Israel–New Zealand relations

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Israel-New Zealand relations
Map indicating locations of New Zealand and Israel

New Zealand


Israel–New Zealand relations are the foreign relations between Israel and New Zealand.


Memorial to New Zealand soldiers who died at the battle of Ayun Kara, Israel, on 14 November 1917

New Zealand has a long history of support for Israel, and voted in favour of the 1947 UN partition resolution, which led to the creation of the State of Israel, despite heavy pressure from the United Kingdom on all Commonwealth nations to abstain on the resolution. New Zealand gave de facto recognition to the State of Israel at the same time as the United Kingdom on 29 January 1949, and de jure recognition on 28 July 1950.[1]

New Zealand has an honorary consulate in Tel Aviv and Israel has an embassy in Wellington with an honorary consulate in Auckland.

New Zealand was accredited to Israel from The Hague in 1986. The accreditation was moved to Ankara, Turkey in February 1996. The New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) regional office in Dubai and the NZTE office in Ankara cover Israel. Gad Propper was appointed New Zealand's Honorary Consul to Israel in June 1998.

NZ Foreign Minister Phil Goff visited Israel in May 2003. New Zealand's Minister for Research, Science and Technology, Pete Hodgson, visited in November–December 2000. A delegation of four senior Israeli Foreign Ministry officials traveled to New Zealand for the inaugural New Zealand-Israel Foreign Ministry Consultations in September 2003. A Knesset delegation visited New Zealand in August 2001.[2]

The Israeli embassy in Wellington closed in October 2002 due to financial reasons, but reopened in 2010 with Shemi Tzur appointed as the Ambassador to New Zealand. In June 2013 he was replaced by Ambassador Yosef Livne.

In 2015 Israel and New Zealand settled a diplomatic dispute that had arisen when New Zealand assigned an ambassador to Israel who was also slated to be the ambassador to the Palestinians. In September 2014 Israel would not allow Ambassador Jonathan Curr to present his credentials, saying that would violate Israel's "well-known policy" of not receiving diplomats who are also received by the Palestinian Authority. New Zealand ended the conflict by appointing separate diplomats to Israel and the Palestinian authority, a move viewed as motivated by its recent election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and increasing impatience within the council over failure to agree on a UN stance in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.[3]

In December 2016 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Israel's ambassador in New Zealand to return to Israel for consultations, in response to NZ's support for United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. Immediately after the vote, Netanyahu ordered a series of diplomatic steps against countries that co-sponsored the resolution and with whom Israel has diplomatic relations. Israel–New Zealand relations had not been so poor since 2004, when New Zealand imprisoned 'Mossad spies' for attempting to fraudulently obtain a New Zealand passport.[4] In February 2017, Israel decided not to return its ambassador to New Zealand and downgraded its diplomatic relations with New Zealand to the level of chargés d'affaires, which is the lowest level of diplomatic relations.[5]

On June 14, 2017, the NZ Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee confirmed that full bilateral relations had been restored following discreet high-level contacts between the Israeli and New Zealand governments. These contacts involved a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and his New Zealand counterpart Prime Minister Bill English. English also penned a letter expressing regret at the fallout from UN Resolution 2334. Following the letter and phone conversation, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's director-general Yuval Rotem announced that the Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Gerbeg would be returning to Wellington to assume his duties.[6][7]

Economic ties[edit]

In 1994 Israel opened a trade office in Auckland and the New Zealand and Israel Trade Association, known as NZITA, was established.[8] In 2002, New Zealand sent about $12.5 million of exports to Israel and received $60.1 million in imports, including fertilisers, plastic and soap. By 2005, annual exports from New Zealand to Israel reached NZ$16.834 million. Exports were mostly milk and cream (13.8%), electronic circuit boards (11.1%), preserved meat or offal products (10.9%), casein (10.8%), and medications (7.4%). Exports from Israel to New Zealand, mostly manufactured goods like steam turbines (11.3%), industrial water heaters (5.2%), plastic sheets and films (4.7%), telecommunications equipment (4.7%), and inkjet printers (3.8%), reached NZ$88.15 million. Since 2001, Fonterra, New Zealand's largest dairy company, is involved in a joint venture with the Israeli cooperative Tnuva.

Agricultural exports to Israel increased in 2005 and visitor visa waivers are in place to increase business travel and tourism.[2]


In April 2011, Israel and New Zealand signed a reciprocal deal that allows tourists to work for three months without an additional visa. The deal was signed by the Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin and his New Zealand counterpart Lockwood Smith, when Rivlin was visiting New Zealand.[9]

Diplomatic incidents[edit]

Passport scandal[edit]

On 15 July 2004, New Zealand imposed diplomatic sanctions against Israel, and in July 2005 suspended high-level contacts between the two countries, after two Israeli citizens, Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara, were accused of passport fraud in Auckland. They denied belonging to the Mossad, but received a six-month sentence for trying to enter the country illegally and working with organised criminal gangs.[10] Prime Minister Helen Clark cancelled a planned visit to New Zealand by Israeli President Moshe Katzav, delayed approval for a new Israeli ambassador to New Zealand, and called the case "far more than simple criminal behaviour by two individuals" which "seriously strained our relationship."[11]

Jewish graves in Wellington were vandalised with Swastikas and Nazi slogans carved into and around 16 Jewish graves. David Zwartz, a leader in the Jewish community in New Zealand who was appointed as the Honorary Consul from Israel to New Zealand in 2003, said:"...there is a direct connection between the very strong expressions against Israel and people here feeling they can take it out on Jews. It seems to me Israel-bashing one day, Jew-bashing the next day."[12]

The Israeli Deputy Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, was denied permission to visit New Zealand to speak at a private fund-raising event in March 2005 because of the freeze on visits from Israeli officials.[13]

On June 26, 2005 Foreign Minister Shalom sent a letter of apology to the New Zealand government,[14] and said that Israel would take steps to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.[15]

Diplomatic relations were reinstated on August 30, 2005. Naftali Tamir presented his credentials to Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright before a guard of honour. The Foreign Minister's deputy director for Asia and the Pacific, Amos Nadav, said, "We are happy the crisis is behind us and look ahead to the future."[16]

Christchurch earthquake[edit]

A combination of unusual events immediately following the death of Israeli backpacker Ofer Mizrahi in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake caused the New Zealand government to investigate whether he and his companions had links to Israeli intelligence. The story gained media attention in July 2011 due to the suspicious circumstances that Mizrahi held several foreign passports and his companions all left New Zealand within 12 hours of the earthquake and their companion's death.[17][18] New Zealand security officials suspected Mizrahi and his companions were Mossad agents attempting to infiltrate the state's computer databases to gain sensitive information.[19] An investigation that involved the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service concluded that there was no evidence of such an operation, or their involvement with Israeli intelligence.[20]

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334[edit]

On 23 December 2016, New Zealand was a co-sponsor on Resolution 2334, which condemned the ongoing building of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully stated that "We have been very open about our view that the [UN Security Council] should be doing more to support the Middle East peace process and the position we adopted today is totally in line with our long established policy on the Palestinian question" and that "the vote today should not come as a surprise to anyone and we look forward to continuing to engage constructively with all parties on this issue".[21][22]

Despite the above statements, Israel recalled its ambassadors to New Zealand, as well as fellow co-sponsor Senegal. On 27 December New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that its ambassador to Israel was banned from entering the country.[23] In February 2017, Israel decided not to return its ambassador to New Zealand and permanently downgraded its diplomatic relations with New Zealand to the level of chargés d'affaires, which is the lowest level of diplomatic relations.[5]

On June 14, the Israeli government restored full diplomatic relations with New Zealand after Prime Minister Bill English sent a letter expressing regret at fallout from UN Resolution 2334. The letter was preceded by discreet diplomatic contacts between the two governments and a telephone conversation between English and his Israeli counterpart Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following the letter and phone conversation, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's director-general Yuval Rotem announced that the Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Gerbeg would be returning to Wellington to assume his duties. The New Zealand Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee confirmed the restoration of full diplomatic relations. The New Zealand Labour Party leader Andrew Little and the Green Party's foreign affairs spokesperson Kennedy Graham criticised the government for backtracking on its previous support for the resolution and sending mixed messages.[6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Van Voorthuysen, Hannah (2011). "Just a Damned Nuisance": New Zealand's Changing Relationship with Israel from 1947 until May 2010 (PDF) (MA thesis). Victoria University of Wellington. pp. 25, 27. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Israel - Country Information Paper". New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  3. ^ "Israel, New Zealand resolve diplomatic spat over new envoy". YNET, 29 April 2015. 29 April 2015. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  4. ^ NIsraeli ambassador to New Zealand recalled after UN security resolution, 24 December 2016
  5. ^ a b "Israel permanently downgrades its ties to New Zealand, Senegal". Times of Israel. 10 February 2017. Retrieved 16 February 2016.
  6. ^ a b "Israel agrees to restore diplomatic relations with NZ". Radio New Zealand. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  7. ^ a b Keinon, Herb (14 June 2017). "Israel, New Zealand patch up ties". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  8. ^ Eugene Bingham and Tony Stickley (17 April 2004). "How the trap was sprung". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  9. ^ Deal to bolster tourism between Israel and New Zealand Archived 2011-09-23 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Young, Audrey (27 June 2005). "A murky tale of bugs and spy claims". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  11. ^ "Israel's New Zealand Problem". Arutz Sheva – 15 July 2004. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  12. ^ New Zealand-Israeli row deepens
  13. ^ Goodenough, Patrick (15 March 2005). "Government shuts out Israeli general". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  14. ^ "Israeli ambassador to meet NZ Governor-General". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 29 August 2005. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  15. ^ O'Sullivan, Fran (27 June 2005). "Israel remains silent over Mossad role in scandal". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  16. ^ "Apology opens door for Israeli minister to visit NZ". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 28 June 2005. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
  17. ^ Claire Trevett and Derek Cheng (21 July 2011). "Israelis 'were just backpackers'". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  18. ^ "'Israeli spies among New Zealand earthquake casualties". Jerusalem Post. 20 July 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ McKernan, Brendan (24 December 2016). "Israel lashes out over UN settlements vote by withdrawing ambassadors and halting aid". Independent. The Independent Online. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  22. ^ "Israeli ambassador to New Zealand recalled in protest at UN vote role". The Guardian. Agence France-Presse. 24 December 2016. Retrieved 26 December 2016.
  23. ^ "Israel bars New Zealand ambassador from the country in further Security Council fallout". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 27 December 2016.

Further reading[edit]

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