Winston Peters accuses Gerry Brownlee of 'politicising' Holocaust memorial

Winson Peters has clashed with Gerry Brownlee over the Holocaust.
Winson Peters has clashed with Gerry Brownlee over the Holocaust. Photo credit: Newshub + AAP + The AM Show

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is accusing Gerry Brownlee of "politicising" a Holocaust memorial event after the National MP questioned the lack of Kiwi representation there.

The Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem, Israel, is holding the World Holocaust Forum on January 23 to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp where many Jews were imprisoned and murdered.

The event, which strives to create awareness about the need to fight anti-Semitism, will be attended by at least 47 world leaders. Among those going are the Governor-General of Australia, Prince Charles, US Vice-President Mike Pence, and US Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

However, New Zealand has sent no representative to the event, which Brownlee, National's Foreign Affairs spokesperson says is "disgraceful". 

"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 says.

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

Peters, however, says the National Party didn't send a political representative to the past two forums in 2010 and 2015.

"Gerry Brownlee's statement is belied by National's past inactions, and it is disappointing to see politicising of such an event," the Foreign Affairs Minister told Newshub in a statement.

The National Party has been contacted for response.

Peters says the organisers of the forum were focused on this occasion "being a Head of State level event". As the Governor-General could not attend, "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 notes that New Zealand is sending our Polish ambassador, Mary Thurston, to an event at the Auschwitz Memorial on January 27. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will also speak on the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Auckland on Monday.

"The Holocaust is one of the greatest tragedies of modern history and it is a terrible reminder of what can happen if extreme ideology and hatred is left unchecked," Peters says.

"Anti-semitism has no place in our global society. We send our best wishes to our friends in Israel for the success of the Forum."

Unable to attend in person, Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy released a message she sent to attendees. 

She spoke of visiting Yad Vashem in 2017 and said it was "personally challenging to take in the Museum's narrative of the events leading up to the Holocaust and then its horrifying implementation". 

"Knowing that New Zealand had denied entry to some desperate Jewish refugees in the 1930s, I felt deeply saddened by my country's own small part in these grim events," she wrote.

"I was glad of the opportunity to pay my respects afterwards by laying a wreath in commemoration of the Holocaust victims."

Dame Patsy, who is the patron of the Holocaust Centre in New Zealand, said New Zealand had felt the effects of extreme ideology with the Christchurch shootings last March. 

"This has further strengthened our commitment to standing with our international partners against hatred and intolerance. To this end, we are ever committed to our friends in Israel."

New Zealand's Ambassador to Israel Dr Itzhak Gerberg called the message "touching".