Auckland’s Waiheke Local Board has demanded a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and voted to fly the Palestinian flag from its building for the next month.
However, Auckland Council has expressed concerns and distanced itself from the vote, while the Jewish Council of New Zealand raised concerns the vote failed to recognise or acknowledge atrocities committed by Hamas and it was going beyond the remit for local government entities.
The vote urging a ceasefire was called for during a public forum by two members of a Palestinian advocacy group and was carried unanimously, while the vote to fly the flag was split and has since hit a roadblock while the council discusses the appropriateness of flying it on a council-owned building.
The vote comes after Dunedin city councillors, in an emotionally charged forum, voted this week to fly the New Zealand flag at half-mast to symbolise the suffering of those caught on both sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
Two members of the advocacy group Stand with Palestine Waiheke, Susi Newborn and Liz Tivoli, asked the board to call for a ceasefire on Wednesday.
The Waiheke Local Board voted on this resolution unanimously. A vote on an amendment to fly the Palestinian flag was split 3-1.
Newborn told the Herald today, “We want local boards throughout the country to follow our example.” She plans to address a rally tomorrow to encourage advocates to pressure their local representatives.
“We have to do it,” she said. “The situation [in Gaza] is beyond tragic. We’re now waiting for this decision to be made whether we can fly the flag now. I know very well the council calls us lunatics and activists, they have to sort this out before we get creative.”
An Auckland Council spokeswoman told the Herald its governance team was discussing the appropriateness of the board’s request to fly the Palestinian flag from the council-owned building on Waiheke Island.
“The Waiheke Local Board may express its views on any issue that members consider appropriate and/or which concerns its community,” said the council’s general manager of local board services, Louise Mason.
“In this case, the board has responded to concerns raised by members of the community about the situation in Palestine.
“Staff, acting under delegation from the [council’s] chief executive, will now need to carefully assess any potential consequences of implementing this decision and will communicate any advice on this matter to the local board in due course,” Mason said.
“The chief executive has a statutory responsibility to provide advice to decision-makers of the council and implement their decisions.
“This was a decision of the Waiheke Local Board and does not reflect a position of Auckland Council’s governing body or other local boards,” she said.
Juliet Moses, of the New Zealand Jewish Council, meanwhile, said local government bodies’ focus “should be on local governance and community development.”
“Complex geopolitical issues are typically the domain of national and international diplomacy”.
Moses said the Jewish Council was not consulted before the Waiheke vote was made, and said local government bodies involving themselves in geopolitical issues “rais[ed] questions about the criteria and rationale behind such decisions, especially considering that the board does not appear to have taken any other action to mark other international conflicts or human rights issues”.
Nationwide protests planned for Saturday
Moses said: “We recognise and respect the goal of promoting peace in the Middle East but are concerned about the selective approach to this issue and its potential impact on our community. However, there are numerous conflicts in the world right now where innocent civilians are suffering.
“Given this, local entities are focusing solely on the conflict in Gaza, thus adopting a selective stance on international humanitarian issues.”
Moses said decisions like this may not reflect the diverse perspectives and ethnicities of local residents, “potentially leading to divisions rather than unity”.
The board’s vote comes amid protests and rallies for a ceasefire, including one outside the Port of Auckland last night and last Thursday, where 6 people were arrested, and more planned for around the country tomorrow.
Last Thurday’s protest was against Obela hummus, a product co-owned by an Israeli company, while last night’s was against ZIM International Shipping Services, an Israeli shipping company which the Herald understands no longer docks in Auckland.
The protests, including tomorrow’s, are part of a wider boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
Protest organiser and chairman of Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa John Minto said: “It is the failure of Western Governments, New Zealand included, to hold Israel to account for its [alleged] crimes against the Palestinian people.”
Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.