As many of our supporters know, Justice for Palestine were in the news in May when the Mayor of Wellington City, Andy Foster, overruled a request from Councillor Tamatha Paul, that the Michael Fowler Centre be lit in the colours of the Palestinian flag. The request came from Councillor Paul on the occasion of Nakba Day, the date in the Palestinian calendar – May 15th – commemorating the violent expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages by Zionist militias in 1948.
Justice for Palestine invited Councillor Paul to a cultural event to mark the Nakba. In response, she proposed that Wellington City Council make a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinian people, as they had when the Michael Fowler Centre was lit in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. But Mayor Foster refused.
The Mayor was acting on the advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) who recommended against the light display since “such an act could be construed as an act of state recognition” and “is likely to evoke criticism from the Israeli Embassy, and a fairly diverse group of supporters of the state of Israel”. An MFAT official later acknowledged the Ministry should not make recommendations to council’s but limit advice to “providing New Zealand’s international policy settings on an issue”.
Mayor Foster and MFAT managed to turn an innocent attempt at displaying solidarity with an oppressed people into a serious political controversy on the front page of a national newspaper and on international Palestinian news media.
The Palestinian community and their supporters did not anticipate Wellington City Council’s show of solidarity. But neither did they expect to be told by their Mayor that their voices should be silenced, their historical events disregarded and the colours of their flag erased in favour of the sensibilities of the Israeli embassy. As Marilyn Garson from Alternative Jewish Voices wrote, “The Israeli ambassador is a guest in Aotearoa, whose presence ought not to drive our municipal policy.”
The Mayoral candidates & Sister City
Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices believe that Wellington City Council can and should remedy the harm done by Mayor Foster and recognise Palestine and the Palestinian people. One way they could do so is by twinning with a Sister City in Palestine.
During the local body elections, Justice for Palestine organised a screening of the award-winning documentary Mayor (about Musa Hadid, Mayor of Ramallah City) inviting all of the Mayoral candidates to attend. We asked them to make a statement, in person or in writing, about their attitudes to the Mayor’s actions and their views on twinning Wellington with a Sister City in Palestine.
Despite several reminders, neither Donald McDonald or Paul Eagle responded to our request. Andy Foster and Chris Dudfield sent written statements. Andy Foster reaffirmed his view that he considered lighting up the Michael Fowler Centre to be “controversial” and that he followed MFAT’s advice. Chris Dudfield wrote that he strongly disagreed with the Mayor’s actions and supported twinning Wellington with a Palestinian Sister City.
Ellen Blake, Ray Chung, Kelvin Hastie, Barbara McKenzie and Tory Whanau all agreed to attend the film screening and speak. However, on the day, Kelvin Hastie failed to turn up or explain his absence. We don’t know his views on the issues. You can listen to the remarks of the candidates who appeared at the screening in our spotify podcast (timings noted below).
In summary, Ellen Blake (10.05) disagreed with the Mayor’s actions but wasn’t sure abut twinning with a Palestinian Sister City. Barbara McKenzie (13.47) disagreed with the Mayor and supported a Palestinian Sister City. Ray Chung (18.40) was neutral about the Mayor’s actions but would support twinning. Tory Whanau (24:11) unequivocally condemned Mayor Foster’s actions and strongly supported twinning Wellington with a Sister City in Palestine.
Wellington City Council candidates & Sister City
Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices also conducted a survey of all Wellington City Council candidates asking their views on the actions taken by Mayor Foster and on twinning with a Sister City in Palestine. Half of all candidates (25 people) responded to our survey.
Position on Mayor Foster’s actions on Nakba Day
From responses submitted, 76% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the Mayor’s actions, with over half strongly disagreeing. Five of the respondents were current Wellington City Councillors: Laurie Foon, Rebecca Matthews, Teri O’Neill, Iona Pannett and Tamatha Paul. They all disagreed with Mayor Foster and supported the idea of twinning with a Palestinian Sister City.
Rebecca Mathews (Labour) wrote: “I am very comfortable with us showing solidarity with the Palestinian people as we have done with the Ukrainian people and many others.”
Iona Pannett (Independent) wrote: “I believe Pōneke Wellington should stand in solidarity with all oppressed peoples and this simple action above was one way of doing this. The city should also not work under the instruction of MFAT on policy matters.”
Tamatha Paul (Green) wrote: “I strongly disagree, and did so publicly, with Mayor Foster’s stance. Interfering with our local Palestinian community’s ability to recognise historic atrocities in Palestine and how those continue on today is not leadership…It was also particularly insensitive at a time where Shireen Abu-Akleh had recently been assassinated.”
Support for proposal for a Palestinian sister city
When asked if they would support a proposal to twin with a Sister City in Palestine, two thirds of our respondents said they would. The remainder wanted more information before deciding. No one was against the idea.
We thank all of those candidates who took the time out from their busy campaign schedules to respond to our survey, and we truly appreciate their support. We look forward to the new Wellington City Council accepting a proposal to twin with a Palestinian Sister City before the end of the year.
We ask all of our members and supporters to consider your candidate’s views on twinning before casting your vote. You can read the responses of all of the candidates who replied by following the link below.
If a candidate’s name is not listed, they did not respond to the survey.