The “L” Word

Five days before the last election, Prime Minister John Key promised unequivocally that he would never ever sell Kiwibank. Now, judging by Key’s comments yesterday in the House, Kiwibank is on the list of state assets that may be hocked off after the next election. More lies, more broken promises. In Japan this week, a prime minister who broke an election promise felt obliged to resign. Not so much here, evidently.

No doubt the sale of Kiwibank will be packaged as being for the benefit of those fabled “Mum and Dad” investors, to give them the chance of re-buying a stake in the assets that they already own 100 % – an action that will inevitably dilute the 100% local ownership that is so central to the Kiwibank brand. Do Key and his mates know how to do anything else except make deals to hock off the genuine wealth that has been generated by the state? Why, despite all of its rhetoric, is the private sector in New Zealand so relatively incapable of generating wealth in its own right?

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