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A warning to politicians: we will not let racism and division poison our New Zealand

We need to stand alongside Muslim New Zealanders in the wake of the US visa ban – and tell our decision makers in no uncertain terms that we will not allow the politics of hatred and bigotry to become normalised here, writes race relations commissioner Susan Devoy.

Wellington’s very first UN Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in 2008 took place in the middle of a storm complete with thunder, lightning and torrential rain. Last Friday’s service took place in the middle of a storm none of us ever imagined we would have to live through.

Susan Devoy, David Zwartz and Inge Woolf at the Holocaust Memorial last Friday marking UN Holocaust Remembrance Day

Susan Devoy, David Zwartz and Inge Woolf at the Holocaust Memorial last Friday marking UN Holocaust Remembrance Day

Elderly New Zealanders, our own Holocaust survivors told us they never thought they’d witness a return to the politics of hatred, division and racism in their lifetime: but it’s happening. As we gathered in front of the Holocaust Memorial in the Jewish Cemetery out at Makara, they urged us to stand up for the rights of refugees, Muslims and minorities targeted by the powerful.

And they know what they’re talking about. Because people like Wellington’s Inge Woolf and Vera Egermayer remember the swastikas, the Nazis and the marches. They also remember that in the midst of that storm of hate: millions of everyday people stayed silent and looked the other way. They remember that instead of standing up for others – neighbours and fellow citizens chose to be bystanders.

Right now so many of us are feeling helpless but the one thing we can do is let our own decision makers know that we will not allow hatred and intolerance to spread and become normalised here at home: Not in our New Zealand.

Last year a racist neo-Nazi said he felt intimidated by something I wrote and my response to him is: Good. We do not want you to feel comfortable, we do not want you to feel welcome wearing your neo-Nazi uniform in our public places.

PORTSMOUTH, NH - DECEMBER 10: Protesters stand outside the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel where Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump is due to speak at the New England Police Benevolent Association Meeting December 10, 2015 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Trump recently called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States until the vetting process could be improved. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Muslim ban’ policy has led to protests across America. Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

This is a good opportunity to remind our New Zealand politicians to keep it clean as we approach the general election.

If our own powerful decision makers decide to use racism and division to push their campaigns: we need to call them out. But it should not just be up to me – all of us need to let them know that we have zero tolerance for hate politics in Aotearoa. Not in our New Zealand.

JFK Muslim Ban protest @TeamBeqa tweet

Holocaust survivors are some of the bravest New Zealanders I have ever met. A few years ago one elderly lady who survived several years in a concentration camp told me quietly that hate starts small, but so too does hope.

We need zero tolerance for hatred not just in our politics but in our everyday lives, we cannot afford to be bystanders or to ignore injustice.  Unlike our recent weather bombs, there are some storms that we can stop before they arrive.

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