History and development
The Zionist movement works for the return of the Jewish people to Israel and the maintenance of Jewish sovereignty there. Zionism has had a particularly strong influence on the development of New Zealand’s Jewish community.
New Zealand Jewry has been Zionist since the establishment of the movement by Theodor Herzl in 1897. Communal records show concern about the welfare of Jews overseas, in Tsarist Russia (where Jews suffered from state-sponsored prejudice and the violence of intermittent pogroms), and in the land of Israel itself.
Annual fundraising appeals for Israel were for a long time an important feature of the New Zealand community’s annual calendar. Branches of the Jewish National Fund raised money for the planting of trees and the restoration of Israel’s landscape. Zionist organisations raised funds to assist the Zionist movement and, subsequently, Israel. Youth groups (Habonim and Bnei Akiva) raised the consciousness of young New Zealand Jews about a land that they had never seen.
During the 1980s the Wellington Jewish community went so far as to purchase a house as an official residence for Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand. In late 2002, however, Israel downgraded its representation in New Zealand. The embassy in Wellington was closed and representation in New Zealand is now provided through cross-accreditation from the Israeli embassy in Canberra.
While New Zealand’s Jews have not had to face hostility or prejudice comparable to that experienced by many Jewish people elsewhere, anti-Jewish sentiments have not been completely absent from the media and wider culture. The New Zealand Jewish Council, aided by regional Jewish councils, was established in 1981 to respond to expressions of anti-Jewish feeling, including misleading statements in relation to the extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis during the Second World War. The New Zealand government’s attitudes toward Israel, and toward Middle East issues generally, has occasionally been a source of concern both to the Jewish Council and the various Zionist organisations.