When Wellington City Councillor Tamatha Paul was invited to speak at our Nakba Day event she also offered to ask that the Michael Fowler Centre be lit up in the colours of the Palestinian flag. After all, the whole world was reeling from the news of the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and this would be a public show of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The Michael Fowler Centre had previously been lit up to show solidarity with Ukraine and Mayor Foster was pictured outside the centre when it was illuminated to support trans-rights.
However, in a very unorthodox move for a local council decision, Mayor Foster decided to seek advice from officials at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and MFAT advised against the action.
According to a report by the Dominion Post, the mayor stopped the proposed show of solidarity, “after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) expressed concerns about Israeli sensitivities.” The report added that the illumination “had been ready to go ahead… until Foster took advice from MFAT and was told the act “could be construed as ‘state recognition’ of Palestine”.
Councillor Paul reacted on twitter condemning the ban as an example of the hypocritical “double standards” of politicians, and adding that the mayor “is democratically elected by all people including Wellington Palestinians who have been personally affected by the Nakba and have a right to remember their history.”
Alternative Jewish Voices also expressed disappointment at the mayor’s decision stating that “Again, Palestinian expression was forbidden because someone might complain. Forget the validity of the complaints – there were none to evaluate…The mere prospect of Palestinian stories or the display of a Palestinian flag was problematized in advance.”
Justice for Palestine responded by organising a guerilla projection on the walls of Te Papa, the national museum of Aotearoa, and sharing images on social media that were circulated globally. The guerilla projection, and the Wellington mayor’s misjudgement in the lead up to council elections, was also reported in the Dominion Post, the Electronic Intifada and the Palestine Chronicle.
Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices have requested a meeting with the mayor to discuss the ban and the mayor’s refusal to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.