New Zealand has seen few examples of prejudice directed at Jews (anti-Semitism). In the 19th century Jews faced little discrimination. An early premier, Julius Vogel, was Jewish. During the 1930s, when countries settled by Europeans such as Australia and Canada experienced a rise in anti-Semitism promoted by fascist groups, New Zealand did not have similar groups.
There was one political tradition, Social Credit, which was hostile to Jews. The movement grew rapidly in New Zealand, from six branches in 1931 to 225 in 1935. Major C. H. Douglas, the Canadian founder of Social Credit, toured New Zealand in 1934 and expounded his view that Jews were behind a global conspiracy to control finance. This idea was discussed in the Social Credit publication Plain Talk.
Social Credit’s support came from small farmers and businesspeople, who were attracted to its financial ideas during a difficult economic period. The anti-Semitism of Social Credit ended in the 1970s when a more liberal leadership under Bruce Beetham came to power.
League of Rights
Traditional anti-Semitism was taken up by a Social Credit-inspired and Australian-led organisation, the League of Rights, which at its height in the 1970s had about 1,000 members. It talked about an international Jewish conspiracy, allegedly based on ‘the protocols of the learned elders of Zion’ – which were actually a forgery from the early 20th century. The League of Rights had an ageing membership, and it had disappeared by the 1990s.
In surveys from the 1980s onwards, the Jewish community did not see anti-Semitism in New Zealand as a major issue. The expression of anti-Semitism was largely confined to a small group of organisations and individuals.
New Zealand had few examples of fascism until the late 1960s. The National Front, a direct imitation of the British neo-fascist party of the same name, appeared in 1967; the National Socialist White People’s Party, which took its ideas from German Nazism, began in 1969. Both were white-supremacist organisations which argued for the continued ‘purity’ of white people, and against biculturalism or the arrival of non-white immigrants.
As Māori asserted their rights through the 1970s, and the anti-apartheid movement gained strength in the late 1970s and early 1980s, white-supremacist groups increased. In the South Island, the White Defence League, New Order and the European Liberation Front were established. Nationally, other groups such as New Force, the New Zealand–Rhodesia Society and Friends of South Africa argued for the continued supremacy of whites in New Zealand, South Africa and what was then Rhodesia.
Some expressed more extreme views than others, but all believed that the political supremacy of whites was under threat, and were concerned at racial intermarriage and intermingling. They opposed Māori rights and many saw a ‘One World government’ and a Jewish banking conspiracy as threats.
‘Not bloody Appleby’
‘Watching a family flee their home is something you see in Rwanda, not bloody Appleby in Invercargill,’1 commented one Appleby resident in 2009. A couple had left their home in the Invercargill suburb to escape a household of skinheads next door. The group had spray-painted Nazi swastikas and the words ‘Hail Satan’ on houses. They had allegedly defecated on the couple’s front doorstep and burgled their home.
These groups probably had only a few thousand members at their height in the 1980s. Their views were espoused by skinheads from the 1980s onwards. These white-supremacist gangs, modelled on British working-class groups of the same name, were responsible for violent homophobic and racist attacks, especially in some South Island centres.
More recently there have been attacks on property. In 2004 Jewish gravestones were smashed in Wellington’s Bolton Street cemetery. Then more than 80 headstones at Makara cemetery near Wellington were toppled and the Jewish prayer house was burnt down. These actions prompted a unanimous cross-party resolution in Parliament condemning the desecration. The resolution was supported by a wide range of community leaders.