Kiwi Jews caution against Tamir’s return

EMBATTLED Israeli envoy Nati Tamir is unlikely to be welcomed back to New Zealand as ambassador if his controversial comments about Asians were accurately reported, community leaders warned this week.

As the Foreign Ministry wrapped up its probe into the affair, David Zwartz, the man who acted as Israel’s honorary Kiwi representative before Tamir’s appointment as non-resident envoy, said the diplomat would struggle to keep his job if the remarks were correctly quoted.

“If he did say it, I don’t think that he would be acceptable as an ambassador here,” said Zwartz, the immediate past president of the New Zealand Jewish Council.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has been the most outspoken Pacific leader on the controversy, describing the comments as “completely unacceptable”.

There are fears Tamir’s reported remarks to Ha’aretz newspaper- that Asians have “yellow skin and slanted eyes,” and are “the yellow race”- could reignite diplomatic tensions between New Zealand and Israel.

“If the remarks are as reported, of course they are completely unacceptable,” Clark said. “If they were made by anyone in our public service there would be quite severe consequences.”

Zwartz told the AJN the Kiwi PM’s comments reflected community sentiment over the controversy.

“I think most people would agree with what she said. [They] are holding off on the judgment until they see whether it’s proved conclusively if he said it.”

Asian community groups in NZ have also weighed into the affair, with New Zealand’s United Asian Association spokesman Ken Yee claiming the remarks left him speechless.

“The days of the yellow peril and calling us slant eyes are long gone,” he said.

The current president of the NZ Jewish Council, Stephen Goodman, said the high-level investigation by the Israeli Foreign Ministry would “send the right signals” that the scandal was being taken very seriously.

Israel and New Zealand only last year re-established diplomatic ties after the 2004 “passport affair”, but Goodman said he didn’t expect the latest controversy would undermine the rapprochement.

“The fact that the Israeli Government is taking it very seriously, and there is an investigation into it, I think sends the right signals,” he said.

“You don’t recall an ambassador halfway through his flight unless it’s a very serious matter.”

Goodman said that while the remarks “seemed a bit out of character”, NZ leaders would await the ministry’s investigation before condemning the diplomat.

“We don’t want to be saying too much until we know all the facts,” he said.

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