Symbolic action – blood on the Rabin memorial

datePosted on 09:14, January 8th, 2009 by Anita

There’s been quite a lot of talk in recent days over Father Gerard Burn’s protest action of smearing his own blood and red paint on the memorial to Yitzhak Rabin. I have very mixed feelings, but I will stand up for Father Burns.

On the one hand, a statement that Rabin’s legacy has been tainted by the blood of innocents seems so very true, and would not be a criticism or attack on the Rabin himself. One can imagine Rabin’s shade weeping at the actions of the last few weeks.

On the other, it is hard to not hear the echo of at least some criticism of Rabin; perhaps for not going far enough, perhaps for the fish hooks in the Oslo accords, perhaps a stronger criticism. Whether that echo was intentional or not, it is there and Burn must have known it would be heard.

I wasn’t there, if I had been I would not have smeared the paint or cut my finger to join his action. But I would have stood there in support of Father Burn’s decision to take that symbolic action. It’s a line call for me, but a couple of things tip the balance: his use of his own blood fits a particular form of faith based protest; the act was not constructed as a ritual desecration; it is not Rabin’s grave; the act was for peace, it was not filled or framed with hate or anger. Perhaps as someone with a Peace Church heritage I give particular latitude to actions for peace that come out of faith and personal sacrifice… perhaps.

Like so many things about the Israel-Palestine situation this is a hard hard decision, but that makes it so much more important for us to stand up for what we believe.

Finally, can I recommend you go read Poneke’s contribution to the debate – he doesn’t agree with me, but as usual his arguments and well thought through and he stands up for what he believes.

Representing Pacific communities

datePosted on 05:09, January 8th, 2009 by Anita

I recently read an article by Anae Arthur Anae, National’s first Pacific Island MP. While it was written about 8 years ago, many of his points strike a chord when thinking about political representation of ethnic communities now.

  • He talks about his surprise, as National’s candidate for Auckland Central in 1993, that Pacific people in the seat voted along class and historic lines, rather than for a Pacific Island candidate.
  • As a list MP from 1996-1999 he struggled with the challenges of representing the PI community – geographically spread the length of the county, linguistically and culturally diverse.
  • His attempts to build cross-party forums with other PI MPs
  • The challenge to get Pacific issues understood and prioritised within a party focussed on the “economic situation”
  • The PI communities’ disappointment when National dropped him from 19 to 25 of the list “to make sure that the new intake was representative”

Anae tried to represent every Pacific Islander, whether they voted National or not, whether they were Samoan or not, even if they only thing they shared with him was Pacific heritage. At the same time he represented every National voter, everyone who shared his moral views, not to mention everyone in his neighbourhood.

We ask so much of our MPs, we ask them to represent every single one of us, to empathise with us, to understand us, to know where we come from, to be like us. Read the rest of this entry »

Ceasefire politics

datePosted on 15:24, January 7th, 2009 by Pablo

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has finally come around and called for a ceasefire in Gaza. One wonders why he did not do so at the outbreak of hostilities three weeks ago. After all, a principled position against armed conflict would have advised for an early rather than late demand for a cessation of both the Hamas rocket attacks and the Israeli air campaign in response. Be that as it may, the belated call for a ceasefire puts NZ in line with the UN position as well as that of the Labour Party (which called for a ceasefire over a week ago), and was driven by the targeting by IDF armour of UN facilities where Hamas fighters sought shelter. Since the NZ is a vocal supporter of UN humanitarian missions, such attacks were bound to cause alarm within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially since the IDF has a track record of targeting UN sites when they are occupied by enemy combatants (remember the IDF bombing of the UN observer post in Southern Lebanon in 2006, which resulted in the deaths of foreign peacekeepers). In addition, local opposition to the incursion into Gaza made the issue politically problematic for National so long as it held to its neutral stance (and silence) on the conflict. Since most of the fire is directed by the IDF against Hamas, a call for a ceasefire on both sides is effectively a call for Israel to halt (at least) its ground operations. That brings National belatedly in line with Labour on the issue.

All of this indicates that there might have been a struggle between the career foreign affairs bureaucracy and their new political masters on how to respond, something only resolved when UN facilities came under fire (which made it diplomatically untenable for National to continue with its “neutral” stance). Sometimes fence-sitting on sharp matters of diplomatic policy can turn into a painful political lesson at home and abroad, so the call for a ceasefire by Minister McCully is as much about the National government saving face in both arenas as it is about its real view of the conflict. Looks like the learning curve is going to be steep…

At the movies in San Francisco

datePosted on 09:07, January 7th, 2009 by Jafapete

For a crusty old lefty, there’s no place better than San Francisco to spend some time. SF’s inclusive, emancipating social values, oddly out of place in hyper-capitalist, dog-eat-dog U.S.A., warm the heart. Where better to see Milk, the biopic about the martyred gay activist and SF city politician?

Inevitably, the taxi ride to the cinema merged into the experience. Driving through the Tenderloin in the half-light of early evening, we passed the soup kitchen on Ellis St. For more than a block, the poor and homeless queued silently, two or three deep, abject and despairing. In jarring contrast with this grim spectacle, we pulled up to the cinema in a former Cadillac dealership on Van Ness, resplendent with its restored opulence. Plus ca change?

Milk is deeply moving, not least because of its authenticity. Sean Penn’s almost too-perfect mimicry of Milk’s mannerisms is reinforced by a supporting cast that includes members of the original group of associates. It’s a really well-made movie, and Penn’s and Josh Brolin’s performances are the stuff of Oscars. I’ve never seen raw archival footage integrated into a non-doco so seamlessly. The ending, operatic and defiant, is a paean not just to Harvey Milk, but to the movement that he inspired. In the wake of Prop 8, the movie is eerily apposite, but provides a timely reminder that the forces of reaction can be overcome, though not without set-backs.

By chance, the walk down to the Van Ness MUNI Station afterwards took us right past City Hall. A group of Sherriff’s deputies came swaggering out, brimming with the confidence of authority and the lethal firepower attached to their belts. Plus ca change indeed.

Rights vs traditional values

datePosted on 06:01, January 7th, 2009 by Anita

Over at Still Truckin’, Ari’s posted about the effect of the same-sex marriage debate in the United States. While I’m not totally in agreement that a scaring the conservatives is a huge success (it’s not that hard for a start :) it has illuminated a huge divide within the United States, and perhaps within our own community.

Some of the academic analysis has looked at the tension between the “rights” frame and the “traditional values” frame which occurs in the debate. On the one hand we have GLBT communities arguing for equal rights, on the other some conservative Christian communities trying to protect the traditional values of their faith and the wider society. In much of the world the “rights” frame reigns supreme, but in the US they seem to have found the tipping point, and the rights arguments that win elsewhere fail in the face of moral and social conservatism and the defence of the family.

In New Zealand we see the same divide: Civil Unions, Prostitution Law Reform (rights of the sex workers to safety vs traditional values of sex-within-marriage), section 59 (rights of the child vs traditional values of child rearing and families). With section 59 are we coming toward the tipping point; where the traditional values of some will outweigh the arguments for the rights of children?

And if we are shifting the balance in those newer rights spaces, will we see it shift in existing issues?

In particular National’s plans for education raise that flag for me – increasing funding for independent schools but capping spending? It sounds like it’ll decrease equity of access to quality education for all students (so a step backwards for children’s rights) to afford an increase in funding for schools specialising in traditional morals teaching.

So, will we follow the US and let a conservative groups arguing for traditional values start to eat away the rights gains? Or will we stay true to NZ’s progressive history of advancing our citizen’s rights?

Making it beautiful (and usable)

datePosted on 06:00, January 7th, 2009 by Anita

There’ve been a couple of suggestions about how to fiddle the layout to make this blog easier to comment on and/or more beautiful.

Suggestions are very very welcome, so please stick them in the comments here and we’ll see what we can do.

If the NZ government wanted to do something about Israel’s actions what could we, a tin pot little country on the other side of the world, do?

It’s hard to know what we could do, it’s easy to understand why the government’s response is vague wafflings (although a statement that we think its wrong wouldn’t go amiss), and I’ve struggled to come up with any options, but here are my thoughts

  1. A public statement that Israel’s action is disproportionate, unacceptable and should stop. That seems like the easy one, but I’m sure someone with a foreign affairs background might explain it’s not without cost.
  2. We could go to the UNHCR and offer to take Palestinian refugees in addition to our existing quota. It’s not a public high profile measure, but it would make a real difference to some real lives. 
  3. Working for a UN statement. We might never get one, but it would keep up the international pressure
  4. A travel ban on government and military officials and families? I was scraping the barrel to come up with this one, it seems like something we could actually do and, again, it’s a sign to the international community.

Anything else?

What we can do as individuals is slightly easier; as usual Indymedia is providing a space for people to advertise events. There’s a protest in Wellington today, and one in Auckland on Saturday.

Out of Their Depth

datePosted on 13:18, January 3rd, 2009 by Pablo

John Key’s awe–or was it dumb–struck performance at the 2008 APEC meetings in Lima and recent comments made by his Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence (Murray McCully and Wayne Mapp, respectively) do not portend well for the conduct of New Zealand’s foreign affairs. Key quivered about meeting that lame duck named George W. Bush. He gushed about having the opportunity to meet people “he had read about.” He then turned preacher. In his public presentation Key lectured his larger partners about the financial crisis, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his currency speculator past made him especially unsuitable to lecture anyone on the virtues of finance capital–particularly when several APEC partners have already moved away from the neoliberal prescriptions he so fervently embraces. His call for resumption of the Doha round of WTO talks was little more than showboating given that major actors such as Brazil, India and China have made clear that there are limits to openness when it comes to their strategic industries, and the US and other advanced economies continue to subsidise a number of agricultural sectors for political rather than economic purposes. Given that state intervention, in the form of financial bailouts, has become the primary rescue vehicle used by advanced democracies to prevent the utter collapse of their economies, Mr. Key’s pro-market rhetoric rang both hollow and hypocritical–or profoundly naive.

New Zealand media made much of Key’s APEC trip, but no one else did. No deals were struck or progress made on issues of significance to the country. To the contrary. Mr. Key and his “posse” did not even receive audiences with many of the leaders attending the summit. Judging from foreign reports none of Key and co.’s performances with foreign leaders made New Zealand look particularly impressive. From abroad, Key’s APEC sojourn appeared to be a a matter of personal hubris rather than political necessity, or more charitably, a convenient debutant stopover on Key’s trip to meet the Queen. Read the rest of this entry »

There’s nothing new to see here

datePosted on 13:05, January 3rd, 2009 by Anita

In early December two new National MPs were welcomed as heralds of the new multi-ethnic National Party. The maiden speeches of Sam Lotu-Iiga and Melissa Lee were the perfect showcases of a new look party: ethnic heritage, community languages, younger faces, respect for the tangata whenua. Yet despite the effort National has put into the semblence, today’s party is no more more inclusive than it was under Brash or English, it’s just a little less out-dated in its conservatism.

Lotu-Iiga, with his Auckland Grammar schooling, his Cambridge MBA and his career in Finance and Law is not typical of New Zealand Samoans. Lee’s career as a TV journalist is far from the experience of most Asian immigrants. They are as unrepresentative of their communities as Key is of state house kids.

Don’t misunderstand me, this is no criticism of either of them – they’re clearly bright intelligent successful people who may well be outstanding additions to Parliament. But signs of National becoming a diverse party of social inclusion they are not. National has not started representing mainstream New Zealand – with our working class jobs, our trades qualifications, our disabilities, our rented cold damp homes and our struggle to access health services and education.

All that has happened is that National – traditionally the party of the wealthy, of business connections, of the 5% – has finally realised that, despite the policies of the right, a handful of Pacific and Asian immigrants have clawed their way into that privileged few.

Greetings.

datePosted on 12:42, January 3rd, 2009 by Pablo

Since the new year has started I figured that I would get the ball rolling here at Kiwipolitico. Although jafapete and anita are the originators of this blog, they kindly invited me to participate given the overlap in our perspectives. That is much appreciated.

I shall use the blog as an outlet for non-academic musings on issues of comparative and international politics, from a NZ-focused perspective. The hope is to generate interest and informed discussion on issues that otherwise may not receive the attention that they deserve (at least in NZ).

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