New Israeli embassy faces protest threat

05:18, Apr 07 2010

An Israeli ambassador-designate will arrive in New Zealand within the next week, but a group of activists have announced plans to protest noisily outside the reopened embassy - when they find out its location.

The Israeli embassy in Wellington closed in 2002 for financial reasons, and the Canberra-based ambassador was accredited to New Zealand.

Plans to reopen the embassy were first announced last May, with the new ambassador-designate, Shemi Tzur, named in November.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesman Chris Wilson said the Israeli government had made a request to open a new diplomatic mission and nominated Mr Tzur as the head of the mission in mid-2009.

Both had received approval from the New Zealand Government.

Israeli officials had been looking for a new site for the embassy in Wellington, but told 3News last month they had failed to find a building with security to protect against the threat of attack.

A spokeswoman from the Canberra-based embassy was unable to say whether a building had been found in Wellington, but said more details would be available in coming weeks.

Mr Wilson was also unable to confirm whether a building had been found, and said details of its location would be made available after it had opened.

Mr Tzur was due to arrive in New Zealand within the next week, Wellington Regional Jewish Council chair and former Israeli honorary consul David Zwartz said.

Mr Tzur participated in Middle East peace talks in the 1990s, and had held diplomatic posts in South Africa, Turkey, Australia, Fiji and Uzbekistan.

He had previously been the Israeli ambassador to Cyprus, Finland and Estonia.

Mr Tzur would need to present credentials from the Israeli president to New Zealand's Governor General before he officially became the ambassador.

The ceremony, involving a traditional Maori challenge and a military guard of honour, would take place at Government House in Wellington on May 7.

A new group, No Israeli Embassy in Wellington (NIEW), yesterday announced its plans to protest outside the new embassy.

"Wherever the embassy goes, it'll be a noisy neighbourhood. We intend to have a frequent presence and make our objections known," spokesman Alastair Reith said.

NIEW was protesting the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government, including bulldozing houses and building Israeli settlements on the West Bank, Mr Reith said.

They were also protesting the theft and forgery of foreign passports by Israeli spies.

Fake British, Irish, French, German and Australian passports were believed to have been used by Mossad agents to enter and leave Dubai to kill Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

Relations between Israel and New Zealand chilled after two reported Mossad agents, Eli Cara, 50, and Uriel Kelman, 31, were caught and jailed for trying to illegally obtain New Zealand passports in 2004.

A third suspected Mossad agent was a former Israeli diplomat based in Europe, Zev William Barkan, 37, who stole the identity of a tetraplegic Aucklander to fraudulently obtain his passport.

Police also sought a fourth person.

Helen Clark, who was prime minister at the time, said there was no doubt the men were Mossad operatives and suspended high-level diplomatic relations for more than a year until Israel apologised in 2005.