Someone should tell Dor Shapira of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra to pull his head in.
Shapira is quoted in today’s Dominion Post as criticising New Zealand race relations. This follows publication of a billboard advertisement that attracted complaints from the New Zealand Jewish community.
The billboard, promoting a forthcoming programme on Prime TV, contained the line: “Advertising Agency Seeks: Clients. All business considered, even from Jews.”
It was silly and gratuitously offensive – the result of clever young men in an advertising agency trying too hard to attract attention, which is what clever young men in ad agencies frequently do.
The advertising campaign was launched, there were complaints, and within hours Prime apologised and the billboards were taken down. A satisfactory outcome, you might think. But Shapira, who is described as a spokesman for the Canberra embassy (which represents Israel in New Zealand), wants more.
He has called for Prime’s apology to be backed by a strong response from politicians, academics, religious groups and the public. In doing so, he risks inflating this episode way beyond its significance.
Worse, he has insulted New Zealanders by claiming that a culture of anti-Semitism exists here. The advertisement, he pronounced, reflected “acceptance of anti-Semitic behaviour in New Zealand”. He went on to urge a campaign to “remove this repugnant and negative mindset from the cultural and political environment in New Zealand”.
If anyone should be taking offence here, it’s New Zealanders. Someone should tell Shapira that this country is blessedly free of the anti-Semitism that has stained so much of the Old World, and keen to remain so. The very rare manifestations of anti-Semitism, such as the desecration of Jewish graves at Wellington cemeteries in 2004, seem to have been the work of a deranged and disaffected micro-minority. The community was rightly outraged and appalled.
Jewish people have made a disproportionately large contribution to New Zealand commercial, cultural, intellectual and political life since the very earliest days of European settlement. While retaining a strong Jewish identity, they have assimilated with relative ease; certainly more so than many other migrant groups.
Perhaps they haven’t been adequately celebrated for their role, but to suggest that they have been surrounded all this time by an anti-Semitic “mindset” is as novel as it is offensive. Has Shapira even been here, I wonder?
If anything is going to encourage anti-Semitic – or at least anti-Israel – sentiment in New Zealand, it’s needlessly inflammatory statements such as Shapira’s. The risk is that he will incite resentment where none previously existed.
It’s reassuring that prominent Jewish figures on this side of the Tasman have taken a less excitable approach. New Zealand Jewish Council chairman Geoff Levy, who complained about the Prime billboard, is reported as saying the matter was resolved. Victoria University religious studies professor Paul Morris suggests we could benefit from a reasoned and sober debate, “distant from these events”, about acceptable limits in advertising. That’s a sensible and measured response.
If we could suggest a traditional New Zealand remedy for Shapira’s rush of blood to the head, it would be that he have a cup of tea and a lie down.