Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Mossad Strikes Again

The New Zealand media (followed by other media outlets and Honest Reporting) is all abuzz about an alleged spy scandal that the Israeli who died in the Christchurch earthquake was a Mossad agent.

Having lived in New Zealand for the first 20 years of my life I can assure you that not much happens there, so a spy scandal makes for great entertainment.

According to the Southland Times (link has since been updates with confirmation that the story is false) that originally broke the story, the story is basically that (from the original article):

Three Israelis were among the 181 people who died when the earthquake destroyed most of Christchurch's central business district on February 22. One was found to be carrying at least five passports.

An unaccredited Israeli search and rescue squad was later confronted by armed New Zealand officers and removed from the sealed-off "red zone" of the central city.

The response of the Israeli government to the three deaths appears extraordinary. In the hours after the 6.3 quake struck:

  • Prime Minister John Key fielded the first of four calls that day from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • Israel's Ambassador in the South Pacific, Shemi Tzur, who is based in Australia, booked flights to Christchurch, where he visited the morgue.
  • Israel's civil defence chief left Israel for Christchurch.
  • A complete Israeli urban search and rescue squad was assembled and flown to Christchurch, arriving about the same time as ...
  • Three people who had smashed their way out of a van crushed by a concrete pillar in the central city, leaving a fourth person dead in the vehicle, arrived back in Israel.

Soon after the article was printed, it was debunked by the DimPost, but in case you need it spelling out, there is nothing unusual or suspicions about this story. Nothing, zero, just people acting as you would expect (it must have been another slow news month in New Zealand, for about the 200th month in a row).

The Southland Times that originally broke the story got so many verifiable facts wrong it's surprising that the editors let it print, let alone on the front page. But in case the editors missed the non-news of this item, here are the facts:

  • Turns out that the Israeli was not carrying 5 passports, just one – it is however possible that the 4 people in the car had multiple passports between them – not particularly newsworthy.
  • The Israeli PM called the New Zealand PM because Israelis were hurt and Israel is often the first to offer assistance after a major disaster, just ask the PM of Haiti, Japan, Turkey, or any other country which as suffered a major natural disaster.
  • Shemi Tzur is not “Israel's Ambassador in the South Pacific … based in Australia”, he is Israel's Ambassador to New Zealand based in Wellington. I realize that Wellington is in the North Island, but I would have thought that the fine people of the Southland Times would have heard of it, after all it is their capital city. This is the most glaring error, because it is so obviously wrong and would have been easy to check.
  • The three people who smashed their way out of the vehicle left the country the next day were following directives of both the Israeli and New Zealand Governments who recommended that all travellers who are able to leave as quickly as possible.
    I guess Israelis following government directives are by definition suspicious and were probably Mossad.
  • This Israeli Search and Rescue team were trying to help even though they didn’t have authorization from the NZ Government.
    I guess Israelis going against government directives are by definition suspicious and were probably Mossad.
So basically the entire story was that an Israeli died in the earthquake, his travelling companions followed government directives and returned home to Israel, Bibi Netanyahu called the NZ Prime Minister to offer assistance, and an Israeli search and rescue team arrived without being asked.

Except for the fact that there was no illegal, suspicious, or even unusual activity there is every reason to believe that this was a good spy story.

Like I said, it’s been a slow news decade in New Zealand, almost like last decade.


Garnel Ironheart said...

Look, I live in Canada. Even less happens here. We invent problems because otherwise we'd have to fire all the news anchors who'd have nothing to report.
But it's still fun to see other countries that need to report on something - anything! - turn to us as the good ol' standby.

Michael Sedley said...


You're not wrong about no news in Canada - I remember the first time that I was there (about 15 years ago), the lead article in the TV news was about the percentage of women in the workforce - which was somehere in the 40% range, and people were disapointed that it wasn't higher.

I long for the day when Israel has nothing to report in the news and has to use filler human interest stories as the headline news.