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Peeling Clark’s Onion

Here is an op-ed by Ted Lapkin from Thursday’s The Australian, which almost slipped past my radar..but not quite. In it, he questions the agenda of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark, who recently came down hard on Israel in the wake of the “passport affair.”

It makes you wonder about Helen Clark’s priorities. In two separate sting operations in March and April, Thai police seized 23 bogus New Zealand passports that were being sold on the Bangkok black market. And, if that isn’t bad enough, security officials in Thailand expressed the belief al-Qa’ida terrorists have been using the products of these forgery rings for quite some time.

But the prospect of Osama bin Laden flashing a visa-free Kiwi passport as he sauntered through customs at Heathrow didn’t seem to bother the New Zealand Prime Minister. In fact, her Government’s reaction to these passport forgeries was exceedingly low key. Thus, a Foreign Affairs spokesman responded dismissively to this story, declaring that he “had absolutely no confirmation” of “claims by Thai police that New Zealand passports may have been used by al-Qa’ida-linked terrorists in Europe”.

About the same time, two Israeli men were arrested during the course of a rather amateurish plot to obtain a genuine NZ passport under false pretences. Yet on this occasion, Clark was galvanised into action, angrily proclaiming that she had “very strong grounds for believing that these are Israeli intelligence agents”. She slapped diplomatic sanctions on Israel, while vociferously decrying this “unfriendly action” that is a “sorry indictment” of the Jewish state.

Clark was particularly aggrieved at how this purported plot by Israeli intelligence compromised the diplomatic sanctity of New Zealand passports. But, with al-Qa’ida forgers printing them up a dime a dozen in Thailand, one would think that a couple of errant Israelis would be the least of her worries.

If Eli Cara and Uri Kelman are Mossad agents, they are much more Keystone Cop than dynamic duo, much more Inspector Clouseau than James Bond. They deserve to do six months in jail for the sheer stupidity of their scheme.

Yet, while Cara and Kelman might have broken the first rule of covert intelligence work — don’t get caught — I worked in Washington DC long enough to learn the first rule of politics: always peel the onion. By peeling the onion, I mean to never accept anything at face value, because on Capitol Hill things very rarely are as they outwardly appear. In Washington, and in Wellington, there’s always a deeper agenda to consider.

And it is only by peeling Clark’s onion that one can begin to understand the cynical calculation that motivated her outbursts against Israel. This political exfoliation process brings one immediately to the question of public support and popularity. Or, in the case of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, it’s probably more accurate to say her lack thereof.

To put it bluntly, Clark is in trouble. Deep trouble. Not only was she voted New Zealand’s “least kissable” woman in a recent survey conducted by Listerine, but the political fortunes of her Labour Party are flagging as well. Over the past year Opposition Leader Don Brash has orchestrated a phoenix-like ascent from the electoral ashes by his National Party. Brash has led the Nats to a commanding position in the New Zealand political landscape by preaching a highly popular creed of free-market economics and equal rights.

The first instinct of a politician who is under pressure is to look for a distraction. The film Wag the Dog was a satirical work, but at the heart of every successful satire is an essential kernel of truth. In ancient Rome it was bread and the colosseum. In contemporary New Zealand Labour Party circles, what could be better than a spy scandal? And an Israeli spy scandal at that?

It must be Passover in Wellington, for the passport affair is political manna from heaven for the beleaguered Clark. She gets to look like a strong leader by fulminating on the cheap against a country that represents no threat to New Zealand’s national security. After all, I don’t think the Golani Brigade will be storming ashore at Auckland Harbour any time soon.

By contrast, Clark sees no evil, hears no evil, speaks no evil where real terrorist threats are concerned. There was no public rebuke of the Taliban in August 2000, when Auckland police raided an al-Qa’ida cell of Afghan expatriates that was planning to attack the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor near Sydney. Police discovered a virtual command centre with telephone call records indicating ongoing contact with Afghan terrorist groups. Yet mum was the word, as far as Clark was concerned.

But, let it not be said that the Prime Minister’s selective outrage hasn’t earned New Zealand some new admirers. In fact, the official Hamas website has just declared its appreciation for “the daring position of the New Zealand Government against the Zionist entity”.

This glowing endorsement by a bunch of Palestinian suicide bombers reflects the moral bankruptcy of Clark’s Middle East policy. Under her guidance, New Zealand has made common cause with bedfellows who are not only strange, but downright repugnant.


Here is an op-ed by Ted Lapkin from Thursday’s The Australian, which almost slipped past my radar..but not quite.

In it, he questions the agenda of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark, who recently came down hard on Israel in the wake of the “passport affair.”

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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