Sheree Trotter
Academic, researcher, commentator.

Historic Māori-led apology to Israel

History was made on 29 July 2018 when the indigenous people of New Zealand organised a special ceremony to honour and welcome the Israeli ambassador, His Excellency Dr. Itzhak Gerberg. Led by Ngapuhi kaumatua (elder) Pat Ruka, and joined by many Māori from around the nation, a Powhiri (welcome ceremony) was held at Hoani Waititi Marae (meeting house) in West Auckland. The ceremony of apology, called a whakapāha, was held to express regret for New Zealand’s actions in standing against Israel at the UN and to seek forgiveness. 

In December 2016 New Zealand co-sponsored the anti-Israel UNSC Resolution 2334, along with Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela. Many New Zealanders felt betrayed by their government’s actions and responded with letters, petitions and marches. The Israeli Ambassador was recalled for six months, and while the relationship has since been restored, the New Zealand government has never expressed regret for its stance. 

However, not all Māori are supportive of Israel. Greens co-Leader Marama Davidson, also Ngapuhi, has stood firmly against Israel, joining the protest flotilla to Gaza in 2016 and currently calling on the government to condemn Israel’s blockade on Gaza. Sadly, Davidson’s Green Party’s environmental concerns do not extend to the significant environmental damage caused by Hamas in recent months. Indeed, Davidson refuses to consider both sides of the conflict and ignores the fact that Jews have held mana whenua* over the land through their continuous presence for 3,000 years, in spite of many occupiers over that period. She seems unaware of the multicultural nature of Israeli society and the fact that, to put it simply, there are more brown Jews than white in Israel.  

Since Davidson’s 2016 Gaza flotilla stunt, increasing numbers of Māori have become more vocal and active in their support for Israel.  With the Israeli Ambassador returning to New Zealand in 2017, Pat Ruka led an initiative to formally extend a welcome, offer an apology for New Zealand’s actions at the UN and affirm Māori friendship toward Israel. Ruka carries the stories of his tupuna (ancestors) who, because of their Christian beliefs, maintained a deep respect for the people of Israel. He remembers that his forbears travelled to the capital city, Wellington, to offer the government iwi (tribal) land for Jewish refugees following World War II. His tupuna were told to “go back to their hovels”. 

The Aotearoa-Israel Powhiri was the culmination of many hopes and dreams for Ruka, his tupuna and for other like-minded Māori. 

The afternoon event included the traditional elements of a Powhiri: the Wero (challenge to determine whether visitors come in peace or hostility), the Karanga (call onto the Marae), Mihi (speeches), Waiata (song) and performances by Hoani Waititi Kura Kapa Haka group and Pacific Pearls. Representatives of Auckland’s Jewish community participated in the ceremony by singing Hebrew songs in support of their speakers, His Excellency Dr Itzhak Gerberg and David Robinson, Honorary Consul for Israel.  There was also an exchange of gifts whereby the Ambassador received a Korowai (traditional cloak) and a menorah was gifted to Pat Ruka. To conclude, the parties sat down to share a meal together.

National MP Hon Alfred Ngaro, New Zealand’s first Cook Island MP, spoke on the paepae (orators’ bench) recalling his family connection to the Jewish people through his grandmother.  Throughout the proceedings, many similarities between Māori and Jewish cultures were noted, such as the emphasis on whakapapa (genealogy), language and land. The event marked a significant milestone in the relationship between Māori and the Jewish community, and the connection of Māori to Israel.

*power associated with possession and occupation of tribal land

About the Author
Dr Sheree Trotter is a researcher, writer and co-director of the Indigenous Coalition For Israel. She is also co-founder of Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation, Aotearoa New Zealand (formerly Shadows of Shoah). Sheree is Māori (Te Arawa) and earned her PhD in History at the University of Auckland. Her thesis was on Zionism in New Zealand .