The Act Party wants former Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta to explain why she disagreed with a draft tweet concerning Hamas’ October attack on Israel, which included describing the attack as “terror”.
A request made under the Official Information Act (OIA) has found the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Middle East and Africa Division emailed Mahuta’s office following the attack on October 7.
It contained media talking points, consular messages and a “draft tweet” to be sent from Mahuta’s ministerial X (formerly Twitter) account.
The draft tweet stated New Zealand “unequivocally condemns rocket and terror attacks from Gaza into Israel and calls for their immediate cessation”.
“With a high risk of escalation, the protection of civilians, and upholding of international humanitarian law is essential,” the draft tweet read.
A summary of what occurred provided by Mahuta as part of the response to the OIA request stated her office “disagreed with the wording of the draft tweet”.
The ministry then formulated a second draft to Mahuta.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who was on the campaign trail at the time, used stronger language when talking to reporters shortly after the attack, saying New Zealand condemned Hamas’ attack on Israel and stated Hamas’ military wing was designated a terrorist organisation by New Zealand.
Later on October 8, Mahuta published another tweet that was more in line with Hipkins’ comments by calling the incident “terrorist attacks led by Hamas on Israel”.
Mahuta was no longer an MP after losing her Hauraki-Waikato seat to Te Pāti Māori’s Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke after the 2023 election.
She was also no longer the Foreign Affairs Minister. Yesterday, Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro approved the extension of the current caretaker Government arrangement as the incoming National-led Government hadn’t yet been formed.
That meant ministers had to be re-appointed. As Mahuta was not an MP, her portfolios were given to other ministers. Grant Robertson picked up the foreign affairs role.
Nevertheless, Act’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Brooke van Velden yesterday called on Mahuta to use her last day as minister to explain why the initial draft tweet was refused.
“Mahuta had a clear option to denounce barbaric aggression but chose not to. Why?” van Velden said.
“The situation in the Middle East is horrific, and New Zealand’s influence over that horrific situation is limited to its moral authority.
“When our Foreign Minister cannot make clear moral judgements, even when the right thing to do is literally spelled out to her, it harms our whole country.”
Israel Institute of New Zealand president David Cumin said it was “deeply disappointing” Mahuta didn’t accept the initial draft, as her published tweet made New Zealand look “out of step” with the rest of the world, he believed.
“She was hours late to the party in the first instance and now that we know what we know, it’s pretty clear that she wasn’t using the correct terminlogy,” Cumin said.
Mahuta has not responded to the Herald’s request for comment.
Speaking to RNZ on October 9, Mahuta accepted her language in the first tweet could have been stronger.
When asked whether Mahuta’s decision to scrap the initial draft tweet was appropriate, a spokesman for Hipkins told the Herald the issue was addressed at the time and New Zealand’s stance was consistent.
“New Zealand’s position is and always has been one of absolute condemnation of these terror attacks - [Mahuta] has said that, as well as the Prime Minister.”
Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.