Sur­vivor’s son and Is­rael fan tipped to be New Zealand PM

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - by dan gold­berg Syd­ney

the son of an aus­trian-Jewish refugee whose mother es­caped the nazis is tipped to be­come new Zealand’s prime min­is­ter next month.

the elec­tion of John Key — who told the JC of his ad­mi­ra­tion for is­rael — may also end a pe­riod of dire diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween Welling­ton and Jerusalem.

Mr Key, 47, has been ahead of Prime Min­is­ter he­len Clark in all ma­jor polls for the last year, al­though the gap nar­rowed last week as the par­ties of­fi­cially launched the elec­tion cam­paign.

if Mr Key leads the na­tional Party to victory over the Labour Party on novem­ber 8, it will draw to a close the worst chap­ter in diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries.

this was sparked in 2003 when For­eign Min­is­ter Phil Goff in­censed is­raeli of­fi­cials by vis­it­ing Yasser arafat in ra­mal­lah at the height of the in­tifada.

Worse fol­lowed the fol­low­ing year when two ap­par­ent Mos­sad agents were caught try­ing to il­le­gally ob­tain a new Zealand pass­port.

in the wake of the scan­dal, Mrs Clark is­sued a blis­ter­ing at­tack on Jerusalem and sus­pended high-level re­la­tions for over a year un­til is­rael apol­o­gised.

Days af­ter the in­ci­dent, van­dals burned a prayer house to the ground at a Jewish ceme­tery in Welling­ton in what was de­scribed as the worst an­ti­semitic at­tack ever in new Zealand.

al­though Mrs Clark, in power since 1999, hosted a kosher din­ner last month in par­lia­ment to ac­knowl­edge the coun­try’s Jewish com­mu­nity, some be­lieve a Key gov­ern­ment will be more sym­pa­thetic to is­rael.

“the cur­rent Labour Party has within its lead­er­ship sev­eral peo­ple that are ide­o­log­i­cally fix­ated on cer­tain po­si­tions, some of which mean an au­to­matic dis­dain of is­rael’s poli­cies,” said nathan Lawrence, pres­i­dent of the Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion of new Zealand.

“there is likely to be greater bal­ance [un­der Key]. this will have lit­tle to do with Key’s Jewish back­ground, but more so the greater open-mind­ed­ness of the cen­tre-right par­ties to the re­al­i­ties of the world.”

Mr Key told the JC that it was “un­der­stand­able” that re­la­tions with Jerusalem were “a lit­tle bit strained” af­ter the so-called “pass­port af­fair” but said there’s “no use in re­liv­ing it”.

if elected, he said he hopes to visit the Jewish state, where he has cousins. Mr Key’s mother, ruth Lazar, was saved by her aunt, who paid a Bri­tish sol­dier to marry her, en­abling ruth, her brother, mother and grand­mother to ob­tain Bri­tish visas and es­cape aus­tria in 1939. and he wants to pay trib­ute at Yad Vashem to those of his mother’s fam­ily who did not sur­vive the holo­caust.

“it would be [a poignant mo­ment],” he said. “i very much want to go there, in part be­cause ob­vi­ously i’m in­ter­ested and also as a mark of re­spect for my mum.”

Mr Key, who crit­i­cised Mrs Clark for not sup­port­ing the war against iraq, said is­rael and new Zealand have sim­i­lar­i­ties.

“We are small in na­ture and we are en­tre­pre­neur­ial and is­rael has achieved some amaz­ing things in terms of its high-tech space. i think there’s a lot new Zealand can learn from is­rael.”

Mr Key and his two sis­ters were brought up by their mother in poverty in Christchurch af­ter their fa­ther died in 1967.

But it was in Lon­don that he be­came a mil­lion­aire, work­ing for Mer­ill Lynch for sev­eral years be­fore re­turn­ing home in 2001 and em­bark­ing on his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. al­though con­scious of his Jewish roots, Mr Key’s child­hood was largely de­void of re­li­gion.

“i’m very re­spect­ful of the Jewish faith and in gen­eral i’m very re­spect­ful of re­li­gion but i’m just not ac­tively re­li­gious my­self,” he said.

But some fear Key’s roots may work against him. as one Jewish leader put it: “there is a deep anti-Jewish, anti-is­rael sen­ti­mentin­newZealand.ifKi­wisknow he’s Jewish, he would need to prove that he is not bi­ased to­ward is­rael.”

if Mr Key wins, he will not be the na­tion’s first Jewish PM. Julius Vo­gel served in the 1870s and sir Fran­cis Bell, who later con­verted to Chris­tian­ity, spent two weeks in charge in 1925.

New con­tender: polls say John Key may win in the Novem­ber elec­tions

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