New Zealand's absence from a global holocaust memorial event has been called disappointing by the New Zealand Jewish Council and labelled disgraceful by the Opposition.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has accused the National Party of hypocrisy and politicising the event.

Israel is this week hosting the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and international Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The list of representatives from 46 countries attending and speaking includes US Vice-President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prince Charles and France's Emmanuel Macron.


Minister apologises to Israel over dodgy map
NZ votes against US over declaring Jerusalem as capital of Israel
Israeli embassy says it is 'regrettable' NZ did not condemn Hamas
New Zealand to call in Israeli ambassador over Gaza deaths

Australia is sending its Governor-General, David Hurley.

But New Zealand hasn't sent a representative, despite being invited.

New Zealand Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman says the lack of representation is "disappointing but not necessarily totally surprising".

"I would imagine it's a case of priorities in Government. But, given it's the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz being liberated, it would have been an appropriate time to go," he said.

"Australia takes a different attitude on such matters and it would be nice if these things were given a higher priority here."

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters. Photo / Mark Mitchell

National Party foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee described the situation as "disgraceful" and said the Government needed to explain.

"The Government has failed to send a single representative, not even the Governor-General or a minister, to this significant event. We send ministers and members of Parliament to a number of events around the world, but not to this one," he said.


"The Holocaust was the most terrible crime against humanity, it is embarrassing New Zealand won't be present at this event."

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said organisers of the forum had asked for heads of state or similar figures to attend, but Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy was unable to make it.

"We asked organisers if the Speaker or New Zealand's Ambassador to Israel could attend in her place. However, this was unfortunately not possible," he said in a statement.

"A statement from the Governor-General has been included in the Forum's commemorative publication."

Peters said the previous Government had not sent anyone to the forum in 2010 and 2015 either.

"It is disappointing to see politicising of such an event," he said.

In her letter to the forum, Dame Patsy Reddy writes of her visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial, in 2017 and her sadness over New Zealand's rejection of some Jewish refugees in the 1930s.

"It is only through a deep understanding of the lessons of history that we can ensure atrocities such as the Holocaust never happen again," she wrote.

"May your conference reinforce the message of diversity and inclusion to which we in New Zealand are firmly committed."

Israel's ambassador to New Zealand, Itzhak Gerberg, described the message as touching and inspiring.

Peters said New Zealand's Ambassador to Poland would be at a commemoration event at Auschwitz.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is speaking at a Holocaust Remembrance Day event in Auckland next week.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway had to apologise last year after an Immigration New Zealand map caused a diplomatic incident by appearing to label Israel "Palestine".

Relations between New Zealand and Israel soured for a period in 2016, when New Zealand co-sponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution in 2016 condemning Israel over continued settlement of the West Bank.

Israeli's ambassador was recalled for about six months during the stoush.